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Monday, August 6, 2012

The Wheeler’s ZNETH House

With more energy-conscious consumers an increasing number of builders are integrating more energy-efficient designs into new home construction. These new breed of homeowners are going beyond just including Energy Star-rated appliances and choosing to use even better sealing technologies, smarter floorplans and smaller but important structural modifications. Enter Zero Net Energy Test Home (ZNETH), participant and Omaha sustainability champion, Patrick Wheeler, who has tried to emulate the principles of ZNETH in a house of his very own.

He doesn't share this greener more sustainable lifestyle alone but with the other residents of the Elkhorn- based ZNETH home: his wife, Diane, and dog companion, Hope. “We started with the premise of wanting a healthy home, then tried to incorporate as much energy efficient and sustainable attributes as possible,” he said.

The Wheeler's ZNETH Home
With 1,735 on the main floor and 1,500 square feet in the basement to work with, they were very deliberate and judicious in the use of space. “Our bedrooms are small and we’re okay with that because we have a larger kitchen and dinette space.”

His wife, Diane’s favorite feature is that the kitchen is a living space – it’s so connected to the house.

“My favorite part of our new home is the natural light that floods our home,” he said. “With the help of our double pane Anderson windows and two sun tunnels, during the day there are only two rooms that light switches are used: bathroom and mudroom.”

The whole house is wired to someday be an electric house and run entirely off solar power. One solar panel already is placed on the roof. They’ve even prewired their three-car garage for an electric car.

It was a deliberate decision not to include natural gas in their new home construction. According to Patrick, Nebraska leads the country in number of deaths due to carbon monoxide poisoning. So, they decided to go with a no emissions’ house. The biggest expense in the home is the geothermal system. They also installed an 85-gallon Marathon water heater as well as a 2-ton, two-stage heat pump.

The one thing lost in this building process according to The Wheeler’s is sleep. Since September of 2011, he has met weekly with his builder, Mike Preston of Home Building Construction  (HBC). “Though many compromises were required, we labored and lost considerable sleep in an attempt to balance those desires.”

Part of the original comprise, was how far away from work The Wheeler’s had to build their ZNETH home. It resides in Elkhorn, Neb., a nearly 38-mile round trip commute to work. Also, due to cost they will finish the basement at a later date.

There were some parts they didn’t budge on: sealed footings and foundation, 2x6 walls, type of insulation and hardwood and tile floors throughout. The wood flooring is all natural North American white oak and maple. He said, “We have no vinyl, the only place we have carpet is on the stairs leading to the basement.”

The flooring option is a choice The Wheeler’s made that existing homeowners can make in their own homes. Forgo the toxic glue and go with natural tile or wood floors. Other tips: insulate attic, caulk around windows/doors, replace windows, install an Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) and invest in solar orientation practices.

“Best return on your money is to properly insulate your attic,” he said. “It pays off with heating and cooling.”

Patrick, Diane and their dog Hope officially moved in the week after this interview was conducted. In the future, Patrick plans to create a website to discuss the building process and sustainable choices The Wheeler’s made in building their very own ZNETH home.

In celebration of the 42nd anniversary of Earth Day population-we™ staffers will celebrate our love for planet earth with regular green posts the entire year! Thanks for reading our recent 
pop-we eco-living feature on the The Wheeler's ZNETH Home.
- population-we blog post by Becky Bohan Brown 
© 2012 population-we, LLC
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