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If you scroll down a little (or click here) you’ll remember that a few weeks ago, we posted about Chicago’s coldest day in recorded history. And then, for fun, we sought out the world’s coldest recorded temperature (-129 F!). Not that Antarctica has any permanent residents or anything (it doesn’t) but wondering how people kept alive in the cold before Central Heating laid the foundation for the first of a series of posts we’re doing on ancient architectural techniques, and how some of them can inform a more sustainable future.

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We have completed our passive house project in Lakeview, which consists of a 150 square foot addition to the second floor, bathroom and bedroom remodel, and overhaul of the west facade.  Over the last 100 years the existing house received several disjointed additions and subtractions.  Our clients, an extended family of five, had been sharing a way-too-small bathroom for the better part of a decade and needed an extra bedroom and more efficient space.  Instead of simply adding space over the existing one-story kitchen to accommodate the new third bedroom and bathroom, our solution incorporated a previous ‘appendage’ addition into the design scheme while also taking into account solar orientation and passive design strategies.  The design scheme intentionally demarcates from the existing faux-Victorian aesthetic to provide a more sustainable and relevant design methodology.  Photos and details inside. Read the rest of this entry »

After years of ignoring its original warehouse aesthetic, due to a developer’s ‘apartmentizing’ of the building, this 2,400 square foot, two-story loft has been rehabilitated to show off its industrial roots.  Layers of paint and drywall have been removed revealing the original timber beams and masonry walls while accommodating two bedrooms, master suite, and a lofty, open living space at the ground floor.  We wanted to avoid the lifeless feeling usually associated with industrial lofts by giving the space a warm but rustic aesthetic that we think best represented the original loft building.  The finish materials also echo an industrial aesthetic, featuring upcycled reclaimed timbers as a fireplace surround and wall material, reclaimed stainless steel awning window, sourced from the ReBuilding Exchange, doors from a Chicago Montessori school, and salvaged metal pendant light fixtures.  Description, before and after photos, and floor plans inside.

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With all the pressing problem our country faces, House Republicans have decided that energy efficiency just doesn’t make American sense.  Introduced by U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-Texas) who is, frighteningly, the the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Michael Burgess, (R-Texas), the BULB (Better Use of Light Bulbs) Act seeks to repeal the Bush-era Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.  The 2007 act, contrary to the Texas dynamic duo’s belief as a “de facto ban on the incandescent light bulb that has its origins in Thomas Alva Edison’s laboratory”, merely requires new bulbs to use 25 to 30 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs starting in 2012, and 65 percent less energy by 2020.  There is no language in the original 2007 act that bans incandescent bulbs, even if it should have.  Read the rest of this entry »

After 100 years of disjointed additions and subtractions our project on Hermitage is about to get a serious makeover in the first phase of a robust passive design renovation. Our clients, an extended family of five, had been sharing a-way-too-small bathroom for the better part of a decade and needed some extra room and freshened space.  Also, the third bedroom felt more like a generously sized closet which did not have room for much more than a bed. Instead of simply adding space over the existing one-story kitchen to accommodate the enlarged third bedroom and bathroom, our solution incorporated a previous ‘appendage’ addition into the design scheme while also taking into account solar orientation and passive design strategies. The design scheme intentionally demarcates from the existing faux-Victorian aesthetic to provide a more sustainable and relevant design methodology. Drawings and more info inside.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tax season is the perfect time to bring up some good news and excellent reasons to make sustainable upgrades to your residential properties.  Two related tax breaks, both products of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, are available to all property owners.  The first – generically named the Residential Energy Property Credit – is the more general tax break which covers 30% of the cost (up to $1,500) for certain heating and cooling systems and water heaters, along with their related installation costs.  Also covered are energy efficient windows, doors, insulation, and certain roofing materials – installation is not included for these items.  In most cases qualifying products will have to bear the Energy Star designation. Read the rest of this entry »

solar_panel2It has been a long time coming, but the State of Illinois is now helping the public finance photovoltaic (electricity) and solar thermal (hot water) panels. The State offers a rebate of 30% of the total cost of the solar system (up to $10,000). The Federal government kicks in an uncapped 30% tax credit. This is obviously most effective when the panels are incorporated into a greater sustainable design renovation or new construction. Simply because it makes more sense to reduce your overall demand, by way of proper orientation and design features, before installing costly energy production systems.  This will also substantially shorten the time required to achieve a return on your investment. Read the rest of this entry »

There is definitely a movement towards more sustainable building in this country and around the world, and rightly so.  There is only so much energy we can extract, drill, or techno-create and only so much landscape to cultivate.  We live in a finite system with finite resources where infinite growth is not scientifically or rationally conceivable.  Buildings currently consume the lion’s share of energy in the United States at 48%, checking in ahead of transportation (27%) and manufacturing (25%) (source: US Energy Information Administration).  They also swallow up once productive land while leaving a trail of asphalt and turf in its wake.  After a typical building is constructed it is hooked up to the power grid to produce electricity, to the water supply to provide potable water, and to the sewer system to carry waste.  Gobbling up resources from those utilities to support its needs while never giving anything back.  Historically, there is not much longevity for an eco-system or civilization operating under that premise.  This is due, in large part, to the design paradigm of one-size-fits-all architecture.  A house in Fargo looks and behaves no differently than one in Fort Lauderdale. Read the rest of this entry »

brickAfter passing the third new construction, four-story, brick condo building on just one block this afternoon, I commented to my friend that we have to stop using brick as a veneer material in Chicago.  It partially made sense when we used it for structure to hold up the floor and roof above (or to an extreme example seventeen floors – see monadnock building), but no longer seems functional since brick is not used to support loads in new construction, typically.  Read the rest of this entry »

straw constructionThe straw in this building was produced a mere 50 miles away just on the other side of Mount Palomar.  The production of straw did not involve the chopping of any trees, a visit to a sawmill, kiln drying, the mining of ore, or the smelting of steel.  This straw was baled at the farm and shipped to the site where it sat until it was installed in the walls of the building.  This assembly produces an R-40 insulation value, something quite welcome in a climate where the summer temperatures range around 105 degrees. Read the rest of this entry »

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