Articles

Color This Dream Home “Green”
By Patrice Wendling
The Capital Times
February 21, 1996

For years, the Wiese family used to ride their bikes past a half-acre lot in rural Blue Mounds.  They rented a drafty farmhouse up the road, but dreamed of building a home of their own on that half acre lot, one day. 

Yet without a nestegg or the means to grow one before their 10-year-old daughter, Emily, would be ready for college, the prairie grass had a better chance of setting down roots on that lot and they did.

“When we thought about owning and building a home, we were shut out," says Jane Wiese, who works as a sales associate at Land’s End in Dodgeville.  “We just didn't have the down payment and we weren't going to, and we were just above WHEDA in that difficult bracket."

Rather than give up, the Wiese's kept dreaming.  They looked into tract housing, but were turned off by the cookie-cutter mentality.  A fixer upper sounded good, but would still leave them living inside someone else's blueprints.  They lined up a sweat equity arrangement in which they would help build the house to save labor cost, only to see the deal fall through.

The bike rides and daydreams continued until the Wieses decided to take out a loan for the lot alone.  They continue to rent for another three years before they paid off the lot, which by then had tripled in value, and were able to use it as collateral to secure a construction loan.

But with new homes in Dane County costing at least $135,000, finding a builder who would take on their $82,000 construction budget was as likely as getting the nearby community to extend water and sewer services for free.

They found Dennis Goodenough, a self-employed builder in the area since 1975 and admitted maverick, who stresses environmentally responsible homes as an affordable alternative.

"There are basically two choices out there; tract houses where everything is done on the cheap or domicile overkill for the rich" Goodenough says.  "What people want today is a different choice they can afford.

"The middle class is getting hit on both ends: their buying power is declining and what is being held out by the media as the American dream is getting farther away.  And the building industry is not displaying any models that the middle class can afford."

As a result of the energy crisis in the 1970s, Goodenough says builders have known how to save as much as 60 to 70% of the energy used by houses through such basic building practices as superinsulation, using mass to moderate interior temperatures, berming or sheltering homes and using passive solar gain through south facing windows.

Instead of picking up that "easy savings," he says builders have favored models that live and die by the air conditioner.

Green builders, which is what he considers himself to be, are such a divergent group that Goodenough thinks they aren't doing much better at promoting responsible building.

"You can put a flow restrictor on your faucet and say it's a green project," says Goodenough, who claims in addition to energy savings of 60% that his homes also save 28% in framing material and 10 to 15% in the cost of the structure.

Whether builders are responding to the demands of consumers or suffer under the misconception there is no worldwide energy shortage, Goodenough says the result is a home that is just as costly to live in as it is to mortgage.

For the Wieses that wasn't a possibility.

After numerous meetings with Goodenough, what the Wieses settled on was a 1300 ft.² house with no basement, a single car garage and a breezeway.

Horrors,  gasp, only 1300 ft.² and a single-car garage?

Yes, they gave up the "almighty basement," says Jayne, but you get over it, agrees husband, Glen, especially when you consider the energy savings.  Since they moved in last September, they have been averaging $72 a month for heat, lights and water.

Glen, who works with computers at Widen Enterprises, now uses a third bedroom for his workshop where he is restoring an antique wood stove for the family room.  Below the workshop flooring, there is a small space that stores the home’s mechanicals and doubles as storage.  There is additional storage above the car stall and in the kitchen, which overlooks the family room.

When compared with the rambling farmhouse, they rented, Glen admits it takes a little more effort when you want some privacy.  But neither one feels they have lost anything in terms of quality.  Built with double-walled construction, the home features dramatic corner windows that bring the countryside indoors, with wood siding on the exterior.  The house’s flooring is poured and colored concrete framed with finished we wood -an inexpensive but showy alternative to ceramics and carpet the couple found in a trendy home decorating magazine.

"It's a smaller space, so we are with each other more," says Jane, whose mother worked with international students when she was a child.  "But, we are well aware that this is still a mansion compared to the rest of the world.  This is really very spacious."

Goodenough hopes to bring some of these same ideas to the experimental Middleton Hills project, where he recently purchased a lot and plans to build a home on speculation.  While not encompassing all of his energy basics, he says Middleton Hills stands as a rare example of warehousing could and should be headed in Dane County.

"I'm glad Middleton Hills and Bishops Bay are side-by-side," he says.  "I think a drive through these two projects will tell anyone, which is the model of the future for the middle class."