Seven years ago lighting designer Jacek Helenowski began to slowly rehab his 1950s split-level in Chicago’s far northwest side with the goal of rebuilding and expanding the home into an energy-efficient affordable showpiece.
He financed and did almost all of the work himself in the evenings and on weekends, relying on experience gained from part-time building gigs during college. Late last year, the do-it-yourself project that was conceived before LEED for Homes existed became one of the highest-scoring LEED dwellings in the country, with 119 out of 136 possible points.
Helping to achieve such a high score is the home’s reliance on three types of renewable energy: a geothermal heating system, a 30-panel solar array, and a vertical-axis wind turbine. In addition, energy use was minimized through meticulous air sealing with Helenowski’s own formulation of soy-based closed-cell spray foam on the walls and roof, which provided R-values of up to 94.
The proof is in the technical data: The blower-door testing resulted in 604 cfm @ 50 Pascals with 1.02 air changes per hour at 50 Pa. The HERS rating of 13 takes into account power generated from the PV system but not the turbine.
Other energy-saving strategies include Energy Star appliances, triple-pane Pella wood windows, motorized blinds to control solar heat gain on west-facing windows, overhangs on south-facing windows, radiant heat with thermostats in each room, and extremely efficient cold-cathode lighting from Helenowski’s firm, Square 1 Precision Lighting. His one regret is that there was no room on the vegetative roof for a solar hot water heating system.
At $80 a square foot, the 3,300-square-foot house is one of the least expensive LEED Platinum projects ever, which Helenowski achieved by doing much of the research, design, and work himself as well as by soliciting help from architects, engineers, and interior designers for little cost. The remodel and large addition resulted in a six-bedroom home with indoor swimming pool and sauna.
“I built the house as a showplace to show people that you can build very green as well as have a comfortable, elegant building,” he says. “You don’t have to sacrifice any modern comforts by being ultra green.”
Helenowski was careful to use recycled materials whenever possible, including a reclaimed copper roof, gutters, and fascia; cement with fly ash; and recycled-content tiles and drywall. Ninety-two percent of dimensional lumber was reclaimed and Helenowski spent more than a year painstakingly refurbishing by hand much of the Douglas fir used on the high ceilings.
“It was a labor of love,” he says.
Jennifer Goodman is Senior Editor Online for EcoHome.