Oak Park residents show commitment to living green

Number of renewable energy, water conservation efforts on the rise

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By Anna Lothson

Staff Reporter

There's no shortage of sustainability-friendly residents in Oak Park.

Sure, there's the conscious consumer who takes shorter showers, unplugs electronics when not in use, and those who minimize what they toss into landfills. But going green for many Oak Park residents means adapting to a new way of life — a way that involves eliminating environmental harm whenever and wherever possible.

For Ana Garcia-Doyle and her family, this started with the renovation of their Oak Park home. Faced with space constraints for her growing family and a lagging real estate market, she determined their home would have to be remodeled instead of sold. The next step was easy.

"I thought, 'We need to do this green,'" she recalled.

Seeing the sustainability work around town was her motivation, but providing a better future for her kids was the inspiration for the projects that would take their home to a new level in energy and water conservation.

Geothermal heating and cooling was a large part of achieving that goal, and a state-of-the-art "greywater" system, the first in the village and third in the state, was the finishing touch.

Essentially, greywater is wastewater that can be recycled onsite for such uses as landscape irrigation. It recycles any used water so that no extra water is wasted for daily activities.

Because the technology is so new, Garcia-Doyle had to get a special plumbing variance from the state of Illinois to install the unit. When she went to the village initially to ask to install the system, she was told it was outside Oak Park's jurisdiction, but she was offered letters of recommendation for the variance.

There was much back-and-forth work and communication with the state, she said, but it was all worth it when the system worked during a recent test.

"We try to have a green lens for anything," Garcia-Doyle said. "This goes a little further. … This is what we try to teach [our kids] as a way to conserve and share. Water belongs to everybody. If we don't understand that concept of stewardship, no one survives."

Some have questioned her extra efforts on water conservation, since Illinois is not a state in a water crisis. But if the summer drought is any indication of the future, Garcia-Doyle said, everyone must start today to prepare for tomorrow.

"Nothing is limited," she said. "We have to be careful. … At some point, we will run out. We can prevent that from happening two generations from now."

Garcia-Doyle and her family are just one of many Oak Park households which have taken it upon themselves to create sustainable home projects within the community. Reducing carbon footprints, solar energy, green block parties, trash composting, worm composting and rain gardens are just a few ventures residents have tackled.

Doug Chein's family home is also built for water conservation — from low-flow showerheads to an inline hot water heater, and native landscaping for the rain garden in their backyard.

The rain garden is his latest source of pride as it provides an ecological way to decorate the yard. Rain water is caught on the roof and fills swales that are distributed in the water-absorbent garden. The rest goes back into the ground and starts the cycle over.

"Our goal has always been to keep our rainwater on our property," Chein said, "and to keep our carbon footprint at our house. … It's the right thing to do. It saves money and it's cost-effective."

McLouis Robinet has been in the environmental spotlight for some time with his geothermal heating and cooling system. His home also has a highly-reflective white metal roof that reduces the heat in the summer and offsets 36,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major global warming gas, he said.

The trend of installing reflective roofing is growing, but he suspects the aesthetics have deterred some from installing the material. He believes legislation will someday change when the full benefits are realized.

"People worry about how it will look. I think we're going to have to get over that," he said. "I predict that someday when we come to our senses about global warming ... all roofs will have to be highly reflective."

The climate change that Robinet worries about is also a concern of River Forest resident Sue Crothers, whose home was designed and built to be environmentally low-impact, specifically in terms of water conservation. Her home has a 1,000-gallon tank in the basement that's able to store water trapped from the foliage outside, which consists of a combination of native plants and evergreens.

"We felt that climate change is a big factor. But regardless of climate change, it just seems that if we were going to build, we should use renewable resources," Crothers said.

"We thought if we were going to build something, we should do it as consciously and responsibly as possible."

Collectively, these area residents who have made the choice to go greener agree their investments have paid off financially and ecologically.

For more information about how to implement green efforts locally, visit greencommunityconnections.org.

Email: anna@oakpark.com Twitter: @AnnaLothson

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