Farmhouse gets sustainable makeover, pursues LEED Silver rating

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

5354 N. Paulina

Architect: Alphonso Peluso, Vertex Architects, LLC

By Jason La Fleur, LEED AP

On a cold February day, Alphonso Peluso of Vertex Architects, LLC laughed when asked about his motivations for pursuing LEED certification. “We were doing all of the right things anyway, so we figured why not get LEED-certified as well?”

During one of Alliance for Environmental Sustainability’s monthly LEED for Homes tours, Peluso showed a group of the program’s advocates around his second LEED for Homes project in Illinois. Peluso has previously designed and built 277 Pheasant Lane, Bloomingdale, Ill., which served as Illinois’ first single-family home and received a LEED Silver rating. His latest project is an ambitious gut rehab of one of the oldest structures in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.

The 1883 farmhouse has had just three owners, but needed significant rehabilitation. After some hand-wringing, the owners decided to strip off all interior finishes and rebuild the house from the studs, modernizing it in the process. This presented an opportunity to create a new “shell” and vastly improve the home’s energy efficiency. Open-cell spray foam was used to create a strong air barrier and thermal envelope.

The home will be heated with in-floor hydronic radiant tubing, powered by a high-efficiency boiler. For the summer months, three small 1.2-ton air conditioners are used. Measuring just 8 inches tall, there are two servicing the top floor and one servicing the first floor. The split-system air conditioners are extremely efficient and run off of a split-system condenser. Peluso explained that the electrician installing the condenser had to call him twice to ensure that a single 20-amp circuit breaker would be sufficient. The power demands are so low that, indeed, it is sufficient.

Since the building envelope will be so tight, there is also a ducted energy recovery ventilator being installed in the house, which will serve as a central exhaust system and exchange the stale air in the house with fresh air. Peluso elaborated, “Cross ventilation is always a major part of our designs, and by placing operable windows in all corners of the building, it allows for passive cooling during the summer months.” The roof will be a 50-year metal standing seam with a high reflectance value, which can be recycled at the end of its life cycle.

This gut-rehab project is a fantastic example of how LEED can be done affordably. The 2,200 square-foot home is targeting LEED certification and is being constructed for under $100 per square foot. Money is being spent intelligently on items like the building shell, which won’t be easy to change in the future. There are no renewable energy systems being installed, but the pipes and conduit will be run to accommodate future expansion. The home was built on the existing foundation with one small, cantilevered bump-out for what will be the dining room.

Another interesting feature are the Pella Impervia high-performance windows. These windows use a composite frame instead of wood, making them less expensive, but still achieve U-values of less than 0.30. To make the windows appear more architecturally pleasing, Peluso specified that the exterior be trimmed out in stainless steel flashing. When combined with the cedar siding, the end result should be quite impressive.

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