River Forest and Oak Park homes will be featured on this weekend's tour

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Gardening blogger

Two "smart" homes — an all-electric new construction at 514 Monroe Avenue in River Forest seeking "passive house certification" from the Passive House Institute and a 94-year-old electric rehab at 165 N. Taylor Avenue in Oak Park that uses recycled greywater and renewable energy — are among the 15 energy-efficient homes open to attendees of the two-day 2014 GreenBuilt Home Tour this Saturday and Sunday, July 26 and 27.

The complement of homes, said Jason LaFleur, the 2014 GreenBuilt Council - Illinois tour director, have received third-party-verified certification (or in process thereof). The tour's aim is to demonstrate that a range of green building practices from energy-saving mechanical systems to using ecologically-friendly building materials are an option for any homeowner.

"The home in River Forest [which belongs to Julie and Quinn Carlson] uses a smart design, including its orientation to the sun as an energy source, and attention to the efficiency of the walls and windows, in an effort to eliminate the need for conventional central heating and cooling systems," said LaFleur, also a green building consultant and energy rater with Oak Park-based Eco Achievers.

He noted that the purpose of the tour is to showcase the innovative designs and technologies being used in today's high performance homes. Even without the solar photovoltaic panels they have in place, the Carlsons' home would be 70% more efficient than a standard home built to code minimums."

Meanwhile over in Oak Park, Jim Doyle and Ana Garcia-Doyle's LEED (Leadership in Environmental Design) home (pending certification) is on the tour for the second straight year, demonstrating how sustainable technology can be retrofitted into an existing home during a remodel. It features a geothermal heating and cooling system, a greywater recycling system and integrated repurposed accents in the home's décor [Living the Green American Dream, WJ, Aug. 28, 2013].

"Both homes share one aspect in common, though," LaFleur said. "neither has a natural gas line running to the house and thus they both have no need for this fossil fuel source; instead they use every electric kilowatt very efficiently, which is resulting in very low power bills."

Earlier this year, Illinois was recognized as the state with the most LEED-certified square footage per capita, LaFleur added, which places Illinois at the forefront of the sustainable building design, construction and operation movement.

Adaptation house

On a recent pre-tour tour, the Carlsons said their new, "pending passive certified" house, built by Geneva-based Weiss Building & Development LLC, is an example of what an "air tight" 3,428-square-foot home can look like.

"One of the key elements of a passive house is the amount of air leakage that occurs," Quinn said. "We have had testing done for this, and our air leakage score easily met the threshold of a passive house." 

However, when creating the design of their home, in an effort to blend in with the historic architecture of River Forest, their house is "Craftsman-esque." It is also super-insulated with an air-tight building envelope and features many oversized, three-paned, tilt-and-turn European-style windows and doors.

"I would say that improving our air quality and energy efficiency is why we did this," said Julie, noting that previously they resided in older buildings in Chicago, New York City and Oak Park where they stretched Saran Wrap around the windows in the winter, and tucked rolled-up blankets under doors to warm up the home.

Now, however, regulating the indoor temps year-round is a small non-furnace, a Geostar Mini-Split heating and cooling system, which is the size of a window air-conditioning unit.

"We don't need a traditional furnace because the house is so tight," said Quinn. "A couple of weeks before we moved in, they regulated everything to get it to that perfect temperature, and the hope is that over time it will stay."

The "lungs of the home," they say is a 93-percent-efficient, energy-recovery ventilation system that controls indoor air quality.

"Because this is a passive home, it does not breathe as traditional homes do because there are no holes and cracks, so you have to have what is called an 'energy recovery ventilation system,'" said Julie. "It is constantly refreshing the air in the house and taking odors out, so if for example, you cook fish, the smell is replaced with fresh air. It is giving you the feeling that there is fresher air in the home, which helps us sleep better at night. That's a nice feeling."

During construction only materials that had no, or low, levels of VOC (volatile organic compound) ingredients were used, including all of the paint, sealants, insulation and wood flooring, which is bamboo, chosen for its looks and durability. 

The rooftop is wired for a solar panel system, which the Carlsons anticipate will soon generate 40-50 percent of their home's electricity. In the meantime, they have dramatically reduced their electricity consumption with the installation of 100 percent LED lighting — an option that was costly upfront but is already paying off. 

"The nice thing about living in a passive house is that when you walk through it, there is plenty of air circulation. To live in that environment is very comfortable, so when building a new house, that was the route we chose," Quinn said.

Tickets for the GreenBuilt Home Tour, July 26-27 can be purchased online at www.greenbuilthometour.org. An all-access pass for unlimited visits both days costs $25, single-home passes are $10, children under the age of 18 free, with all the proceeds going to support USGBC-IL chapter initiatives.

"In the last few decades, many homes haven't been built considering durability, attention to detail, and with the thoughtfulness that these projects demonstrate," LaFleur said. "So it's a great way to raise awareness about how our homes can be healthier and more sustainable."

What's a 'passive' house?

From: http://www.passivehouse.us/PassiveHouse/PassiveHouseInfo.html:

"A building constructed using passive house principles is a very well-insulated, virtually air-tight building that is primarily heated by passive solar gain and by internal gains from people, electrical equipment, etc. Energy losses are minimized. Any remaining heat demand is provided by an extremely small source. Avoidance of heat gain through shading and window orientation also helps to limit any cooling load, which is similarly minimized. An energy recovery ventilator provides a constant, balanced fresh air supply. The result is a system that not only saves up to 90% of space heating costs, but also provides indoor air quality."

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