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The modern new home at 1135 N. Grove in Oak Park is quietly integrated into the block wearing a traditional skin that conceals a variety of sustainable systems.
The unassuming project has been awarded the first Platinum certification from LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). This event is important for a number of reasons. One, this is completely voluntary coming from a home owner that has a personal interest in the planet and its fragility. Two, this is a structure that was designed to relate and be respectful to its context and neighborhood. Three, the strategy and technology has been proven, verified and can be replicated.
LEED is a green home certification system for assuring homes are designed and built to be energy and resource efficient while being healthy for its occupants. Certified homes complete a technically rigorous process that includes a home energy rating and on-site inspections to verify that the home is built to be energy and water efficient, environmentally sound, and a healthier place to live.
At a time when restraint or subtly is not on the radar of many of our leading architects, this home recedes into the mid-block perspective. Most of the on the block of Grove were built in post war years continuing the village traditions, materials and historic styles to form an ensemble that has unity peppered with variety. Oak Park has a strong and clear language of development with its houses facing the street and garages accessed from the alley or side driveways. The buildings are consistently set back from the street, one to three stories with elevated front porches. The covered entries scale the structure, providing a welcoming transition from public to private. The houses are orthogonal masses with hipped or gabled roofs. These elements of style are the fabric of Oak Park that stitch the streets together as a whole.
This project respects those principles while gently integrating the sustainable elements and technology. The hip roof is sloped to the optimum angle for solar collectors to harvest sunlight without being visible from the street. Twenty solar collectors are not attractive yet they are effective at generating electricity. The insulated windows are a traditional double hung design. The porches and stairs are made of Trex, a composite plank made from recycled sawdust and plastic grocery bags that do not require painting.
The owners, Tim Carey and Lynn Laszewski were interested in certification as a matter of pride and to be consistent with their personal values. They wanted to demonstrate through leadership that sustainability is a good thing for their family and the community.
"We wanted to live in a normal home, not a spaceship," Laszewski says. "The lesson here is we can all be good neighbors as we build and renovate in our historic village."
The interior has an interesting list of sustainable items, including locally quarried stone floors, built-in benches at the entrances to encourage removal of shoes to improve air quality, south facing banks of windows filling the interior with sunlight and heat, a stair designed as a chimney to enhance natural ventilation, a vent-less alcohol fueled fireplace to generate and retain heat. The home is completely electric-powered by solar panels with the ability to sell power back to the grid, and the heating and cooling is generated by two 375-foot deep geothermal wells.
The wolf's true nature on North Grove has been revealed by its actions. This house reduces energy use by 66 percent below a new home built to code. The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainable development as "Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own." Our citizens and village are aware and up to this challenge as demonstrated by Carey and Laszewski.