Owner/Builder: Jacek Helenowski
By Jason LeFleur
One man’s dedication and research to a thorough whole-house remodeling project has resulted in the greenest home in Chicago, and quite possibly the greenest for the budget.
Jacek Helenowski began meticulously renovating and building his home in Chicago’s far northwest side over 6 years ago, slowly working with thoughtful attention to detail and thorough research resulting in a truly remarkable green home.
Helenowski began planning well before the U.S. Green Building Council piloted the LEED certification program for homes, and he was one of the first to sign up for the program during the Pilot phase. Through his dedication to researching the best green building strategies, his home has matched up well, last year earning the prestigious LEED Platinum certification with one of the highest point totals on a LEED home project in the country. The home also earned a three-star rating with 710 points in the Chicago Green Homes program. Additionally, the home earned the whole-house ENERGY STAR for Homes certification.
The home truly is remarkable in that it was a do-it-yourself gut rehab in which the owner also served as the builder and general contractor while performing many of the of design and system integrations. Helenowski also directed energy and lighting efficiency, bringing in experience from his day job manufacturing cold cathode lighting for Square 1 Precision Lighting. Helenowski also helped to formulate a then-uncommon spray foam solution utilizing soy beans as a source for renewable oil in the insulation.
The house features a plethora of green building materials. Starting with the shell of a 1960s brick split-level home, there was an addition to the front and a new foundation system installed using insulated concrete forms. Besides reusing the original brick shell, over 90 percent of the lumber used in the home is salvaged. The home features hard flooring throughout made of bamboo and marmoleum, and has stair banisters made entirely from bamboo.
Automated shades provide extreme insulation, high-performance windows and attention to energy conservation. The shades are triggered by summertime sunlight and help to reduce the home’s energy consumption. In the winter, these shades remain open, which augment the passive solar design of the roof eaves to maximize the sun’s heat. This helps reduce the energy loads for the home, resulting in less HVAC equipment needs.
To heat and cool the home, a ground source geothermal heat pump is used and excess energy is stored in a large water retention area that doubles as a spa. This heat retention spa also receives passive solar heating from skylights with motorized covers to let in the heat when desired, which heats the water to above room temperature. The excess energy can then be pumped throughout the home.
There are also several types of roofing materials used – a white, reflective surface as well as a vegetative green roof – both of which help the home’s energy efficiency performance.
Inside the home, architectural cold cathode lighting is employed to significantly lower energy consumption for lighting. An advantage of this technology over Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) or Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lighting is that it is available in many colors, uses much less energy for the amount of light that comes out, and is very long-lasting without degradation. From an environmental perspective, cold cathode lighting uses a fraction of the mercury that CFLs contain, and contains less toxic materials than those found in LEDs. Even better, the lights perform strongly at various applications, and are equally suitable for task lighting or general room lighting without suffering any performance losses.
All of these energy-efficient components help reduce the baseline energy demand for the Helenowski residence, but the home goes even further.
The home is a “net zero” energy home, meaning that over the course of the year, the house produces as much energy as it consumes. This happens through a combination of 30 roof-mounted solar electric panels totaling 6 kilowatts, as well as a roof-mounted 1.0 kilowatt wind turbine. Not only does this nearly eliminate utility bills, but these actually bring in additional revenue through the sale of renewable energy credits (REC).
By coupling the energy-efficient building shell and HVAC system with renewable energy systems, the home was performance tested and achieved a HERS rating of 13, an impressively low score given Chicago’s northern climate. Those interested in further technical details on the performance testing of the home are encouraged to review the LEED project profile.
Since much of the work on this labor of love was performed by the homeowner, it’s difficult to discuss a true cost per square foot that accounts for all the research, time and care that went into building this dream home. But as with any do-it-yourself project, budget was a driving factor and the out-of-pocket expenses ended up near $80 per square foot. Regardless of cost, the Helenowski LEED home shows us that, with the right attention, any house has potential to be transformed into a green, high-performance home that is built to last and easy on the environment.