Available single-family home blends sustainability and tradition

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Developer: Chicago Custom Green Homes

Architect: Northlight Architects

Structural Engineer: The Structural Shop

MEP Engineer: Creative Systems and Associates

Wall Panel Manufacturer: ELFI Wall System

By Abir Ali

1943 N. Albany is a sustainably-designed single-family spec house that achieves a Chicago Green Homes two-star rating. It is the first development by Lindsey Lee and Ben Gault, the developer-builder team of Custom Green Homes Chicago (CGH). It is also the first green project for architect Frank Michalski of Northlight Architects.

Presently on the market, the house was developed to be competitive with other conventional single-family options, yet affordable given its green emphasis. With a listing price of over $500,000, the home is more affordable compared to some of its neighbors, which have sold for over $1.2 million. A primary focus of CGH was the creation of a home built on sustainable technology that shunned a premium price tag, making green construction costs comparable to that of conventional building.

As first time developers and builders, CGH confronted new territory, a financial crisis and a major shift in the housing market. Their first architect was indifferent to building green so Michalski was hired to remedy this problem. Lee also had to sift through several contractors before establishing a lineup with the proficiency she demanded. Lee’s lending bank was bought out midway through construction and would not commit to the original construction loan. Eventually, the price of the home was revised to be $100,000 less than intended in order to offer greater incentive to prospective buyers in a difficult market.

Even with the challenges, the team adhered to their principles of building green and there were moments that compensated for the rough patches. Using the Chicago Green Permit Program, the project was promptly granted the permit in one day. Uncertain at first, neighbors warmed up when CGH began hiring young residents at an hourly wage. Additionally, they staged an open house before demolition and invited neighbors to take what items they could. As a cost-cutting measure, Michalski and CGH also agreed to a contract that would allow the developer-builder to take most of the responsibility from permit through construction.

The Albany project is a two-story, 3,400 square-foot home with a full basement that includes four bedrooms and four baths. The insulated exterior wall panel construction is pre-manufactured. A four person crew assembled it in six days, a third of the time required for conventional framing. The system boasts R-45 rated walls and an R-60 rated roof. This super-insulated shell is combined with energy-efficient windows, insulated window headers and insulated exterior doors. Sealed duct joints, insulated jump ducts and an Energy Star-rated, 90 percent high-efficiency HVAC system optimize energy savings.

The mechanical system is 60 percent smaller than the average stick-frame home. The typical system is sized at 4 tons with a combined gas-electric bill of $400; Albany sizes about 1.5 tons with a combined average energy bill of $160.

Additional green components include harvested rainwater, permeable walkways, salvaged brick paving, bamboo flooring, no-VOC paint and low-flow faucets. The project also features Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber for interior framing, formaldehyde-free kitchen cabinets, recycled granite counter tops and is located within a half mile of two CTA bus routes.

1943 N. Albany sits quietly amongst its neighbors. It is intentionally designed to appear traditional and blend in with its context. It is significant that a young developer-builder team new to the field would choose, through all obstacles, to build green for their first project. Perhaps this is the type of commitment that can move industries toward an increasing standard of sustainable practice. In the meantime, 1943 N. Albany awaits a thoughtful buyer.

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