As the world becomes more eco-friendly, Chicago’s developers, Realtors and buyers are discovering that incorporating green practices into the development, design and construction of new buildings is not only beneficial for the environment, but also for business.
By Farrah Hodges
When collaboration, innovation and advanced technology merge with a renewed sense of social and environmental responsibility, a new way of thinking evolves. Just as “organic” and “hybrid” have become mainstays in the green lexicon, changing the way we prepare meals or commute to work, sustainability is changing the way we build.
Born of an ominous global forecast coupled with an awareness of our own accountability, the trend of building green that emerged 20 and even 10 years ago was a much different vision than the sustainable buildings of today. The term “green” was often associated with sacrifice, either aesthetically, financially or both. But the climate has changed, so to speak, and the building industry and consumers alike are beginning to discover that not only are eco-friendly buildings good for the environment, they’re good for business.
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), by year’s end, “more than half of NAHB’s members, who build more than 80 percent of the homes in this country, will be incorporating green practices into the development, design and construction of new homes.”
If the market is any indication of America’s increasing acceptance of eco-friendly goods, consumers do not seem to be simply riding the wave of another trend. Victor Wolbrink and Jill Russell of Chicago’s Wolbrink Architects Chartered agree.
“About 75 percent or more of our clients want to build using a more eco-friendly approach,” say Wolbrink and Russell. “We feel that the market is constantly growing as people become more educated on its benefits.”
With buildings currently accounting for 36 percent of America’s total energy use, 65 percent of electricity consumption, and 30 percent of raw materials waste, constant development is having a huge global impact. The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming America’s building industry from wasteful to sustainable, is perhaps the nation’s foremost authority on green building and is setting the industry standard for eco-friendly design and construction. The organization also is attempting to educate homeowners and building professionals on the benefits of building green.
The benefits, it seems, are immeasurable. Eco-friendly homes and buildings are, by definition and design, built to maximize efficiency while minimizing humans’ negative environmental impact and creating healthier living and working environments for occupants. According to the USGBC, green homes are 30 percent to 50 percent more energy efficient than conventionally built homes and, often, have reduced operational and maintenance costs compared to their traditional counterparts.
Often associated with high-end homes, green features are becoming more accessible and affordable for the average homebuyer. Although many green features are certainly more expensive than those used in conventional building practices, a homeowner’s eventual savings often offset the initial costs.
“Many builders and consumers,” say Wolbrink and Russell, “have the misconception that green features are automatically costly. Green does not have to be expensive. It’s important to understand, green is just a matter of changing the way we think about how we build something.”
For the husband-and-wife team of Wolbrink Architects Chartered, constantly finding new ways to reduce a building’s impact on human health and the environment is a shared personal philosophy that has defined their approach to business. Their 2020 Green Dream, a multifamily residential unit located at 2020 W. Rice in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood of Chicago, is the first Energy Star Certified three flat in Chicago and garnered Wolbrink the 2006 GreenWorks Award, Mayor Daley’s award for environmentally responsible construction, products and practices.
An ambitious project even by those standards, 2020 Green Dream is also a registered LEED-NC (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design New Construction) project. The LEED rating, a nationally recognized rating system created by the USGBC, has four distinctions of green for eco-friendly buildings, commonly referred to as “shades of green.” They are certified, silver, gold and platinum.
With today’s green projects being more about a strategic, comprehensive approach to design, a building’s LEED certification is based on the integration of site development, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials selections and indoor environmental quality, and how design and construction strategies within those categories come together to create the most efficient building possible.
While not LEED rated, 2020 Green Dream is an exceptional model of green design by LEED standards. Incorporating many of the most common green features, such as regionally sourced and recycled content building materials, water saving equipment and fluorescent lighting, 2020 Green Dream also employs innovative design and cutting-edge technology.
Green Dream’s outdoor permeable paving helps reduce storm-water runoff into the city’s sewer system. Green roofs also absorb rainwater while helping to reduce the heat-island effect and, therefore, the building’s energy requirements. Low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) finishes are used throughout the project and help to improve overall air quality.
“The project’s most unique features,” say Wolbrink, a LEED Accredited Professional, and Russell, the project’s general contractor, “are its custom-designed aluminum sandwich panels, which serve two purposes. Their high R-value, a value used to characterize insulation materials, creates an airtight and highly efficient building envelope [while allowing] for a reduction in the mass of the building. The masonry portion of the wall is reduced to just the frame, creating a structure easily adapted for future unit configurations.”
