Living the green American dream

Being green also means building green

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

In their new, all electric, LEED-registered (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design), Prairie-style, American Four Square home in Oak Park, the Garcia Doyle family is living their "American green dream."

Last year, Ana Garcia Doyle, and her spouse, Jim Doyle, launched an extensive home renovation that seamlessly encompassed an addition to the back of their 94-year-old house. But they wanted to upgrade it with eco-friendly mechanicals and amenities, which would maintain the integrity of the historic Oak Park home, while tastefully greening it up on a lot within the Ridgeland Historic District.

For starters, they teamed with a LEED industry pro, Jason LaFleur of Eco Achievers, who also chairs the U.S. Green-Built Council Illinois' Green Building Committee and is the regional director for the Alliance for Environmental

The first phase of the project was to de-construct it, which took about two weeks to accomplish, rather than the two days that is the time frame for a standard gut job.

Next, they contracted with a company called the Reuse People (, which has a relationship with the Rebuilding Exchange (, a clearinghouse where anyone can purchase other people's used building materials to reuse on their new projects.

To ensure that their home would be a future "sellable" property, Garcia Doyle's main concern was that the final result didn't look like a "spaceship is tacked on the back."

And it certainly doesn't.

Notably, the house, which is located on a tree-lined street and walking distance from mass transportation, is the first home here to install a graywater recycling tank system.

They are among three people who have done this in Illinois. The others are in Urbana and Chicago, Garcia Doyle says.

Her graywater unit is a 66-gallon tank, which cost $2,000. Just before her renovation project got underway, she began lobbying for it, with the support of several local officials and a sustainability group, and received approval from the state of Illinois to be a "pilot program" in Oak Park.

To date, the new technology of greywater tank systems is still banned in the state of Illinois although its future status is under review, she says.

Now, tucked away in the basement, is the potential of annually saving 20-30 percent on their indoor water use as the "water from the tub and the showers go into a tank, and we are able to reuse it," says Garcia Doyle.

Meanwhile, out in their newly-landscaped "permeable" backyard is submerged a large rainwater harvesting system, plus above-ground rain barrels, a rain garden and a bioswale, growing a range of drought-resistant native plants and edibles. Also planted deep down in the earth, the new renewable geothermal energy system is supporting their HVAC and hot water.

"Going geothermal was a big line item for us, especially because we have never had air conditioning in this home," Garcia Doyle said. "But when you look at that line item for HVAC and look at geothermal, and then look at the tax credits, it was kind of a no-brainer. We thought, so why not do this now and set the house up for another 100 years?"

Growing into green

What put everything in motion came about four years ago when Garcia Doyle was expecting her third child.

"When we moved in here almost 10 years ago, this was a very old Oak Park house," she explains. "It had three bedrooms and one bathroom on the second floor. As our family expanded, we wanted more space. So, we thought, since we're only going to do this once, it was critical to do it through the lens of how we wanted to live, which is as sustainably as we can."

In support of that philosophy, they have also improved their indoor air quality by using 0-VOC sealants, varnishes and paints, and in the basement installing a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) system to optimize temperature distribution throughout the house while refreshing the indoor air quality in a house that is intentionally tightly sealed.

Cancelling their relationship with Nicor Gas occurred when they changed out the old gas dryer and upgraded to an electric one and purchased an electric "Energy Star" stove, which is a "new-fangled" magnetic induction cooktop that she says they use a lot. Other amenities toeing this line are water-efficient plumbing fixtures and in-counter composting, plus lots of high-performance windows on all floors, including solar tubes in the second floor ceiling to bring in natural light.

In addition, the house is sealed with blown-in foam insulation, which is mostly created from densely packed cellulose — essentially recycled newspaper — and the new-old doors were salvaged from Craig's List, as were the re-purposed metal school storage lockers.

In recognition of "walking their talk," so to speak, Jim and Ana Garcia Doyle received a Green Award in 2012 from the Village of Oak Park. Last month, they were one of two homes in Oak Park to be showcased with 14 other "sustainable and healthy homes in Northern Illinois" during the inaugural GreenBuilt Home Tour.

After moving into their new home toward the end of 2012, they did use a fair amount of electricity in their first winter on the geothermal system, but they will not begin evaluating until all the data is in.

"It takes electricity to run the geothermal system, and that is just what it is," says Garcia-Doyle, who does a lot of work in Oak Park with a local sustainability initiatives. "But, if you take having no more gas line, and then add to that what we are paying for electricity, this is very doable."


Reader Comments

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OP Res 253 from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: August 30th, 2013 12:26 PM

A lovely family living in a lovely home, who do walk the walk. The commitment and consistency of the Doyle family is really admirable!

Al Schwartz from Oak park  

Posted: August 28th, 2013 6:41 PM

Nice house. Just don't open that door directly behind the solar tube...

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