Building the NewenHouse Kit Home: Nearing Completion of the Interior

Reader Contribution by Staff
1 / 4
2 / 4
3 / 4
4 / 4

Sonya 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. 

My favorite days during construction are when there is a lot of activity and there are multiple subcontractors on the job site. I think it’s because I like people and sometimes it gets a little lonely working from home. On these days I especially enjoy the interactions, seeing progress and learning from the trades and crafts people. Eight people are working here today, and I am running construction related errands and overseeing the work. It’s fabulously fun.

The cabinet makers, Garit and Mike Pedersen, from Washburn, Wisconsin, are installing the kitchen cabinets, hutch, linen closet, bathroom vanity, medicine cabinet and the built-in 6-foot long dining bench that turns into a cot! The electricians are installing light fixtures, many of which I bought for less than $5 each at regional Habitat ReStores(second-hand building supply material stores located in Madison, La Crosse and Hayward Wisconsin). The painter is staining the west wall of the house with a second coat. He has already finished painting most of the interior walls and trim. The tile subcontractor is working on the upstairs bathroom and will tile the 16-inch deep window sills on the first floor. David and Dan are trimming out the interior of the three-season room.

Because the house is small (970 square feet) it can get crowded for the subcontractors. So this past Sunday I spent the afternoon organizing the building materials, paint supplies and tool boxes to make room for this week’s work and the cabinets. The cabinets and built-ins will occupy most of the first floor when Garit and Mike unload their trailer and bring them into the house to install. You can save money and be more efficient if you clean and organize the job site regularly. The following picture shows the living area before I cleaned it.

This morning Garit and Mike met with David and Dan and me over scones and coffee. I learned about the importance of straight, level walls. If you’re building a new house or remodeling your kitchen make sure the framer double checks the walls where the cabinets will be installed. It’s very difficult for the cabinet maker to make significant adjustments if the walls are not level. Ours are level.

Every week we review priorities,and now the priority is finishing the interior of the house and the storage room as we hope to move in soon. The storage room is above the root cellar and part of the three-season detached porch off of the north side of the home. Outside, we have some siding yet to install, and we need to build the wood awnings over the east entryway and the large south windows. These projects can wait until after we move in.

The storage room and root cellarare designed to replace the need for a basement. We had to avoid a basement to achieve Passive House certification standards and for many other reasons, such as radon prevention. The 6-by-16-foot root cellar provides tornado protection and is designed with natural ventilation and a partial dirt floor for storing vegetables. Above the root cellar is the storage room, also 6-by-16 feet. Here we will store our camping gear, my yarn and fabric, extra dishes and vases, canning supplies, wrapping paper, and Cecil’s and my childhood mementos. The room will also host a closet for our winter coats and boots, a large file cabinet and our small chest freezer. The storage room is insulated with 6 inches of dense pack cellulous (recycled newspaper) and has a salvaged window installed on the north end and a salvaged door into the three-season porch. The walls are finished with low grade 5/8th plywood (that I’ll paint) and will support 100 linear feet of 18-feet and 12-inch shelving. Cecil will install the shelving in the next few weeks.

Next week we’ll host another NewenHouse OpenHouse, on Friday July 22, 2011 from 3 to 6pm. The address is 422 Hickory St, Viroqua, WI 54665. If you’re in the area, please join us. If you have questions, contact me at (608) 220-8029, or email me at sonya [at] We’ll take a break from our monthly open houses in August and resume in September.

Need Help? Call 1-800-234-3368