Renewing energy
Neumann Companies unveils state’s first net zero community

By Mary Reardon - Special to The Freeman

July 24, 2018

 Vanessa Llanas from Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office, Andy Kuc of Focus on Energy, Tim O’Brien of Tim O’Brien Homes, Matt Neumann of Neumann Companies, New Berlin Mayor Dave Ament, Waukesha County Board Chair Paul Decker, Ginger Kollmansberger from Sen. Ron Johnson’s office and Mervyn Byrd of the Waukesha County Business Alliance at a Friday ribbon cutting at Red Fox Crossing in New Berlin.
Mary Reardon/Special to Conley News Service

NEW BERLIN — Neumann Companies has built the state’s first net zero community, the company says. A net zero home produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements.

The 34 homes of the Red Fox Crossing, at Grange Avenue and Sunny Slope Road, draw much or sometimes all their electric power from roof solar panels put on the houses by SunVest Solar, a partner company of Pewaukee-based Neumann Companies. Partner firm Tim O’Brien Homes constructed the homes.

Neumann held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday to show off its Savannah model, a home of more than 2,400 square feet at 5622 Foxtail Court in the new development.

All the homes will include a six- to eight-kW photovoltaic solar array.

 Homes with solar panels at Red Fox Crossing in New Berlin.
Mary Reardon/Special to Conley News Service

“Your electricity, theoretically, if all goes as planned, will be essentially zero, or you’re a net producer actually,” said Tom Bawolek, owner of Five Star Energy of Hubertus, a third-party energy tester on the project. Electric bills will reflect the solar offset.

The model has gas appliances for the dryer, range, water heater and furnace. “The cost of ownership is much in the customer’s favor by using gas appliances,” said Craig North, Tim O’Brien Homes’ vice president of product innovation. The solar panels don’t offset gas usage. The home includes increased insulation to help lower gas usage, Bawolek said.

Rare in Wisconsin

The model is one of the first three homes in Wisconsin certified by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home program. It has a Home Energy Rating Score (HERS, a rating from the Residential Energy Services Network, Resnet) of 26, meaning the Savannah will only use 26 percent of the energy a standard home of its size would, according to Tim O’Brien Homes.

The homes will get third-party certification from Energy Star, V3 National Qualified Home, EPA WaterSense, EPA Indoor Air Plus Qualified Home and Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency program funded by state energy utilities, according to Tim O’Brien Homes.

 The kitchen inside a model home at Red Fox Crossing.
Mary Reardon/Special to Conley News Service

Neumann Companies President Matt Neumann says the cost of renewable energy on homes has fallen about 80 percent since 2009, when Neumann and Tim O’Brien built their first energy-producing home. “The costs continue to come down in renewable energy. Unfortunately, the cost of home building and land development are creeping up” with a stronger market, Neumann said.

“We wanted to be able to come up with an energy-independent neighborhood, not just individual homes,” said Tim O’Brien of the vision for Red Fox Crossing. Part of the aim of the project is to change the market in Wisconsin to lead to more green building, O’Brien said.

States including Oregon and Washington have seen net zero pushes at the government level, as have New York City and Washington, D.C. Updates to the building code in California, to take effect in 2020, require that all new homes under three stories include solar panels.

“We really believe that this is going to be the future of home building around the country,” O’Brien said.

More than 50 percent of the homes at the site are sold, according to Neumann. Prices for a lot and home at the site run from $450,000 to $650,000.