SOLDIERS GROVE – Dan Johnson of rural Soldiers Grove and his business partner David Romary of Viroqua were recently recognized with Focus on Energy’s (FOE) Energy Excellence Award for their work on two energy efficient homes in the Driftless Region. The two own and operate the Driftless HomeWrights business.
The award was given because the two homes — one in rural Soldiers Grove and the other in rural Viroqua — were identified as two of the five most energy-efficient homes built in the state of Wisconsin in 2021 through rigorous testing conducted by FOE’s ‘New Home Certification Program’ .
“Our program has certified over 45,000 homes in our 14 years of existence, and Driftless HomeWright homes are often at the top of the list,” program manager Andy Kuc told those gathered. “Every year at the conference that FOE holds to educate builders in energy efficient practices, you see Dan and David selflessly sharing their techniques with other builders – you don’t see that often in business.”
David Romary addressed the group in attendance for the awards ceremony.
“When people ask why we build these types of houses, I explain that 40 percent of the emissions that cause global warming come from heating and cooling houses,” Romary said. “And over the life of a home, 90 percent of its cost comes from heating and cooling bills.”
Johnson said he can’t wait to build more homes like this. And he said, “If you don’t believe in global warming, then do it because it will save you a lot of money.”
Romary shared the story of Sonya Newenhouse, owner of one of the first energy efficient homes built by Driftless HomeWrights in Viroqua.
“Sonya decided that the test of her home would be to see if she could avoid turning on the heat for the entire first winter,” Romary said. “Sonya reported that the lowest temperature they had this winter was 56 degrees and that the house would warm up again immediately as soon as the sun was up.”
Romary said that energy efficient homes can be built at a very competitive price. He said the cost to build one of these homes is generally around $230 per square foot.
“Any good builder can build an energy-efficient house,” said Romary. “You just have to want it.”
Next, Dan Johnson addressed the group.
“It’s fantastic to receive this award,” said Johnson. “A lot of the work we’re doing to achieve this level of energy efficiency is dark and dirty,” Johnson noted. “But the result is super-insulated walls and attics that save energy and save money.”
Johnson said the company’s success owes much to the quality of the subcontractors it works with, and particularly the homeowners who make energy efficiency choices.
“Our planet is in trouble,” Johnson said. “I started learning about climate change and the issues it poses 30 years ago – what Driftless HomeWrights does is go beyond talking to offer solutions. We’re not asking people to give up – we’re asking people to be more comfortable.”
Alicia Leinberger of Ethos Green Energy was the subcontractor who installed the 10-kilowatt solar power system for the Prejean’s home in rural Viroqua.
“This house is free from the fluctuations of the global energy markets,” said Leinberger. “The Prejeans are pioneers and will help to inspire others.”
Leinberger also pointed out that the recently enacted federal inflation-reducing law will financially help many more people to purchase more energy-efficient homes.
The two houses for which Drifltess Homewrights have received awards are Gordon and June Prejean of rural Viroqua and Dr. Joel Charles and Dr. Phoebe Devitt from rural Soldiers Grove.
“I’m grateful to David and Dan for building our home,” said Gordon Prejean. “Their company’s promotional materials don’t even remotely reflect the passion they have for their work.”
Prejean said it was her attention to detail that made the home so cramped and energy efficient. He said the result was a very comfortable home with no emergency fuel.
“Driftless HomeWrights is doing a great job,” said June Prejean. “I feel safe, secure and secure in my home.”
dr Joel Charles lives with his wife Dr. Phoebe Devitt and her two children at Trout Creek Watershed.
“I feel very fortunate to have a comfortable home that is cheap to run and healthy to live in,” said Charles. “Houses built like us should not be the exception, but the rule.”
Charles pointed out that gas appliances can increase children’s chances of developing asthma by 40 percent. He also said there is evidence that grid-connected solar systems help smooth out the peaks and troughs in demand. He pointed out that on a hot, sunny day, residential solar systems produce more excess electricity than is needed by the homeowner, while at the same time the grid can be overloaded by people cooling their homes.
“We have housing shortages in the United States and in the state of Wisconsin,” Charles said. “Crucial is building the new homes needed to be energy efficient with funding from Focus on Energy and updating our building codes to remove systematic barriers to increasing energy efficiency in both our existing and future housing stock.”
Charles said the task ahead is to replicate the success of homes like Driftless HomeWrights’ two “by an order of magnitude.”
focus on energy
FOE’s Matt Bromley spoke to the group about the history of the organization. The group assembled for the occasion included Wisconsin State Representative Loren Oldenburg and Congressman Ron Kind’s office, Tim Hundt.
“Focus on Energy was formed 20 years ago by an act of the legislature and the governor’s signature,” Bromley said. “The program is funded by utility fee payers across the state.”
Oldenburg said he was grateful to have the opportunity to see the tangible results of the law signed into law by lawmakers.
“Congratulations to David and Dan and the homeowners,” Oldenburg said.
Hundt pointed out that the recent soaring energy prices remind us all that energy is a global market. He said it is therefore critical that Congress pass the Inflation Reduction Act to put the United States on the path to energy independence through the development of clean, renewable energy.