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Students build net-zero home for class

DU students built a net-zero home as part of a partnership with Oakwood Homes in their real estate and construction management program. They unveiled the house on April 29.

When he graduates in June, senior real estate and construction management major Alex Hossellman will have some real-world experience on his resume.

“I’m going to put down that I was the project manager on the construction of a house for five months,” he says.

Hossellman and other students got that experience building a net-zero home as their senior project through a program in DU’s Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management.

The project began fall semester with the students forming a team and assuming different roles in the process—from financing to marketing and supervision—through a partnership with Oakwood Homes. The students gathered on April 29 in the Green Valley Ranch subdivision for the ceremonial unveiling of the house.

Andrew Kershenbaum, a student who worked on the project, says the team decided early on to go with a net-zero home.

“It nets zero dollars on its annual, average energy and utility bills because it’s so energy-efficient,” Kershenbaum says. “Everyone’s going green. Especially in times like this, it’s the future of homebuilding.”

The home features energy-efficient windows and doors as well as double walls with 12 inches of insulation. It also has a geothermal loop that heats from the foundation and south-facing solar panels.

Kershenbaum says the amenities add $30,000 to the home’s price, but the diminished energy bills place the financial break-even point at seven years.

Hossellman, Kershenbaum and their fellow students who worked on the home touted the program’s benefit of giving them real-world experience—actually doing what they’ll be doing when they enter their field, rather than simply learning about it in a clinical environment.

“This is constant problem-solving. You can’t learn this in a classroom,” says Steph Simenstad, who was in charge of contacting and coordinating subcontractors. “I learned everything about building a house—most students who come out of college have never had an experience like this.”

Hossellman says he was especially attracted to the University of Denver program because so few programs nationwide incorporate both real estate and construction management into their programs.

“You have to learn both, and this is a great way to learn them side-by-side,” he says. “This is the best way to learn how to manage the construction of a house. Just learning about it in the classroom, it’s like reading a play rather than seeing it performed. You don’t see how all the parts come together.”

Students also learned real-world hassles such as dealing with municipal bureaucrats to obtain building permits and working with subcontractors who are slow to return voicemails.

Overseeing all this, though, was Stu Stein, their instructor.

Stein says he also sometimes felt a dilemma between letting the students do things themselves and wanting to intervene when he saw a mistake developing.

“I guide them, but I let them do the work,” Stein says. “I would back off pretty good. I knew I had to let them make their own mistakes. I would only get involved if I saw a really big mistake about to happen.”

Stein says he is glad that the project imparted to his students some of the finer, lower-profile lessons that otherwise would be learned the hard way in their first job.

“They were surprised when they would leave a message for someone and that person wouldn’t call back,” Stein says. “I said, ‘Don’t leave a message! You call them and you call them and you call them!’ That’s how this industry works.”

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