Dane County couple builds their dream net zero energy home

FITCHBURG, Wis. — Traditional American homes use a lot of energy and most don’t produce any in return.

When engaged Madison area couple Kevin Frick and Jacqueline Friedel decided to build their home, they wanted to align their lifestyle with their environmental values.

The couple purchased a lot at Terravessa, a new home community east of County Highway MM in Fitchburg that promotes sustainable living, to build their net-zero energy house.

A net-zero energy home produces as much electricity on-site as it will consume over the course of one year, nearly eliminating heating and cooling bills.

Frick and Friedel moved into their new home on Thursday.

“It’s been five months of a build timeline,” Friedel said. “We’re very excited. I also just think it’s a cool thing to do. We built a modern home with modern equipment. It looks normal. It just uses less energy and we’ll save money down the road.”

“From my perspective, first off, we’re helping the environment,” Frick said. “Secondly, we’ll have almost zero utility bills because of our solar panels and being all electric.”

The home was built by Tim O’Brien Homes. It’s 2,300 square feet, with four bedrooms and two and a half bathrooms. Its full sun exposure and 41-panel solar array on the roof and garage should cover its energy consumption year-round.

“We have more insulation than code requires,” Friedel said. “Our builder looked at the details of the framing and the structure to minimize how much energy the home needs to operate.”

Frick and Friedel worked closely with Focus On Energy to design the home to be as energy efficient as possible. The organization offers homeowners and renters rebates and incentives for energy-saving projects and products.

“We have all Energy Star-certified appliances,” Freidel said. “The refrigerator, dishwasher and a double oven are all electric and use less energy. The induction stove is not necessarily more energy efficient but a smarter way to use energy. We also have an electric fireplace so that’s going to use less energy overall.”

An air source heat pump heats and cools the home, and a heat pump water heater provides hot water.

“That system alone compared to a normal water heater was a significant saver,” Frick said. “Up to 15% of the total energy use of the home for the year.”

“Time will tell how well this works in the winter months versus the summer months,” Friedel said. “That’s when we’ll really see the difference. In theory, this should make us more comfortable, we won’t have fluctuations in heating and cooling like you do with a furnace and it’s going to run more efficiently.”

It costs more to build a net-zero energy home, but with tax rebates and incentives, it’s becoming more affordable and more common.

“It was surprisingly not much more expensive to be energy efficient,” Frick said. “The biggest investment was the solar panels. They cost $35,000, but we get 30% of the cost of the solar panels back as a federal tax credit on top of other Focus On Energy rebates.”

It will take Frick and Friedel eight to nine years to break even on the cost of the solar panels. “It will be significantly faster than that on the house,” Friedel said. “The total life of the panels is typically around 25 to 30 years.”

Not including the lot, the home built with all the energy efficiency after the Focus On Energy rebates cost $485,000. MLS and public records data show the current Fitchburg median single-family home price at $449,900.

Kevin proposed to Jackie on the lot they purchased before the house was built. They’re planning a wedding for the summer of next year.

“We already have a key milestone good memory in this house,” Friedel said. “I’m hoping for ease of living in this house, less to worry about, comfort and a family. All the classic things.”

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