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The work has been completed, the reviews are in, and the result is a one-of-a-kind home in Oak Park that has reached platinum status.
Well, platinum status as it refers to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, an internationally-recognized system for grading green residential and commercial construction. Such certified dwellings have completed a rigorous process that includes a home energy rating and onsite inspections to verify that they've been built to be energy and water efficient, and environmentally sound.
The recently constructed brick home at 1135 N. Grove Ave., is the collaboration of homeowners Tim Carey and Lynn Laszewski and local developer Paul Wicklow. While achieving the highest level of green standards is exciting, so is the fact the home fits in with its historic neighbors and offers great comfort to its occupants.
Jason LaFleur, regional director of the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, served as a third party verifier for the project.
"LEED certification is really a matter of the home being well thought out in the planning stages," he says. "It requires a whole-building approach. It's much easier to achieve platinum status if you begin the planning stages knowing what your goals are."
LaFleur adds that the standards focus on energy efficiency and indoor air quality.
"To achieve LEED certification, my office gets involved throughout the construction process. We visit the home at various stages during the construction to verify and do performance testing."
Carey and Laszewski knew from the start that they wanted to build a green home when they moved to the area from Denver. Carey says the LEED process gave them a roadmap.
"The primary reason we did this was to be consistent with our values. Rather than just talk about energy efficiency, we decided to demonstrate it on a large scale," he says. "While we knew we wanted a green house, the LEED guidelines helped us to make decisions that we may not have known to make."
Laszewski adds, "I don't know that we had to go to this level to suit our own needs, but since we were doing it anyway, we decided we might as well let a third party verify it and get the certification."
The decision to build new, says Carey, came about due to the nature of the green standards they wanted to implement. "While older homes can be retrofitted, true energy efficiency is easier to achieve by building new."
Wicklow, also an Oak Parker who owns Wicklow Development Group, led the construction. An existing home was demolished in the fall of 2008, and care was taken to preserve useful materials from the existing house while eliminating waste. Finished in the winter of 2009, the house runs completely on electricity, using no natural gas.
Wicklow's crew installed 20 solar panels on the roof of the home to provide the power. The angle of the roof was optimized to make it easy to install the panels while also keeping them from visually disturbing the home's façade. The construction team drilled two 450-foot wells in the backyard to install a geothermal heating and cooling system that uses the earth's temperature to cool and heat the house. These measures result in significantly lower energy bills for the homeowners.
Wicklow had been using green building techniques in his construction for years. "With Tim and Lynn, we really decided to take it to the next level," he says. "The technology behind building green is simple. You need to pick the right parts and pieces and execute them in the right way. The environmental payback is very big if you can put it all together."
As a result, the home uses 66 percent less energy than a typical new home built to code. Other features help boost the home's energy efficiency as well. The windows, light fixtures and appliances are high efficiency. The structure was carefully sealed to prevent air leakage, and blown-in fiberglass aids in insulation.
A heat recovery ventilator distributes fresh air throughout the home, which makes for a healthy environment for the homeowners. Throughout the home, decorative features also contribute to the LEED certification. Low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints, recycled fiber carpet, and locally sourced materials were used in the construction.
Wicklow says that at first, they aimed to achieve LEED Gold status but realized as they kept exceeding standards that they had a shot at Platinum.
"It's exciting to be the first LEED Platinum home in Oak Park, but it is also exciting to achieve this with a home that has a flavor of history built into it," he says. "Tim and Lynn weren't interested in building a spaceship. They wanted a normal house built to green standards."
LaFleur notes that it's not just the home itself that is considered in the LEED certification process.
"We look not just within the walls, but also outside. The certification considers landscaping as well as location. Most places in Oak Park are inherently walkable, and in fact Oak Park is named one of the 'Top Ten Neighborhoods in the Nation' by the American Planning Association. The larger community definitely plays a role."
In addition to lower utility bills, lower insurance rates and government incentives, Wicklow kept construction costs down for his clients. The four-bedroom home was completed at a total construction cost of $145 per square foot after renewable energy incentives, which is below the Chicagoland custom construction cost average.
While 1135 N. Grove is the first Oak Park home to be certified LEED platinum, to date, 40 Chicagoland homes have met such a distinction. Oak Park architect and LEED accredited professional John Schiess is in the early stages of building a green home on the 600 block of N. Marion.
"We've just completed the demolition of the existing house, and we're meeting the LEED standards from the very beginning by repurposing all the materials from the old home," says Schiess of the new construction. "Our target with this home is LEED platinum certification, and we'll meet that with our building materials, indoor air quality and geothermal heating and cooling system. We're just now getting the permits in order and looking for occupancy at the end of the year.
"It's an exciting time to be working on this kind of green building."