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Lewisville woman takes aim at utility bills with 'zero energy' home
October 29, 2009

Amanda Ferguson grew up in a typical ranch-style house that her parents built in 1969. She loved the secluded Lewisville neighborhood, with its large trees and oversized lots.

Written by Wendy Hundley , The Dallas Morning News


Amanda Ferguson grew up in a typical ranch-style house that her parents built in 1969. She loved the secluded Lewisville neighborhood, with its large trees and oversized lots.

Four years ago, after her parents built a new house, Ferguson and her husband, Scot Owens, moved into the old house, even though they knew that it had suffered structural problems and water damage over the years.

Instead of spending money on extensive repairs, Ferguson decided to demolish her childhood home and replace it with one that would be environmentally friendly and energy-efficient from the ground up.

The result is the TimberCreek Zero Energy House, a demonstration project for the Department of Energy's "Building American" program. The house is open to the public for the next four weekends.

"Our goal is to have no utility bills," Ferguson said Tuesday as workers were putting the final touches of low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paint on the walls and adjusting the cabinets made of wood from sustainable forests.

For Ferguson, the home not only saves money but it also reflects her environmental concerns.

"In our everyday life, we try to be thoughtful of the environment," she said.

While the previous home had an east-west orientation, the new house was designed with a south-facing rear roofline to capture maximum sunlight for its bank of solar panels on the silver metal roof.

"This system is designed to generate around 1,000 kilowatt hours a month," said Chris Miles of GreenCraft Builders. GreenCraft constructed the one-story, three-bedroom home.

He said that should be more than enough to power the 2,500-square-foot house equipped with Energy Star appliances, low-E (emission) windows, tankless water heaters and energy-efficient lights.

The passive solar designed house also comes with a rainwater collection system – a 1,000 gallon, above-ground tank and 5,000 gallon underground tank – to irrigate the native plants used in the landscaping.

For those who visit the house in the next few weeks, some of the energy-saving features might not be readily apparent.

Spray foam insulation lines the walls and roof deck. Interior doors have a core of compressed wheat straw to provide insulation and reduce noise. The house has a 1-inch foam exterior sheathing with a foil barrier and an air-sealed, unvented attic.

"When you seal houses tight, you have to pay attention to the indoor air quality," said Lewisville architect William Peck, who designed the one-story house.

That's why it was constructed using formaldehyde-free fiberboard for the trim work, has stained concrete floors instead of carpeting and was painted with low-VOC paints.

With all of its eco-friendly materials and building practices, the house will be used to educate builders and industry professionals.

For Ferguson, the hardest part will be waiting until she and her husband and 4-year-old daughter can move into their new house built in a familiar setting.

"It will be the longest four weeks of my life," she said.

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