Each year since 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Housing Innovation Awards recognize forward-thinking builders who construct homes that are Zero Energy Ready (with net zero achievable with the addition of solar panels). Among the winners of the 2021 Housing Innovation Awards is Milwaukee-area builder Tim O’Brien Homes, which took a top prize for a 3,000 square foot high-performance custom home insulated with blown-in fiberglass insulation.
About Tim O’Brien Homes
Tim O’Brien Homes was founded in 2007 with a desire to shift the focus in construction from a cost-driven model to a value-driven approach. Founder Tim O’Brien says his company is committed to continually improving the home building process, which they ensure by training their team members in areas including building science, renewable energy features like solar photovoltaic panels, and the latest technologies in insulation and air sealing to improve indoor air quality.
The company was recently named one of Milwaukee’s best builders.
In a cold climate like Milwaukee, a well-constructed thermal envelope is imperative. During the year, the temperature typically varies from 18° to 81°F.  Select details of the award-winning home include:
2 x 4 wall, 16” o.c. R-21 total: advanced framed; R-15 dense-pack fiberglass 7/16 OSB sheathing, 7/6” R-5 graphite EPSA, drain wrap; stone veneer and engineered wood siding.
Vented attic: 20” R-50 blown-in fiberglass; ½ inch. R-3 closed-cell spray foam over sill plates, chases, can lights. Ridge Vents; 7” raised heel trusses.
1.5 ACH50, all seams in rigid foam and rain wrap taped
ERV, MERV 11 filter, sensors across the home for temperature, humidity, VOCs, and carbon dioxide
Gas furnace, 96 AFUE, 13 SEER AC.
In addition to those details, the home has lighting controls with all LEDs, automated window blinds, and an integrated home automation system for the HVAC and lights. A bonus: it’s equipped with an EV charging station.
High Performance with Cost-Effective Products
It’s worth emphasizing that a builder that prides itself on constructing homes that will prove to be good long-term investments for the buyers trains their staff continuously about building science and the latest innovations in air sealing and insulation. Investing in continuous training has undoubtedly helped the builder construct a home that sips rather than gulps energy – with a modeled HERS score of 45 without PV and just 32 with it. Annual energy costs are estimated at just $1,000 with PV or $1,750 without it.
Builders who choose to train their staff can have confidence that high performance (and even award-winning homes) can be constructed using fiberglass insulation, good air sealing, ventilation, and a high-performance HVAC system.