Is set to be Maryland's first free-standing net zero home
If construction of their Centreville home remains on schedule, the Whichards will move into Maryland's first free-standing net zero home by the end of January.
The home, which is currently under construction in the Three Creeks area of Centreville by Nexus Energy Homes, will generate as much energy as it uses, creating a net zero balance at year's end.
The finished product will be equipped with geothermal heat pumps, photovoltaic solar panels, super-insulated building shells and environmentally conscious, or "green," building materials.
A broadcast engineer by trade, Michael Whichard appreciates both the technical and practical aspects of his new construction.
"I'm all about economics and efficiency. I'm always trying to find ways to do it better, faster and for less money. It's my job," said Michael Whichard, who currently works with American Forces broadcasting out of Ft. Meade.
His new home promises to meet all of those criteria and more.
The home is constructed from the ground up with the most air-tight and efficient materials available, said Mike Murphy, construction division president for Nexus.
Traditional building techniques allow a house to breathe, which sounds good but creates a structure at nature's whim hot in the summer, cold in the winter and subject to air pollution.
The Whichards' foundation is structural insulated panels (SIP), made of rigid plastic foam sandwiched between structural boards. This provides twice the insulation and strength of a standard foundation.
The home is sealed tight with expandable spray foam at the rafters and in every nook and cranny.
"Energy efficiency is in the envelope of the home. We build the tightest envelope of any builder anywhere," Murphy said.
This would be a disaster in a traditional home because it would produce excess moisture, enough to destroy everything inside, Murphy said, likening the result to living in a steam room.
In the Whichards' home, air will be conditioned and filtered, creating a constant and pure flow of air.
"The rocket science of this home is how we properly ventilate it and push air throughout the home," Murphy said.
Solar panels to produce enough energy for the home's systems come standard.
A geothermal heat pump, high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system and pressurizing units sit in the conditioned attic space. Duct work servicing the systems is sealed with mastic, a liquid duct tape.
The system requires no more or less duct work than a traditional home, it's "just better," Murphy said.
He said maintenance of the system also is better than a traditional home. The HEPA filter is the only extraordinary requirement with filter replacement necessary every 12 to 18 months at a cost of about $110.
The payoff is the system still will be running perfectly after 25 to 30 years, since there is less strain than a traditional HVAC system.
Other standard features include Nexus Vision, a patented remote home control software, high efficiency windows and central vacuum.
With Nexus Vision, the Whichards can manage energy usage and other home administration from nearly anywhere.
High-efficiency wood windows, clad in vinyl on the outside for durability but left natural on the interior, are by preference of Murphy, who said for him, "wood is the only option."
The vacuum system is a necessity, as traditional appliances recycle dust and dirt back into the home.
Michael Whichard said the most surprising thing so far is the speed at which his new home is going up. Even with a three-week delay due to Hurricane Irene, the home is on schedule for a five-month build out.
The Whichards signed the contract in June, broke ground in August and are still on track to close in January.
"I can build my homes faster because of the components I use," Murphy said. "The SIPs panels save 35 to 40 percent on labor alone. We are foundation to under roof in seven days."
Traditional construction takes 14 days from foundation to under roof, meaning the shell of the home is complete in 14 days, Murphy said.
"People say to plan for everything to take twice as long as it should with new construction. I can't believe how quick this process has been," Michael Whichard said.
Time savings translates to cost savings, which means the Whichards were able to buy into their new 2,700-square-foot, three bedroom, two and a half bath, energy efficient, green home for $375,000.
Jeannie Whichard said this was a major consideration.
"I'm from the south, where $250,000 gets you a really nice home. Our dream was to live in a green home, and this makes it affordable," Jeannie Whichard said.
The price has gone up to around $420,000 now, due to modifications such as a mudroom for the Whichards' two large German shepherd-cattle, mixed breed dogs, plus additional storage areas for large quantities of belongings acquired through years of travel abroad.
Modifications in the kitchen include a raised dishwasher so Jeannie will not have to strain her already injured back to load and unload.
Although Jeannie is looking forward to these features specifically designed to her specifications, she is more anxiously awaiting a lifestyle free of allergens. She suffers from allergies of every imaginable kind, requiring two shots per week for the past 10 years. She has high hopes her suffering will at least lessen from an air-tight seal, conditioning and HEPA filtration system.
Standard in Nexus homes, there was no extra charge for this anticipated relief.
"Oh my gosh. All homes should be built like this," Jeannie Whichard said.