Oak Park Condominium Development Attains Rare LEED Gold Certification

The Residences at Maple Place, luxury 11-unit building, makes local eco-history

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By Community Editor

The Residences at Maple Place recently became the first multi-unit residential development in Oak Park—and one of the first outside the city of Chicago—to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification.

The 11-unit building was an Altierra Development Group LLC project, with longtime Oak Park residents Jonathan Shack and Paul Zimmermann as partners in the venture. Shack's Oak-Park based JCS Construction was the general contractor.

The certification, which came in September, demonstrates Altierra and JCS's ability to navigate stringent guidelines, including extra inspections and additional paperwork, and to handle more complex construction requirements. But even more importantly, said Shack, "it means we have been able to create homes that combine high comfortability while providing residents the peace of mind that comes from reducing their carbon footprint."

LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the certification process "provides a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings."

For architects, LEED certification affirms that "what they are helping to create is improving the lives of the people in it, as well as the environment around it," said Shack. JCS strives to apply that thinking in its construction practices and overall philosophy.

With Shack and Zimmermann steering the development, The Residences at Maple Place was envisioned as having the potential to attain at least LEED Silver certification. However, as the project proceeded, plans took hold to apply construction practices that would elevate the certification to LEED Gold, coming just short of LEED Platinum, the highest LEED rating attainable.

To determine whether a building meets LEED certification standards, an independent rating company—in this case, Geneva-based Eco Achievers—makes an evaluation encompassing more than 50 check-list items across eight categories. Examples include efficiency of the thermal envelope of the building; the recycling of construction materials; the recycling of excavation materials; maintaining a minimal amount of construction debris; sourcing products locally; and implementing a mechanical system with rigorous standards.

Most construction companies are not able to build a 100-percent custom high-end building where people have nearly unlimited options, as was the case with the development, let alone pursue LEED certification of any kind.

At the outset of construction, nobody else in North America had yet used the systems that were implemented at Maple Place. "Our HVAC system uses a heat pump with a natural gas backup that is among the first of its kind to be used in a condominium building," Shack noted.

The Residences at Maple Place is one of the first buildings to install a two-inch rigid insulation envelope around the entire building—a step that helps maintain the desired temperature, all year-round. By comparison, most buildings either use a half-inch dense board insulation, and some use none.

"New buildings tend to have worse air quality than older buildings, because the air tightness of the envelope doesn't allow fresh air," said Shack. "We have taken steps to ensure that there's a healthy influx of fresh air while cycling out the stale air."

Specifically, to maintain that top air quality, the energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system is integrated with the mechanical system of each of the 11 condominium units for an ongoing exchange of air that flows between the outside and inside.

Because of its extremely efficient thermal envelope, Maple Place's condominium units were able to use much smaller and more efficient mechanical systems than the industry standard.

Maple Place is believed to be the first building constructed efficiently enough to use this kind of mechanical system, which provides a more even temperature throughout the space, said Shack.

The building has a green roof enjoyed by penthouse residents on their terraces, making it the first Oak Park condo development to have drought-resistant plantings on the roof that require minimal maintenance. And, contributing to the building's efficiency, the roof has a much higher insulation rating than the industry norm.

In addition to the building's mechanical system, advanced thermal envelope and best construction practices, it has energy-efficient appliances and high efficiency windows that significantly reduce the homes' carbon footprint and operation costs, Zimmermann pointed out.

The Residences at Maple Place units began selling in late 2014, with construction beginning in earnest the following spring.

Without having a specific buyer in hand who is making the request, most developers are reluctant to invest the additional time and money necessary to attain the LEED certification, said Shack.

The building has been a particularly attractive downsizing option for empty nesters in the area, as the price of units ranged from the mid-$600,000s on up. The building is at 1133 Chicago Ave., on the southwest corner of Chicago and Maple avenues near the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio.

Formerly a fenced-off vacant lot, the development took shape as Altierra and JCS navigated the complexity of building lot line to lot line without the construction site encroaching on adjacent businesses and residences.Along the way, JCS took the extraordinarily delicate step of re-building the steel structure of an adjacent retail business's roof to enable it to withstand additional snow load created by the new construction—all while the business continued operations.

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