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List Price: $1.79 million
The Property: Some of the greenest buildings are old ones that get reused rather than torn down. That was the philosophy behind this single-family home in Bucktown, which was built into and atop an old two-flat. That’s a lot of brick and other materials that didn’t get hauled off to landfills but instead was retained and complemented with modern metal siding, insulated windows, and other green features.
“We tried to do as many straightforward, cost-conscious green things here as we could,” says Tom McGrath, the healthcare executive who, working with the architect Gerhard Zinserling, conceived the project. “The desire for whole products—whole foods, hybrid cars, sustainable houses—is growing all the time.”
Insulation is one key to the project—the walls and windows are insulated to levels considerably higher than what’s typical—as is solar power. As you will see in today’s video, the garage-top deck is roofed with a solar array that McGrath says provides more than the home’s total power need. (Running a surplus doesn’t mean he’s also powering other homes; complicated rules dictate that his surplus is erased once a year). More solar panels atop the house provide about 70 percent of the capacity needed to heat the home’s water, not only for showers, sinks, and laundry, but also for the radiant heat system in the floors.
Inside, the floor plan is a little eccentric, but for a strategic reason. The bedrooms and a family room are on the main floor and in the basement, while the main living and dining areas and the kitchen are in the new space added atop the old building, with a tilted roof to allow in daylight. That quirky arrangement, McGrath says, provides the greatest amount of light and fresh-air ventilation to the rooms residents will use most. With concrete floors and contemporary cabinetry, it’s a stylish space.
Like many other finishes in the house, the kitchen cabinetry is reused. It came from a downtown showroom that was redecorating. Most interior doors in the house are also reused; they were castoffs from an old American Bar Association office (one still retains the organization’s logo). The stair treads are made from wood lath taken out of the building’s old walls, and the rusticated wood floors on the main level are the building’s original subfloors.
McGrath’s meticulous planning extended to the landscaping in the backyard, where a cluster of trees contains a few aspens and an oak. The aspens, McGrath explains, will grow quickly and provide ample shade, but they most likely won’t live more than 30 years. By that time, the slow-growing oak will have filled the space and provide shade for many decades to come. “We planned the house to last a century at least,” McGrath says.
Price Points: I first wrote about the home in 2010 when it wasn’t yet finished and was priced at $2.499 million; after it was completed, it was rented for about six months and has been back on the market since May, when the price came down to $1.79 million. McGrath notes that his property is priced at $500 per square foot, while he believes a prominent green house in Ravenswood was built for $600 a foot, not counting the cost of the land. (According to McGrath, $600 a foot is a national norm for high-level green construction after excluding the cost of the land.) The home also compares well to conventionally built homes, says his agent, Mary Ellen Holt; it shares with those homes the “the same high-end finishes, such as granite countertops, state-of-the-art stainless-steel appliances, imported tiles, beautiful flooring, and modern lighting and water fixtures.”Edit Module