Wis. builders works to boost visibility of zero-energy homes
Red Fox Crossing rendering. Image by Tim O'Brien Homes
Wisconsin's first net-zero neighborhood may be a sign of how high-performance construction is an approach catching on among prospective homebuyers and builders.
Before any homes in the 34-lot development have been completed – including the model home – a third of them already have been sold, according to the Energy & Environmental Building Alliance (EEBA).
The key to such success is ensuring that efficient homes are well designed and that buyers understand the financial and lifestyle benefits, said officials with Wisconsin’s Tim O'Brien Homes, which builds in the Milwaukee and Madison areas.
The net-zero energy community, called Red Fox Crossing, is going up on New Berlin, Wisc. All of the homes will be certified under the Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home Program, as well as the Energy Star, WaterSense and Indoor airPLUS programs.
Homes at Red Fox Crossing are priced in the mid-$500,000s. Each will have a 7-9 kilowatt rooftop solar system that, on an annual basis, produces at least as much electricity as the home uses.
Solar will work on any lot with a clear view to the southern or western sky, but the right land provides those views while also supporting the builder's design goals, Tim O’Brien principal Matt Neumannsaid. The homes’ solar systems will be connected to a grid.
Craig North, Tim O'Brien Homes' Vice President of Product Innovation, is confident that the evolution of this neighborhood will help the company understand how to offer cost-effective solar to more price-sensitive buyers
Each Red Fox Crossing structure also will feature connected mechanical systems that will lead to increased energy savings, including two-stage furnaces that provide clean, fresh air and maintain optimal humidity levels. Solid thermal envelopes are expected to reduce the load of the heating and ventilation systems.
Much of Tim O’Brien Homes’ company's knowledge about high-performance building came from its involvement with EEBA. The organization helps the company meet its continuous improvement goals by providing the opportunity to network with other high-performance builders.
"The ability to learn lessons from top industry professionals has been instrumental in helping us differentiate ourselves from the competition," North said. "And the connections made through networking have allowed us to pilot some cutting-edge products and technologies."
As part of its continuous improvement system, Tim O'Brien Homes has all of its projects rated according to the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index from the Residential Energy Service Network (RESNET). Feedback from those ratings help show the company ways to build higher quality, more durable, greener, energy efficient homes while providing strong value to the customer. The score helps buyers understand the true cost of homeownership and directs them to builders who can lower those costs.