Macalester College

House Features


The EcoHouse is a 1950s Ranch home that was converted into a Macalester student residence with sustainability in mind.  With a fixed budget of $50,000, the renovations were done with the intent of making affordable changes, while also investing in a few showcase items.

All of the renovations listed below took place in Summer 2007, and the first four student residents moved in on September 1, 2007.

Fall 2013

Bedroom Curtains

This year we installed new insulating curtains into the three bedrooms. These curtains minimize our loss of heat through the windows, reducing our energy use.

Bedroom Curtains

May 2008

Edible Forest Garden

This landscaping concept involving native and locally adapted perennial plants was installed with student and volunteer help.  The forest garden seeks to act as a model for urban and suburban landscaping which encourages close relationships between people and their environment, their food and their neighbors.  It will increase diversity of plants, wildlife and food.  For more information see the [Forest Garden] page.

Summer 2007 Renovations:   "Creation of the EcoHouse"

Whole House


When looking at a home's energy consumption, the most important place to start is to look at the building's "envelope" because it affects how a home retains heat and interacts with outside air.  The house was already insulated to a degree.  The walls had 2 inches of fiberglass batt (R-7) and the attic had around 8 inches of blown fiberglass and cellulose (R-40).  Even though the walls were insulated, there was enough empty space left in the wall cavities that additional cellulose insulation could be blown in.  Houle Insulation blew the cavities full of cellulose, bringing the wall up to an R-14.  The attic was sufficiently insulated and so no more was added. Total cost by Houle Insulation was $1,985.

Metal Roof:

When the house was purchased there were two layers of rotting asphalt shingles on the roof that seriously needed to be replaced.  Since there are few parts of a house more critical than the roof, we gave it a high priority and decided to install a longer lasting and more durable steel roof.  The asphalt shingles were replaced with stone coated steel shingles that resemble cedar shake shingles.  In addition the soffits and gutters were removed in order to cut a ventilation shaft around the house like before in order to cut down on the amount of maintenance needed in the future.

Metal Roof
Metal Roof
Metal Roof

The steel shingles are placed on top of a grid of 1x1 boards that raises them slightly off the roof deck.  This allows for air to move underneath the shingles, cooling them in the summer and drying out and moisture that may work its way underneath.  The shingles are rated for Miami-Dade County wind tolerances of 110 mph and are also highly resistant to hail damage.  If shingles dent in a hail storm they will still be waterproof and will not need to be replaced right away.  Individual shingles can be replaced when necessary.

The roof has a 50 year warranty, and should realistically last for around 70 years before it needs to be replaced.  For comparison, the average asphalt roof lasts 10-15 years.  The steel shingles can also be easily recycled when the roof finally does wear out.  The entire roof, soffits and gutter system cost $14,216, roughly twice what a normal asphalt shingle roof would cost.  The roofing materials are made by Metro Roof Products and were installed by Seal Guard Systems.

Solar Hot Water:

This system was the single most expensive component of the EcoHouse renovation.  Since the house is one story and is surrounded by 3 story buildings, as well as under several large trees there was no way that a solar system could be installed on the roof.  Instead, a pipe was run out to the detached garage behind the house where the steep pitch of the roof and its direct southern exposure were perfect for a solar system.  Innovative Power Systems installed two 4x8 solar hot water panels from Solar Skies on the garage roof.  Dan Thees from Hi-Tech Energy Solutions coordinated the work.  The panels are connected to a heat exchanger and a pump in the basement of the EcoHouse.  The liquid glycol mixture is pumped through the panels to collect heat, and then transfer it to the water in the heat exchanger.  The heat exchanger acts as a pre-warm for the traditional gas hot water heater - when the pre warm is hot enough the gas never turns on.

Solar Hot Water
Solar Hot Water
Solar Hot Water

Since we were required to run pipes outside to the garage this project was more expensive than we originally planned.  The solar installation and all parts cost $11,000.  Rehbein Excavating dug the trench for $2,072.  The cement sidewalk and steps were replaced by Rehbein as well for $6,257, although not all of this work was done because of the trench excavation.


Compact Fluorescent Lighting:

All light bulbs in the house were replaced with compact fluorescent lighting, bulbs that use 1/3 the electricity of incandescent bulbs.


Solar Tube:

A tube skylight was installed in the bathroom to provide direct natural day lighting.  The "SolaTube" is a 10" wide metal - lined tube that runs directly from the roof down to the bathroom ceiling.  It was very easy to install (less that 45 mins) and is surprisingly effective at illuminating the entire bathroom during the day.  The skylight cost $480 installed by Solar Midwest.

Solar Tube
Solar Tube

Water Efficiency:

Sink Aerator/Showerhead:

These fixtures were replaced with low-flow versions that Facilities Services has in stock as a standard option.  The sink aerator is .75 gpm and the shower head is 1.5 gpm and is made by Oxygenics®.

Sink Aerator

Dual Flush Toilet:

The toilet was replaced with a dual flush toilet from Gerber.  Push the handle down and it uses 1.1 gallons of water; pull it up and it uses 1.6 gallons.  EcoHouse residents have found the 1.1 is sufficient to handle pretty much anything.  The toilet cost $350.

Dual Flush Toilet


New appliances were chosen to be Energy Star rated or are models chosen for their efficiency.  We chose energy Star Appliances in the top 10% of the rating, where efficiency is high, but cost is not prohibitive.  This includes the refrigerator (Kenmore, $647), the dishwasher (Bosch, $599) and the washer and drier (commercial models).  We replaced the old gas stove with a smaller one from Premier ($490) and put an insulating cabinet between the refrigerator and the stove.

Stove               Refrigerator


Check out the Resource Monitoring page.


Paperstone Countertops:

Keeping with our goal of using recycled materials and showcasing new products, paperstone counter tops were installed in the kitchen and the bathroom. Paperstone is made from compressed recycled paper in an organic cashew resin. They were purchased from Commercial Surfaces Group. The counter tops for the kitchen, kitchen island and bathroom in total cost $4950, which is comparable to granite. The original idea was to use salvaged granite from the ReUse Center, but there were no slabs large enough for the EcoHouse.

Paperstone Countertops
Paperstone Countertops
Paperstone Countertops

Re-Used Mirror:

The bathroom mirror was obtained from the Re-Use Center (a architectural salvage center) at the Green Institute in Minneapolis and is another example of re-use.

Re-Used Mirror


The entire inside of the house was painted after the insulation work was done and the kitchen wall had been removed. A low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint was used to improve indoor air quality. The paint came from Abbot Paints and painting cost $2,150.

Wall Removal:

A portion of a wall between the kitchen and the living room was removed in order to open up the living space and create a more pleasant and inviting space.

Glass Block Windows:

Macalester College security Policy Requires that all student residential buildings have glass block basement window to prevent break-ins and theft. Since the EcoHouse was not used as a student residential housing before this year the College required that these be updated. 8 window were installed at a total cost of $1720.

Glass Block Window

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