Fisher building state's first Net Zero Energy housing project

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In the midst of the high tech display at National Grid’s Energy Innovation Hub at the Dunk in Providence before an audience of corporate and legislative leaders and a contingent of building trades students from the Warwick Area Career and Technical Center, Hugh Fisher held up a freshly sharpened pencil.

It was April 1, but Fisher wasn’t fooling when he said the #2 pencil had proven he’s on the right track to building the state’s first Net Zero Energy residential development.

Fisher, president of H.A. Fisher Homes, who has built hundreds of homes in the state, said the science of building homes that don’t depend on outside sources of energy is there.

“Remember,” he said after the formal presentation that included remarks from a lineup of officials, “it’s a math problem.”

Basically, Fisher explained, building a Net Zero Energy home is a matter of spending more money up front to save money down the road. As he emphasizes, “it’s math.”

And how will the math add up on Wynfield Place, nine single-level condominiums under construction not far from Toll Gate Road and Kent Hospital? Fisher said costs to make the condos Net Zero Energy Ready homes run 5 to 8 percent more than conventional home construction. It’s the next step – making the homes Net Zero Energy – that gets pricey.

Fisher is anxious to not only reduce home energy costs but also build esthetically attractive properties that are of high quality and women centric. His “women-centric homes,” where the women in a family can select the style and décor of a home room-by-room, have proven very popular.

Fisher doesn’t favor solar panels because of their appearance and roof problems they can cause. Rather, he is looking at solar roof shingles that were developed by Dow Chemical. Roof shingles on a two-bedroom house, he said, can generate between four and six kilowatts, or enough power for a couple. With more people living in a home, the demand increases.

Again, Fisher views this as a mathematical equation that can be addressed with that #2 pencil.

So, what do the shingles cost and will Fisher be offering Net Zero Energy homes for sale? He doesn’t have all those answers yet, but he put the cost of a solar shingle roof at $15,000 to $25,000. He hasn’t decided if he’ll be putting such a roof on his model home. He’s working on the math.

Nonetheless, the state’s first residential Net Zero Energy Ready development added up to plenty of praise.

“Warwick is ground zero,” said House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, making a pun that was greeted by chuckles. Shekarchi lauded Mayor Joseph Solomon’s commitment to the job and the city and Fisher’s commitment to building a Net Zero Energy development.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said.

Solomon called the project “the right thing to do.”

The project is a collaborative effort involving National Grid’s Residential New Construction Program and the Path to Zero Energy Ready Homes programs. The programs focus on design review, in-field training and home-testing to help building professionals realize the building science that supports energy efficiency.

Chris Porter, Director of Customer Energy Management for National Grid, elaborated. He said the programs in 2017 led to estimated electric cost savings of over $230 million and gas cost savings of over $45 million for Rhode Islanders over the lifetime of those installed energy efficiency measures.

“These actions drive more than just reduced utility bills, though. They’re creating more comfortable, and healthier, homes and businesses, increasing property and business values, and driving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from fuel consumption,” he said.

Porter said energy efficiency is also supporting the ongoing development of a skilled and diversified workforce in Rhode Island.

Carol Grant, State Energy Commissioner, called the Fisher development an “exciting day” in Rhode Island. She noted that not all that long ago net zero energy homes were just “a pipe dream.”

Grant said the development is “not the first step, but an important step of combining renewal energy with efficiency.” She applauded the General Assembly for “putting together a platform that allows this to happen” and said it contributes to the governor’s goal to increase the use of renewable energy.

Fisher said his crew will pour concrete today and he expects the first of the Net Zero Energy Ready units will be completed by this fall.

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