Northwest Energy Star Super-Efficient Homes—#5: The Montana Retreat

Posted by Neil Grigsby on May 09, 2013
Northwest Energy Star Super-Efficient Homes—#5: The Montana Retreat
This Montana home utilizes a combination of structural insulated panel construction with a ground-source heat pump-powered in-floor radiant heat system and a high-efficiency HRV that minimizes heating costs.

The Montana Retreat in Ennis, Montana, is one of six super energy-efficient homes being highlighted this year by Northwest Energy Star Homes—in collaboration with builders, utilities and homeowners—to increase awareness and adoption of advanced building practices and products that can improve quality, comfort, and energy efficiency in new homes.

Check out #1, The Inspiration Home; #2, The House of the Immediate Future; #3, The O'Neill in Meadow Ranch; #4, Kepler Ridge; and visit soon to read about the last house, a passive house outside Portland, Oregon.

A "Retreat" Into Energy Efficiency

Moving from Arizona to Montana involves a serious change of lifestyle...and climate.

When Cindy and Rich Gockel decided to make the move from Arizona to Ennis, Montana, elevation 5,423 feet, they knew that they had to take into account the elements when designing their retirement home.

Learning from the Past

Fortunately they knew what they DIDN'T want—an uncomfortable, drafty old house like their current one in Arizona. Those high energy bills provided the motivation to build a tight, energy-efficient home, both to keep them more comfortable and to help keep their living expenses to a minimum.

“Our desire to build a highly energy-efficient house was based on a number of factors,” said Cindy Gockel. “One, it’s the right thing to do for the planet. Two, since we’re moving from Arizona to Montana, being able to keep the house warm without breaking the bank is important.”

Upping the Energy Efficiency with Wickiup Builders

Richard “Tikker” Jones, owner of Wickiup Builders, was more than happy to meet the challenges posed by the Gockels. A veteran of the building industry, Jones was an early adopter of advanced construction practices, and he’s known locally as “the green builder.” All the homes the company builds are Energy Star-certified and third-party verified, and they’re built to the stringent guidelines of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification program, as well.

Energy efficiency is a priority for Jones, and something he takes very seriously. “We view the advancement of building science as an opportunity for builders to challenge themselves to construct more efficient and cost effective homes,” said Jones.

In fact, this family-owned business has won many awards over the years, including honorable mentions in 2011 and 2012 from the Structural Insulated Building Association for the Building Excellence Award, which recognizes energy-efficient, sustainable construction.

Green Dream Home

The Gockels wanted a home that would be both affordable and low-maintenance. They got that, and more. Their three bedroom, two bath, 2,100 square foot dream house will minimize their living expenses and be comfortable year-round.

“Because our home will be air-tight, it will be more comfortable and it won’t have the temperature swings a leaky house can have,” said Gockel. “Hopefully, when other people see our home, they may consider making more energy-efficient choices in the future.”

The home utilizes a combination of structural insulated panel construction with a ground-source heat pump-powered in-floor radiant heat system and a high-efficiency heat recovery ventilator (HRV) that minimizes heating costs.

Performance features of the Montana Retreat include:

  • R-20 expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation under slab
  • R-23 insulated concrete forms (ICF)
  • 10" R-40 structural insulated panel (SIP) walls 16" R-60 SIP roof
  • 2" spray foam and cellulose (R-60) in breezeway
  • 6" SIPs with R-40 cellulose in attached garage ceiling
  • Windows below U-.20
  • Home oriented within 20° of true south
  • Heat recovery ventilator (HRV)
  • Occupancy-activated switching for hot water use

To learn more about this project and other super-efficient homes across the Northwest, please visit


Neil Grigsby oversees NEEA’s Northwest Energy Star Homes initiative, which encourages builders across the region to build more efficient homes using new technologies and building practices. His experience includes a degree in urban studies from the University of Washington, and in designing, planning, and implementing energy-efficiency programs along with public outreach and education.

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