VISION House Sussex: The Big Reveal

The goal of this project was to showcase a production model home for consumers and building professionals that optimizes performance, sustainability, health and wellness, intelligence and resiliency—at an attainable price point.

After seven months of meticulous design and production, Tim O’Brien Homes has unveiled its VISION House Sussex model/demonstration home in the Vista Run community near Milwaukee, Wisc. The Birchwood Model showcases next-generation, mainstream green home building that optimizes performance, sustainability, occupant health and resiliency at a price point that’s attainable for working-class American families.

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The goal of the Village of Sussex project is to showcase to building professionals and consumers how to optimize performance, sustainability, health and wellness, intelligence, and resiliency at an attainable price point. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


The project, a partnership with Green Builder Media and key product suppliers, is the latest foray into sustainable building from Tim O’Brien Homes, a company that has built 2,000 homes with the best design, building science practices, and green features since 2007. Home Energy Rating Score (HERS) is a national index that rates houses on an energy use scale—the lower the rating, the more energy efficient the home. Homes constructed to building code score about 100; By contrast, every Tim O’Brien home scores an average HERS of 45.  

Over the past months we’ve talked about VISION House Sussex and its impressive sustainability, health and occupant comfort. These features include superior insulation, waterproofing and water conservation, indoor air quality, radon mitigation, energy-saving windows, mechanical systems and solar energy with battery storage. Now that the home is complete, let’s look at the design, finish and convenience features that make a house a home.

Indoor Elements of a Perfect Home

When it comes to overall design, Tim O’Brien Homes’ mantra is “space in the right place,” based on lifestyle—not too big, not too small. VISION House Sussex features an open concept design, with conveniences such as a master bedroom walk-in closet, “drop your stuff” areas, a walk-in pantry, good cabinetry layout and circulation in the kitchen, “de-stress” zones in the home and phone charging stations where they should be.

The kitchen pantry and the bedroom closets are all fitted with intelligent shelving systems from Organized Living. Products include FreedomRail, an easily adjustable shelving solution that offers homeowners the flexibility to change components to suit their lifestyle, with no tools needed; VUE solid shelving; and Lifetime Ventilated, strong fixed wire shelving with an epoxy powder coating that resists cracking, chipping, peeling and discoloration.

With the exception of tiled areas, all finished floors in VISION House Sussex are manufactured by Mohawk Flooring in Georgia. 

Mohawk’s Everstrand is a premium, sustainable polyester carpeting made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic using the company’s patented Continuum process, which creates a clean, strong and comfortable product with excellent stain resistance for eco-conscious homeowners. (Mohawk accounts for 1 out of every 3 PET plastic bottles recycled in the U.S.) The fiber is solution-dyed, meaning the color is built into the fiber and won’t wear off, fade or stain.

Short for “revolutionary wood,” Mohawk’s RevWood flooring installed in VISION House Sussex is a PVC-free laminated floor product designed to mimic the appearance of hardwood flooring while offering enhanced durability and ease of maintenance. With a moisture-resistant high-density fiberboard core, Signature technology printed wood veneer, a protective wear layer and WetProtect technology for water-tight joints and a waterproof finish, it’s highly resistant to moisture, stains, fading and scratching.  

The kitchen backsplash, shower walls and floors in VISION House Sussex come from Daltile, America’s leader in natural stone, porcelain and ceramic tile. The company’s Mesmerist kitchen backsplash tile offers a natural and handmade look and uses Simpliclean technology for easy cleanup. 

Articulo porcelain tile with Stone Decorative Accent on the home’s shower walls offers a travertine look, and a seamless design which can also be used on floors, walls and countertops. 

Shower floors are Uptown Glass Matte, a hexagonal pattern in alabaster that’s made from 98 percent recycled material. All Daltile bathroom products feature Climatepro and Simpliclean technology for durability and easy cleaning.

Kohler, a family-run American manufacturing company founded in 1873 with products sold worldwide, is based just a few miles north of where VISION House Sussex is located, making it a natural choice for the home’s kitchen and bathrooms. 

The company’s EPA WaterSense-certified Bellera 560 kitchen faucet in Vibrant Stainless features touch control to switch between three water flow types: stream; Sweep spray, which creates a wide, forceful blade of water for stubborn stuck-on messes; and Boost technology, which increases flow rate by 30 percent. Kohler Caxton oval undermount sinks grace the home’s bathrooms.

External Home Elements Add Protection

Speaking of water conservation, VISION House Sussex is fitted with a Phyn whole home water leak detection system. Phyn Plus protects the home from leaks, conserves water and saves homeowners money by accurately detecting leaks across multiple flow sources in the home. The device continually measures microscopic water changes to recognize the unique “voice” of every water fixture. When a faucet runs, Phyn knows it’s a faucet. If the faucet leaks, an alert is issued. 

Inside the home, low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints were applied on all walls, ceilings and trim to limit odor and potentially harmful gasses. An abundance of windows (high-performance ENERGY STAR) fill the home with natural light, accented by a comprehensive lighting package that includes energy-efficient LED lights. 