The site’s seamless fit within the context of its existing environment was another well-planned point of design.
“As a site strategy, the front of the building reflects the rhythm of the street and evolves into a more modern aesthetic as it steps back from the street,” say Wolbrink and Russell. In addition, the project’s in-town location means that “utilizing a smaller footprint for the building equates to less resources used.”
Chicagoland builder/developer Perry Bigelow has been perfecting a comprehensive approach to energy-efficient design for the last 30 years. Bigelow Homes’ HomeTown, located in Aurora, is a suburban community with a distinctly small-town feel, featuring residential homes that are “as cost-efficient as possible but extremely energy-efficient.” The newest phase, expected to open in the next several months, will be Chicagoland’s first low-impact, compact community.
HomeTown’s residences come with a three-year, $400-per-year heating guarantee. The focus is on “air tightness, low solar heat gain/cool efficient windows, and reasonably high levels of insulation in the envelope and basement insulation.” Bigelow’s practice of building “compact communities” actually preserves surrounding nature and leaves the smallest carbon footprint possible given the community’s size.
“As a nation, we have become concerned about green and environmental [issues] in general,” says Bigelow. “But, if we want to save ourselves, we really have to get serious about energy conservation with respect to building.”
Harold Adelstein and Cliff Bedar of Dynaprop Development Corp. agree that eco-friendly design and construction, particularly in an urban setting, can amount to major environmental gains.
“Some green features,” say Adelstein and Bedar, “can prove complicated to implement in an urban setting.” Installing ground-source geothermal heat pump systems, for example, which exchange thermal energy between a building and the earth below for more efficient heating and cooling, can prove challenging. However, green features often provide greater overall environmental gains in populated areas.
“Water conservation strategies are more beneficial in the city just because of the sheer density of water users,” they say. Design features such as green roofs and solar panels can be “much more beneficial in the city as they help eliminate the heat-island effect created by the vast amount of heat absorbing pavement and low SRI (Solar Reflective Index) roofing materials.” Dynaprop’s latest project, eco18, a two-phase urban project slated for construction at 1818 S. Wabash in the South Loop will include these very features. Eco18 will be the city’s first “Tier III” project permitted through Chicago’s Green Permit program, and through smart features and sophisticated design, Dynaprop is striving for LEED Gold, the system’s third-highest certification.
Of the project’s combined green features, perhaps the most impressive will include an 11,000-square-foot accessible roof garden. A massive 60-ton geothermal heat pump system will provide “over three-quarters of the building’s heating and cooling demands,” say Adelstein and Bedar. The 20 geothermal bores penetrating 450 feet into the earth will be one of, if not the, largest geothermal installations in Chicago. The 70-plus parabolic solar panels located on the property’s roof will produce close to half of eco18’s domestic hot water, while the property’s ventilation system will help reduce energy consumption by recapturing energy from exhaust air, according to Adelstein and Bedar.
Of course, not all of eco18’s green features will require the use of such advanced technology. In addition to using recycled content, sustainably harvested and low-VOC materials throughout, low-flow plumbing fixtures will help to conserve water, while fluorescent lighting and Energy Star appliances will reduce energy consumption. Dynaprop also plans to “employ an aggressive construction waste management plan that will divert 80 percent of the typical construction debris from landfill,” say Adelstein and Bedar.
With a goal of 186 total condominium units covering nearly 20,000 square feet of commercial space, eco18’s exclusive features and urban convenience will be an added bonus for prospective homeowners committed to environmentally responsible living.
“We believe [homebuyers] want more than mere ‘eco-friendly finishes’ and have just been waiting for a truly green project,” say Adelstein and Bedar. “With eco18, we believe we have provided just that.”
The average homeowner will undoubtedly have no idea how passive solar heating can reduce energy costs or how a well-sealed building envelope can reduce mold and other indoor pollutants. However, with a little research, ingenuity and a skilled, conscientious builder, home owners have myriad options for achieving any level of green, from eco-friendly finishes to an entirely sustainable home.
“What is most effective about the current trend in green design and construction,” according to Adelstein and Bedar, “is that all of these once discrete strategies have come together to create a powerfully comprehensive approach to designing and constructing our building environment.” C.A.
LEED Accredited Professional
Wolbrink Architects Chartered
Dynaprop (Eco 18)