For several years, the recession scorned any developer who considered scaling-up green construction. And even though Chicago incentivizes sustainable building to a degree, green buildings are still far from the mainstream. There is traction, however, with high-end condo and single-family products built to LEED Gold or Platinum standards in select affluent, progressive parts of town—namely Wicker Park, Noble Square, and the East Village. The up-front cost of buying into this philosophy and lifestyle is prohibitive for most buyers, but the hope is it’s the leading edge of a new paradigm in real estate development.

Panoptic Group is one firm that committed itself to sustainable ground-up construction in 2011 after waiting out the recession. All of their single-family homes and condos on scattered sites in aforementioned trendy areas built since or in the pipeline are designed to LEED Gold standards, with or without actual certification. “We completely scrapped our old system of building design and moved into ground-up green construction which is cheaper and more effective than retrofits,” says Panoptic owner Bogdan Popovytch. “A lot of developers emphasize sustainable features—from countertops to flooring—but it’s window dressing applied to their standard construction template.”

Popovytch started with single-family homes on Ohio and Race Streets west of Damen Avenue and now has 14 condos under construction designed with many green features and pursuing Net Zero status (scores of 30 or below on the Home Energy Rating System, where a standard home built to code earns 100). The company will break ground on the first phase of a 45 to 70-unit condo project in April at Grand and Western Avenues, and Popovytch sees much more to come from he and others in the next few years.

For the time being, the sustainably built units for sale are those at the two boutique buildings at 1000 North Damen Avenue and 707 North Western Avenue (see here for the up-to-date and down-to-earth rendering). The five spots on Damen hit the market in February 2014 and the nine on Western in early December. Two of the Damen units are under contract. City sewer work kept the inspectors at bay for months, delaying the project. “We might have gone to market a little prematurely,” says listing agent Dan Eirinberg-Kawabata. “People saw piles of brick sitting there and got nervous.”

The sticker shock of a 1,150- or 1,350-square-foot two-bedroom priced at $575,000 or $609,000 is very real, but broker and developer offer an explanation. The units have more usable area than a typical condo and ‘live’ larger than their square footage—part of the trick to building inherent energy efficiency into the floor plans, such as fewer odd angles in corridors that would disrupt the flow of air. Also, the added costs of hiring a LEED consultant, customizing mechanical systems (energy recovery ventilation, dual variable furnaces), and engineering an airtight building enveloped with spray foam insulation routinely justify a 10 to 30 percent markup on LEED projects across the market. In this part of town Panoptic is on the high end of this range, but new construction comps confirm several addresses with 2/2 condos listed in the $400,000s and $500,000s (see here, here, and here for example). Prices at the Western Avenue building are somewhat tamped down due to its high-traffic location.

It also bears mentioning that the developer estimates the utility bill on one of his Net Zero rated 4,000-square-foot houses is about $2,500 less annually than a comparable standard new-build. Some lenders will allow you to apply this savings toward an accelerated mortgage, which saves $155,000 on a $900,000 purchase over a shortened amortization period of 23 years.

Other selling points for the condos include heated garage parking (a step back from true sustainability), balconies, roof decks, floor-to-ceiling windows, Smart Home automation, and an option for solar panels. Dollop Coffee has inked a lease to a retail space at 1000 North Damen, and shops and restaurants abound at both locations.