Energy used for hair dryer enough to heat Viroqua home

Sonya Newenhouse's Wisconsin home does not have a furnace

In honor of Earth Day some make the extra effort to pick up trash outside or ride their bike to work instead of using their vehicle.

Earth Day was created by former Wisconsin governor and Senator Gaylord Nelson in the 1970s.

Over the years, more and more people have taken interest in sustainable living, whether it’s downsizing a home or becoming more energy efficient.

However, Sonya Newenhouse, an eco-entrepreneur, and her family in Viroqua have taken sustainability to a whole new level.

It’s almost May and Wisconsinites are still dealing with snow flurries and because Wisconsin is known for its brutal winters, a house without a furnace seems unrealistic but for Newenhouse it’s a sign of sustainability.

“This is probably about 90 percent more efficient than the average new construction,” said Newenhouse.

Newenhouse, along with her husband and 7-year-old son, live in Wisconsin’s second official certified passive home.

“What that means is it is certified to such rigorous energy standards from Germany that the home only needs one hair dryer to heat the house even when it’s negative 30 degrees out,” said Newenhouse.

The 970-square-foot Viroqua home with three bedrooms and two baths does not have a furnace.

So how does it stay warm in the winter?

“Picture yourself in a duct tape sleeping bag so this house is full of insulation,” said Newenhouse. “We have 18-inch thick walls, 16 inches of dense pack cellulose insulation; we have 12 inches of insulation under the slab and 26 inches of insulation in the attic.”

The house also has triple-pane windows, triple-pane doors and every crease is sealed with a tape made for cold climates.

“I would bet you a fancy dinner that this is the best-insulated home in Wisconsin,” said Newenhouse.

In fact, the house is so insulated; Newenhouse actually has to filter fresh air into the house.

“We have an HRV, heat recovery ventilation unit, so fresh air is delivered to every room and exhausted from the kitchen and bath,” said Newenhouse.

But Newenhouse’s idea of sustainability doesn’t end with the house.

“We have an edible landscape plan,” said Newenhouse. “In the front we grow a hedge of Brussels sprouts, cabbage and carrots.”

She also has a small cabin in the back of the house for storage.

“The stuga, which is a Swedish word for cabin, stores all of your stuff,” said Newenhouse. “We also have a root cellar and tornado shelter.”

Newenhouse’s decision to join the small home movement and live in a highly efficient home may not be for everyone.

“It’s just in my blood,” said Newenhouse.

But she said even the little things make a difference.

“We can take action every day,” said Newenhouse.

Newenhouse is in the process of creating a business that will launch in 2016. It is called Newen House and she will be selling sustainable home plan kits. All of the homes will be around 1,000 square feet and be so efficient, you would only need the energy equivalent of using a hair dryer to heat the home.

If you would like to learn more about sustainable living or would like to tour Newenhouse’s home in Viroqua, you can contact her at 608-220-8029. The next tour set up at her house is Saturday, May 16, from 2-4 p.m., at 244 Hickory Street, Viroqua.         

Newenhouse also wrote a book called “Enact. Steps to Greener Living.” You can find a copy of the book at