Building Better to Live Better
Crivitz, Wis. - Building or buying a new home, while incredibly rewarding, is a journey full of choices, decisions and research on everything from look and finish to operation.
For Minnesota resident Michael Brooks, building a new home nearly five hours away in Silver Cliff, Wisconsin added to the challenge. However, Brooks was determined to bring his dream home to life along the Peshtigo River.
While the floorplan and cosmetics were important, his vision was to construct a solid, exceptionally energy-efficient home.
“The opportunity to build a new home offers the rare chance to create a space and fill it with what you like and believe to be important,” Brooks said. “I have been interested in alternative sources of energy and efficiency since I can remember and wanted to make these a core element of the project to achieve a high level of livability at a lower cost, while also doing my part to use less energy.”
Finding the right builder
Evaluating Wisconsin builders from Brooks’ home in Minnesota proved challenging. After weeks of research and numerous referrals, he finally chose Buck Gehm and his company, Hide-A-Way Builders, based in Crivitz.
Brooks said Gehm stood out by listening carefully and asking a lot of questions. For example, Gehm asked Brooks how much he knew about the geology of the building site and then suggested Brooks consult with an excavator, leading to the discovery of a plethora of underground rocks and boulders at the site. More importantly, energy efficiency and durability were at the core of Gehm’s homebuilding philosophy, so Brooks felt confident in choosing Hide-A-Way Builders.
Connecting with FOCUS ON ENERGY®
Shortly after picking a builder, Brooks’ research into high-efficiency appliances led him to Focus on Energy - Wisconsin’s energy efficiency and renewable resources program. He learned about Focus on Energy’s New Home Certification Program and eagerly called to learn more about the requirements.
After consulting with Focus on Energy, Brooks asked Gehm if Hide-A-Way Builders would become a Focus on Energy builder partner and certify the home with the help of local building performance consultant Chuck Greening. Though Hide-A-Way Builders was on board with making the home as efficient as possible, there was some initial apprehension.
“After a few conversations with Focus on Energy, I knew I really wanted a building performance consultant assigned to our project before we got too far. I think in hindsight, Buck thought the certification would add more paperwork, which we found was not the case,” Brooks said. “And after [Greening’s] first review of the framing, Buck found a lot of common ground with Chuck’s suggestions. Buck agreed it would be a much better building by incorporating Focus on Energy’s suggestions.”
Energy efficiency made easy
Focus on Energy’s New Home Certification Program provides a roadmap for ensuring a new home is built at least 25% more efficient than required by current Wisconsin building code. More than 32,000 homes have been certified across the state, with nearly 30% of all new homes built in Wisconsin in 2018 attaining Focus on Energy certification.
Each of the more than 200 participating builders in Wisconsin works with an accredited building performance consultant. That person is an independent, third-party building science expert who partners with Focus on Energy to complete rigorous testing and ensure fulfillment of all program requirements. The building performance consultant performs energy modeling and calculations, and completes all required paperwork.
“Energy efficiency was at the core of many of the decisions I made with my builder in the design and planning phase for framing, insulation and windows. It was also a guiding objective when choosing our appliances, heating equipment, the high-efficiency, wood-burning fireplace and how we heat water,” Brooks explained.
The Program provides different paths depending on the desired level of efficiency. Prospective homebuyers can work with their builder and consultant to experiment with various energy-saving scenarios and make decisions based on calculations that predict the new home’s average monthly utility bill.
An energy-efficient dream home
Upon final testing, Mike’s new riverside home in Crivitz is confirmed to be 32% more efficient than state building code requirements. A few impressive features of the home include:
- Measured infiltration (air tightness) of 398 CFM @ 50 PA—exceeding the program standard by more than 63%
- A ventilation rating 61% higher than the program requirement
- A high-efficiency liquid propane furnace (98% AFUE)
- An on-demand water heater, perfect for a home that may be vacant in the winter
- A high-efficiency, wood-burning fireplace
The careful construction and energy-efficient equipment in the home resulted in an estimated monthly energy bill of just $159 for the 2,400 square-foot home. This is approximately $100 less than Mike’s 101-year-old, extensively-renovated Minnesota home with nearly identical square footage. But monetary savings are just one advantage of the new, energy-efficient home.
“The air tightness of the home is definitely noticeable. During the really hot weather this summer, I would open the front door after not being here for a week or so, and it was still at least 10 degrees cooler inside compared to the outdoor air. If we open the house in the very early morning to let the cool air in and then shut all the windows, the house is very pleasant without air conditioning,” Brooks pointed out. “In fact, the HVAC contractor had supplied the furnace with an A/C coil, thinking we would want to have central air. We’ve found that we do not need it and told him to come and take it out, which credited $650 back to our account.”
Yet another advantage of a Certified New Home is the peace of mind that your home is built better and built to last. The certification is also an advantage should you decide to put your home on the market in the future.
“[The program] is a double check that the construction and finishing techniques/materials lead to an even more efficient and highly-livable building. Holding the certificate that states that your home is x-percent better built than the average home feels good, as does knowing that, should you wish or need to sell, you can present potential buyers with a document that instills confidence in the fact that, from the ground up, this is a home that was thoughtfully-conceived and well-built,” Brooks said.
Building his dream home with Focus on Energy also turned out to be an invaluable way for Brooks to learn about energy efficiency and how his home works as a unified system.
He was involved every step of the way and also observed the final testing conducted by the building performance consultant, where he says he gained useful knowledge about air exchange, managing humidity and how to make a space not only more efficient, but also more livable.
“It was a great learning experience. It took time, but I had access to people that helped me understand my options and what works best in terms of design, estimating and building,” Brooks said. “My correspondence and discussions with the Focus on Energy program manager and (building performance consultant) Chuck Greening really rounded out my education. It’s key to get involved and ask a lot of questions.”
A homeowner’s pride and joy
Mike couldn’t be happier with his new, energy-efficient home. He proudly discusses the satisfaction of knowing that, by using less energy and money, he has achieved a higher level of livability in northern rural Wisconsin.
“With respect to winter and northern Wisconsin, especially in rural areas like where I live, the merits of energy efficiency relate to a greater ability to be comfortable and self-sufficient with less,” Brooks noted. “We all rely on others to some degree, so it’s great when the propane truck pulls up when it’s negative 10° outside. But not having to see that truck as frequently and not dealing with ice dams and fogged windows makes looking at the Peshtigo River in the winter pretty carefree.”
As an advocate for energy-efficient home building and the Focus on Energy Program, Brooks shares his experience with anyone he meets who is thinking about building or buying a new home. After all, his home is just one of three homes certified in 2019 in rural Marinette County.
“I am glad to have had the opportunity to build a new home. This was a first for me and it’s an amazing thing to experience. But getting into the process and finding a plug-and-play program like Focus on Energy, with their exceptional staff of energy experts, added another dimension to the experience and the final product. And I would highly recommend Hide-A-Way Builders to anyone looking to build in the Crivitz/Lakewood area who values total efficiency and staying on schedule!”