Tuesday, September 17, 2013

High Performance Home Construction

Last July, my wife Bonnie and I enjoyed visiting several homes meeting LEED standards that were part of Chicagoland’s 2013 GreenBuilt Home Tour.  LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and is a rating system designed to assure that buildings are properly certified for a given level of performance.  LEED is normally associated with high-end commercial buildings, but the concept has now been extended to residences. The process can be difficult, but homes that meet LEED standards are more comfortable, less expensive to operate, have a reduced risk of indoor toxic chemical exposures, and of course, promise a lower carbon footprint.  This is explained further in the website, LEED for Homes Illinois.

According to Jason Lefleur of the Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, "We had a great summer weekend to enjoy the inaugural GreenBuilt Home Tour which took place July 20-21.  With 16 participating homes, 400+ attendees, and over 1,500 site visits, our first year was a success.”  To view these lovely homes, GreenBuilt Tour.

OK, back to the tour.  The homes we visited were in pleasant suburban neighborhoods west of Chicago.  What we noticed in each home were various custom design features and floor plans.  These were not designs from a designer’s catalog. The homeowners were present, and seemed quite proud of how they integrated features that addressed their particular needs.  Many had a detailed knowledge of how the advanced features of their homes worked.  That included building envelope and window construction, bamboo flooring, geothermal furnaces, and advanced heat recovery ventilation systems.  Yes, we were talking to some serious eco-geeks, but the homes were both beautiful and functional, and they looked much like conventional homes from the street.  Interestingly, there were no solar panels.  Just high performance homes that made our home seem primitive by comparison. 

Although as a society we seem to nibble at the edges of our problems, this represents our future.  If LEED looks a bit expensive for you, be aware that in Illinois all new construction must meet the new international energy conservation standards for building construction, as described at the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity web site, ILDCEO.

With a growing interest in high performance homes, and a statewide mandate, expect in the future some rather substantial reductions in energy use that will make our communities more resilient to future price swings for natural gas and electricity.  As one local architect put it, this is a “game changer.”


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