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Wiser Living

Finding a natural solution

Building the NewenHouse Kit Home: A Sustainable, Small and Super-Insulated House

Sonya NewenhouseSonya Newenhouse, Ph.D. is an eco-entrepreneur who enjoys providing practical and creative solutions to help individuals and organizations live and manage green. Her firm, Madison Environmental Group, provides LEED green building and sustainability consulting services. She is also founder and president of Community Car, a car sharing organization in Madison Wisconsin. Currently she is developing NewenHouse, a business that will provide super-insulated sustainable kit homes. 

Welcome to the NewenHouse prototype green building blog! My name is Sonya Newenhouse, and I’m in process of developing a company that will sell super insulated, sustainable, elegant kit homes. They will be so well insulated that they will not require a furnace, even through winters in Wisconsin, where we are building the prototype.

NewenHouse construction site 
The side yard of our current home in Viroqua, Wisconsin, is the building site for the NewenHouse prototype home. Photo By Sonya Newenhouse. 

The NewenHouses are designed to be 80 percent more energy efficient than the average American home. They will have an effective, cozy layout that is welcoming and bright, and the building materials will focus on natural materials that are healthier for people and the planet. The homes will also come with a guide to green living and landscaping plan. 

The prototype is striving for LEED Platinum and Passive House certification. The first house we’re building in Viroqua, Wisconsin, two hours northwest of Madison, Wisconsin, will be a three-bedroom, two-bath home with a detached porch, storage room and root cellar that is connected by a covered breezeway. The living space is 968 square feet and will be enclosed in a toasty envelope of 16-inch thick walls, using a double wall wood system filled with dense pack cellulose (recycled newspaper).  Our windows are triple-glaze fiberglass windows from Canada, and we’ll have an HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilation) unit to provide outside air into each room.  One hair dryer per floor is all you’ll need to heat the home, but because building codes require an installed heating system, we’ll use two small 24” x 24” radiant electric ecoheaters—one per floor. We’ll also put an electric towel warmer/heater in the bathroom.

This video shows the site of the NewenHouse prototype in Viroqua, Wisconsin, before construction. The NewenHouse will be a superinsulated sustainable kit home, designed for Passive House and LEED Platinum certification. Video Courtesy Sonya Newenhouse. 

A bit about my background—my parents grew up in Finland and Holland and moved to the U.S. in the late 50s.  They were constantly remodeling and building and creating bright Scandinavian-style spaces. At age 11, I dreamed of being a carpenter when I grew up. Between then and now I went to business school at Michigan State, got a Ph.D. in Land Resources at the University of Wisconsin and started two green business, a sustainable consulting firm, Madison Environmental Group, in 1998 and a car-sharing company, Community Car, in 2003. I’m driven to discover ways to reduce our ecological footprint and recently realized that we need more concrete solutions to reach 80 percent reductions of greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which is why I decided to start another company, NewenHouse, to provide an alternative housing model for eco-pioneers who want to live simply and sustainably. The largest home we’ll offer will be 1,200 square feet (50 percent of the average new American home). Less square footage = less ecological impact = less maintenance—and more time to have fun!