Step into the model home of the state’s Net Zero Energy residential development, located off Toll Gate Road not far from Interstate 95 and within the landing pattern to Green Airport, and it’s remarkably quiet.
Not only has the busyness of Warwick during the commuting hour on a Thursday afternoon been dampened, but the space lacks the hum of appliances or a heating system. Yet it is comfortable.
The nine-unit condominium development also promises to be comfortable on the wallet.
Even without solar shingles, a $30,000 option that will render the homes truly free of energy costs, Sarah Fisher estimates the work and materials that have gone into insulating the 1,285-square-foot homes – two bedrooms and two baths, as well as a living room, kitchen, pocket office, dining area, drop zone, full basement and garage – will save the property owner 48 percent in energy costs over a similar-sized new home built to building code specifications.
The daughter of Hugh Fisher – the president of h.a. Fisher Homes, who has built hundreds of Rhode Island homes – Sarah is the company’s senior vice president and oversees marketing for the company. She knows the ins and outs of the business and she knows what goes into these homes in order gain the Net Zero Energy designation.
She points out that typically, attic insulation of new homes carries a R-21 rating, but these have a R-30 rating. The fiberglass insulation is so thick that electricians make sure to do their work first – otherwise, it would be near impossible to wire the building.
She cites other features of the building, including the insulation factor of the windows. And while crushed stone is customarily used as the bedding for a concrete basement floor, in this case there’s a layer of insulation under the stone, which all makes for a warm floor.
“This is almost like a stop in the future,” she says.
Evidently, the future is being embraced.
The first open house for Wynfield Place was held this past weekend. In addition to the completed condo, the adjoining units are in various stages of completion, allowing people to see what goes into building a Net Zero Energy home.
Hugh Fisher was enthused by the turnout, saying he has deposits on five units. They sell for $319,900.
He’s asked what’s the big attraction.
“They’re beautiful,” he answers without a pause.
And there is what Fisher calls the “dollars and sense” of energy efficiency.
He said the savings – even the additional cost of solar shingles, which with tax credits he placed at $20,000 – “more than makes up the difference [of utility costs]. The net savings make it a no-brainer.”
Sarah Fisher and Steve Marsocci, associate broker with Caldwell Banker, say there’s more to Net Zero Energy homes than saving on the utility bill or reducing a carbon footprint. It’s about IAQ and healthier living.
IAQ, or indoor air quality, ranks highly among considerations. The condos are built with energy recovery ventilators that reduce electrical demand for heating and cooling. Air changes in the units are one and a half times per day. The system uses a HERA filtration system that removes pollen, toxins and dust. Sarah Fisher notes one of the greatest sources of airborne contaminants is pollutants released by cooking.
Fisher’s entry into the Net Zero Energy field of home construction was highly touted when the development was the focus of an April press at National Grid’s Energy Innovation Hub at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence before an audience of corporate and legislative leaders.
The project was described as 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.
At the April press conference, 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.
The Net Zero Energy designation is not easily achieved. Hugh Fisher said Jeremy Dagold, senior project manager with Clearesults – which was retained by National Grid – worked with contractors to ensure the project met specifications.
Dagold said Wednesday the company has worked with Fisher Homes for the past five years, finding its work in terms of energy efficiency in the top 20 percent of Rhode Island homebuilders.
When Clearesults learned of funding for a pilot Net Zero Energy development, Dagold said, “let’s see if he can step up his game a bit.”
They made Fisher a believer. He calls the condos the homes of the future.
The condos meet the designations of Department of Energy Net Zero Energy ready homes, meaning with the solar component they are off the grid; EPA Energy Star Homes because of the appliances; and Indoor Air Plus because of air filtration, Dagold said.
Dagold put energy costs of the homes without the solar component at $600 a year.