The outside walls of VISION House Sussex are clad in James Hardie’s HardiePlank a fiber cement product composed of Portland cement, sand, water, cellulose fibers, and proprietary additives that will protect the home from wind, rain and snow. 

The home’s insulated garage door is the Windsor Model 73l, which is made from sheet steel with 76 percent recycled content. It’s made by Windsor Door, a company based in Little Rock, Ark., whose products are measurably sustainable, manufactured with predominantly recycled content and CFC free.

Controlling the garage door is a Secure View Ultra-Quiet Belt Drive Smart Opener with  Camera, a dual LED lighting manufactured by LiftMaster, which offers two-way audio communication and monitoring/controlling of home access (paired with a myQ Video Keypad and app for a phone or tablet), and an integrated lighting system that brightens high-traffic areas outdoors.     

JinkoSolar’s Eagle Continental solar panels drive the energy system in VISION House Sussex. Eagle’s solar panels, batteries and a power inverter provide the homeowner with backup electricity in case of power outages and “peak shaving”—economizing electricity rates by charging during off-peak times and using the batteries during on-peak. 

Nearly all of VISION House Sussex runs on electric power. The exception is the Carrier Performance 96 condensing gas furnace. This dual fuel system, according to Tim O’Brien, will be used to heat the home only on the coldest days. Most of the time, it will use electricity, which will reduce the home’s carbon emissions, but natural gas will be an option during severe weather. 

Performance 96 can be controlled with the Ecobee SmartThermostat With InteiliSense and Voice Control, which tailors itself to homeowners’ schedules, comfort preferences and outside weather.

Final Thoughts

According to Tim O’Brien Homes president Tim O’Brien, VISION House Sussex is the culmination of a partnership between the company, Green Builder Media and leading product manufacturers. They share a common vision: to showcase a production model home for consumers and building professionals that optimizes performance, sustainability, health and wellness, intelligence and resiliency—at an attainable price point. 

“Our ambition is to make a positive impact by continually improving our home building process to deliver our customers a wonderful experience that reduces the level of stress in building a home,” O’Brien says. “It is this innovative approach that defines us. We are very grateful to Green Builder Media and to our sponsors for this excellent opportunity!” 

Tested and Certified

VISION House Sussex, like every Tim O’Brien home, goes through rigid quality control and certification processes to ensure a comfortable and worry-free home. “In the finishing stage, we do a ‘manager quality walk’ to give the home a different set of eyes once the flooring and carpeting are in, and schedule any last-minute paint touch-ups and cleaning before the customer moves in,” says Tim O’Brien.

During the quality walk, the home’s HVAC system was balanced, all supply and return ducts were tested and cleaned, Aeroseal duct cleaning technology was applied, and third-party technicians rigorously tested for air quality and air leakage. Finally, the home received certifications from EPA Indoor AirPLUS, Green Built Home and Wisconsin Focus on Energy New Homes. 

On the day that homeowners take possession of their new home, Tim O’Brien staff take them on an educational “how it all works” walk-through and leave them with a homeowner’s manual and instructional video once the keys are handed over. 

 

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JinkoSolar’s Eagle Continental solar panels, batteries and a power inverter provide the homeowner economizing electricity rates by charging during off-peak times and using the batteries during on-peak. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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The home’s insulated garage door is Windsor Door’s Windsor Model 73l, which is made from sheet steel with 76 percent recycled content.  Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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The outside walls of VISION House Sussex are clad in HardiePlank, a fiber cement product composed of Portland cement, sand, water, cellulose fibers, and proprietary additives that will protect the home from wind, rain and snow. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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Mohawk’s RevWood flooring is a PVC-free laminated floor product that mimics the appearance of hardwood flooring while offering enhanced durability and ease of maintenance. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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VISION House Sussex features numerous sustainable products, including water conserving sink fixtures, LED and natural lighting, and a PVC-free laminated floor product. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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Daltile produces its Mesmerist kitchen backsplash tile, which offers a natural and handmade look, and utilizes Simpliclean technology for easy cleanup. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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Master bedroom suites, with walk-in closets and natural glass windows, serve as an example of intelligent green energy management. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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Mohawk’s Everstrand is a premium, sustainable polyester carpeting made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography


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Shower floors are Daltile Uptown Glass Matte, a hexagonal pattern in alabaster that’s made from 98 percent recycled material. Courtesy Brian Slawson Photography

 

Launching Point

On Sept. 9, 2023, an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony for VISION House Sussex generated a lot of interest from a good turnout of curious visitors, according to Tim O’Brien. 

“People were really excited about what we’ve done, with lots of questions, especially about the solar panels and storage batteries,” he reports. “They loved the idea of having their own mini utility company using the power they generate.”

There was also a lot of interest in the home’s indoor air quality features, such as the energy recovery ventilator (ERV) and the Active Sub-Soil Venting System, especially with the prevalence these days of wildfire smoke, allergens, pollution from cars and radon, O’Brien adds. “They also liked to see sustainable products used in the home,” he says.

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