published Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

Signal Mountain home touted as model of energy efficiency

by Amy Williams

The Trey Wheeler residence on Signal Mountain was recently completed by Collier Construction. The home will be featured today in a discussion on the new standards of energy efficiency.

The Wheeler residence in Signal Mountain's Fox Run neighborhood may just be the envy of all the other homes on the mountain, at least when it comes to utility bills.

For three months this summer, the 3,200-square-foot home with six residents had an average monthly utility bill of $50. Now that average is closer to $65 a month. The home, which belongs to architect Trey Wheeler, utilized simple construction techniques to keep the home's energy costs down.

The builder of the home, Collier Construction, will host a brunch today to discuss how the home is the model of energy efficiency, and it didn't cost the homeowner an arm and a leg to do it.

Mr. Wheeler, who also designed the home, said he had three big concerns in mind during its planning. One was to accommodate his family's active lifestyle with something that was low maintenance. Lastly, he was mindful of energy cost and consumption, something he said he feels very strongly about.

"America consumes more than half of the world's energy with less than a tenth of the population," Mr. Wheeler said. "We're fat and sassy, and we need to quit living like that."

Mr. Wheeler and builder Ethan Collier will lead a discussion on the techniques used in building and designing the house. For one thing, the home is positioned so that only one room in the home needs lights during the day. A building technique called advanced framing was used to allow more insulation to be put into the walls.

None of the energy efficient techniques used in building the home resulted in additional costs. In fact, though Mr. Wheeler declined to say how much building the house cost, he said it was about 30 percent less than the going rate for new construction on Signal Mountain.

"From the outset, (Mr. Wheeler) wanted to achieve maximum energy efficiency without using any costly technology or renewable energy," said Aaron Collier with Collier Construction. "If his energy bills average $70 to $100 a month from here on, we'll be really excited about that."

The home was completed in July and the family moved in the same month. Mr. Wheeler said his wife and four children, ranging from 3 to 16 years old, were initially concerned the house might look strange, but they are now very comfortable.

"The acid test for us was when we pulled out the bills on our old home," he said. "We're using 40 percent fewer kilowatt-hours in this house than the old house."

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aaron1 said...

Seems interesting that Mr. Wheeler would comment on the amount of energy consumed by Americans versus other nations after choosing a neighborhood with a 3000 square foot minimum home size. Not to mention its remote location forcing Mr. Wheeler and is family to drive their SUV off the mtn. for work, play and groceries. Bluff Creek at Fox Run, a development with developer approved landscaping and color schemes. What a joke! It's Architect's like Mr. Wheeler, construction company's like Collier Const. and national organizations like the USGBC that are killing any real hope of a truly sustainable future by pawning off their oversized so-called "green" developments as energy efficient homes. Sustainable development has a long way to go if these are the projects (and the people) that are gong to be touted as energy efficient models.

December 1, 2009 at 8:36 p.m.
hcirehttae said...

Right on, Aaron. I hate the fact you had to say it, but it's the truth. I have nothing against Mr. Wheeler or the companies you mention, but our homes are too big, our cars are too big, our overall appetites are not and never were sustainable -- we're gluttons at a table that is shrinking at light speed.

December 1, 2009 at 8:42 p.m.
Lightnup said...

Oh quit yer class-envy whining. The guy could have built the typical energy-hogging McMansion on his property and instead he made a socially-conscious decision to incorporate energy efficiency in his home design.

A 3,200 sq. ft. home for 6 people doesn't seem out of line to me. It's less area per person than a husband and wife living in a 1,200 sq. ft. apartment. What's the big deal? It's still smaller and more energy efficient than EITHER of Al Gore's homes.

December 1, 2009 at 10 p.m.
treywheeler said...

Hey folks,

Appreciate the criticisms above. They are valid concerns to be sure. Signal works for us with four children as private school is not within our reach. My oldest is 16, the other public school options some 11 or so years ago were not particularly attractive to us so we moved to Signal. Wife stays home, church, school, and even groceries are close to the house. SUV, yes (an older one), but again, with six of us (plus two dogs) I haven't found a good alternative.

In any event, part of the thrust of this project was to see how far we could take a "normal" home in terms of efficiency and the like. In spite of momentary delusions, it isn't likely that the majority of Americans are ready to live in urban settings, move to an "off the grid" home, give up their cars, etc. We've managed to reduce our energy consumption by more than 40% from our previous home; I'm pretty excited by that.

I absolutely welcome the dialogue and the criticism presented here. I would be more than happy to continue on this public venue and / or in person, over the phone, etc. If anyone is seriously interested in the positive or potential negative aspects of what we've done I would be happy to arrange time to meet at our home, downtown, or whatever might be convenient. You can get my contact information from our company web site, />

All my best,

Trey Wheeler

USPchattanooga said...

Hello all, I find it infinitely encouraging that a 40% energy expenditure reduction by a homeowner can become such a contentious issue. That might sound strange but to me it signals that no matter how well intentioned we are we could always have done more. It is also indicative of the fact that our concept of sustainability must be more nuanced and pursued more rigorously if expect to have any chance at undoing some of the environmental transgressions of the way we have live for the last century. If anyone wants to continue this debate out side of this comment string please visit or check out the Urban Sustainability Projects website . This is a dialogue that we should continue and an issue that I hope the paper will pursue in greater detail

December 3, 2009 at 12:41 a.m.

I agree with Lightnup's points. If this had been Al Gore and his family's Mansion, the you-know-whos would have been all over themselves to tout his huge success at Green-sustainability.

Many of us for decades, no hundreds of years have practiced earth-friendly, sustainable, cost-saving techniques to make our lives and nests more in tune with the planet's ecology.

Now if the rest of us poor, working and middle-classes will ever be able to rise above our circumstances again and 'make it', then we should happily join Mr. Wheeler and others in doing our collective part for humanity and the earth. I just hope sustainability and cost-saving under Obama's Plans doesn't mean our families will be rubbing two sticks together and living in mud-daub Huts, eating tree roots and grass <@

December 6, 2009 at 1:45 p.m.
treywheeler said...

"Now if the rest of us poor, working and middle-classes will ever be able to rise above our circumstances again and 'make it', then we should happily join Mr. Wheeler and others in doing our collective part for humanity and the earth."

Thanks for your comments. I suppose that is another part of the equation I should mention - part of the mission (one of the very real constraints in fact) with this project was to hold the upfront cost to a sort of number that would be palatable to the "middle class". The good folks at Collier and I have had countless conservations about how to bring solid design and construction within reach of "the average joe". We were able to keep the square foot cost on this home maybe 30% - 40% below the "going rate" for other homes in similar communities.



December 8, 2009 at 8:46 a.m.
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