Green in the City

Welcome mat to green living

By Safiya Merchant and Chad Wilson

The environmentally aware Chicago homeowner may have a rain barrel, a recycling bin or maybe even a rooftop solar panel or garden. But they shouldn’t stop there.

Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry opened the redesigned “Smart Home: Green + Wired” exhibit in March to demonstrate how easy it is to go all the way green, and to give people ideas on how they can incorporate them when renovating or upgrading.

Designed by Michelle Kaufmann Designs, it was named “Chicago’s Greenest Home” by the city’s Chicago Green Homes Program. The exhibit will be open through Jan. 3, 2010.

The house, which covers 2,500 square feet and sits on the grounds of the museum, is based on five major principles: smart design, energy efficiency, material efficiency, water efficiency and a healthy environment.

“We tried to look for ideas in every choice that we make in our homes . . . hoping that everyone who goes through it will be inspired to make some change on some level,” designer Michelle Kaufmann told the Los Angeles Times when the house first opened.

“Some people will walk away and want to do an entire new home, or some people will think when they go for their towels next and go for organic linens,” she said.

The house’s first floor includes a dining room, kitchen and two recreational rooms. Natural stone tile throughout keeps cleaning costs down and non-offgassing carpet runners are used. The kitchen countertops are made from recycled glass.

To create the illusion the house is big and spacious, vaulted ceilings, large windows and skylights were built. Unlike most homes, the rooms aren’t separated by walls. Most of the furniture is made from recyclable materials.

Two bedrooms, a nursery, a bathroom and an office help make up the second floor. The home’s walls have been decorated with paint low in volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to headaches, cancer and liver damage.

Among the home’s highlights are its rooftop garden and renewable energy sources. Solar film lines the roof, while a backyard wind turbine generates electricity. On the side of the house, a barrel collects rainwater, which contributes to the house’s water supply.

To monitor energy and water production and consumption, an energy “dashboard” is stationed on an inner wall of the house. Touch-screen panels are also located throughout the house to operate the home’s climate, lighting, and entertainment features. Occupancy sensors automatically turn off lights, television, and music.

The Smart Home, which costs $450,000 to build, takes small and large steps to become more environmentally aware and energy efficient.

Its energy monitoring system tracks usage of electricity and water in real time, giving homeowners a way to see how much they are consuming, by hour, day or month. This way, they can curb consumption.

“I think the $450,000 makes up for the [energy] bills if they were cut in half,” said South Side homeowner Andrew Mesadieu. “It would be a better investment than a regular house.”

Chicago architect and environmentalist Fred Frank, who built a totally green house in Rogers Park, says, “There are two reasons to be green. The first reason is we should be grateful for the earth’s gifts. The second reason is being green is being efficient.” He went on to say that when you are efficient you waste less.

Another local architect, Douglas Sandberg, who attended Iowa State University with Kaufmann, says in the home he is building, also in Rogers Park, he is including geothermal heating and cooling, healthy materials like plywood and paint, and a green roof. But, he says, “I’m not expecting the house to cost much more than a normal house.”

“What [going green] means to me,” Sandberg adds, “is making decisions and choices. It just makes sense.”

Building a totally green home may be worth it in the long run, but the initial price can be a problem for many homeowners.

One way to go green without spending money is by putting a brick inside of a toilet’s tank to reduce water consumption. When you do that the toilet doesn’t use as much water when flushed, and that conserves water. Energy efficient light bulbs are also affordable and save electricity.

Little things like recycling whenever possible won’t put a dent in people’s wallets, but are very good for the environment.

Other ways people can help the environment while not spending any money at all are: washing clothes in warm water instead of hot, taking shorter showers, carpooling, donating old clothes to a church or charity instead of throwing them away, using rechargeable batteries, and passing on plastic grocery bags at the store.


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Bushra Kabir, Northside College Prep

Bri'anna Moore, Waukegan High School

Managing editors

Brenda Becerra, Curie High School

Amairani Galvan, Farragut Career Academy

Photo editors

Jasmine Johnson, Homewood-Flossmoor High School

Kimani Smith, Noble Street College Prep

Multimedia editors

LeJohn Montgomery, Hales Franciscan High School

Morgan Selvage, King College Prep

Contributing reporters

Carissa A. Eclarin, Schurz High School

Vivianna Galvan, Farragut Career Academy

Daniela Jurado, Farragut Career Academy

Safiya Merchant, Lane Tech High School

Demetria Taylor, Lindblom Math and Science Academy

Chad Wilson, Lindblom Math and Science Academy

Professional staff
Nancy Day, chair, Journalism Department, Columbia College

Workshop director:
Brenda Butler, media specialist and former Chicago Tribune senior features editor

Rui Kaneya, managing editor, The Chicago Reporter

Maudlyne Ihejirika, assistant city editor, Chicago Sun-Times

Charlie Meyerson, former Chicago Tribune online editor, now WGN-AM news director

Billy Montgomery, reporter, photographer, professor, Columbia College

Lynn Norment, former Ebony Magazine managing editor, now media relations specialist, Carol H. Williams Agency

Antonio Olivo, immigration reporter, Chicago Tribune

Nancy Traver, professor and writing coach, Columbia College

Avis Weathersbee, former Chicago Sun-Times assistant managing editor, now blogger and writer/editor

Cassandra West, former Womanews editor, Chicago Tribune, now writer and photographer

Mike Zajakowski, picture editor, Chicago Tribune

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