Visit from the USGBC

January 23, 2010

10 members of the US Green Building Council (USGBC) – Chicago Chapter came by on Friday for a tour of the Greenest Garage and the single family home.  The group included architects, landscape designers, engineers, builders and realtors.  I think they had a good time.

The tour group on the top floor (future Kitchen, Dining and Living space)

The gang, with a shot looking west (towards the garage)


Meanwhile, ‘Casey’ the brick subcontractor and his team installed the lintels on the window sills.

Jasiek (Red coat), and Kazek (Casey) share a moment about green building


Staszek (Black Hat) and Lezek (not smoking for once!) with looks of pride at the near completion of their work


 All the brick (except for the new lintels) was either a) left existing b) reused from the site after walls were moved or windows created, or c) came from the Antique Brick company located in Chicago which sells salvaged brick from demolition on other projects.

The upper west facade


A few words about wood

January 21, 2010

Many builders (those focused on make-it-fast, make-it-cheap) begin a building project by first tearing down the old structure- with no regard to salvage- sending to landfills perfectly good materials that could be used again.

The grapple hook method (notice the furniture and drapes still in the room)


which turns perfectly good lumber to splinters


                 We are trying to responsible with the use of wood on project in 3 primary ways: 1) re-use nearly all  the 1880s lumber that was already part of the home.  2) when purchasing new lumber make sure it is FSC certified and 3) in general use less of it.

1) The original building was built sometime before 1886, when a two-by-four measured 2″ x 4″.  It dark and brown and weathered, but run it through the planer and its beautiful and still strong.  Technically if we were going to use the lumber for structural support we should have it tested for strength.  But, none of our partition walls are load bearing so we can skip that step- and I would bet that the old lumber would perform every bit as good as new lumber.  Using manual labor and techniques that are also outlined in the ‘bible of deconstruction’ Unbuilding by Bob Falk and Brad Guy we saved as much of the old growth lumber as possible.

two piles (one near one far) of old lumber

Old 2 x 8's ripped into 'new' 2 x 4s



 2) When new lumber is purchased we make sure to use FSC lumber (look under the greenest garage tab for more information about FSC):

a typical stamp (you can also find this on most paper products that are sustainably manufactured)

3) By changing the time-honored standard of placing studs at 16″ on-center, to 24″ on-center we can save 25% or more of the amount of material we use (whether its re-used or FSC).

a 24" OC wall

Mixing New (FCS Vertical) and Old (Old growth blocking)


                                                                                                                              If you are interested in purchasing old-growth salvaged lumber check out the Rebuilding Exchange.  It’s a great resource for purchasing small quantities of the stuff when you need it.

Part of the team

January 12, 2010

Gerhard (Architect), and Ted (General Contractor) at a recent site meeting brace for the cold. 

Gerard (left) is really not always so serious!


Part of the great fun of this project has been working with the team involved in bringing everything together.  Everyone learns from everyone else and we frequently debate and challenge each other on what sustainability really is! 

This is Woytek and me- you should recognize him from earlier posts: 

Two Birds of a feather


 Woytek speaks virtually , strike that, Woytek speaks no english. 

I speak zero polish. 

Every day we have a conversation. 

I don’t know how it started but every day, with complete animation Woytek tells me his opinion of the furniture I’m making in the wood shop.  I usually reply with thanks and ask him more about if he thinks its well-built.  Then he expounds further and I consider his response.  Then he leaves and I have no clue whether we were talking about the same thing. 

Somehow the other day though when he cut his hand, I was able to produce black electrical tape to wrap a wet bandage around his thumb, which apparently is EXACTLY what he was looking for. 

And so it goes. . . .

And a roof goes on. . .

January 4, 2010

the East face

For Christmas, the Greenest Garage in Chicago received a single family home with a roof on top!  After a pleasant early morning, the crew from ACT construction battled the elements to add the insulation and weather shield.  Success came late in the afternoon.

FSC Plywood Deck looking East

What will be a rarely viewed perspective of the Greenest Garage

Vladamir- fiddler on the roof


The latest look

First Day of Winter

December 29, 2009

Another article about the Greenest Garage in Chicago- This one in the Green Building Advisor which gets about 2,000 hits per day.  And its also one I happened to write.

More progress on the house as well- with the goal of getting the roof on by Christmas a lot of work had to be done in the few days right before- a few photos:

the roof trusses begin their span - looking west

view from the south window wall

Twilight beckons

The return of Artur, and the south wall rises

December 16, 2009

Artur, who was the lead carpenter on the Greenest Garage in Chicago, is back on the project of building the main house. 

Artur- looking a little colder than he did last summer

The south wall of the building will be mostly steel and glass.  To provide a nailer for the beam covering and for the mounting plates we re-used some of the 100-year old lumber.  It turned out to work even better than modern lumber because of its thicker dimensions, and fit into the beam almost perfectly.

the 100 year old lumber inside the south side of the I-beam

another vantage point


The south wall as viewed from the East

The South wall as viewed from the West


the West end of the house, framed by the roof top deck of the garage

A cold winter’s night

December 9, 2009

Despite the weather, progress continues on the the 2nd floor addition- this time the steel of the south wall.

Steel on the east face of the building

Vladamir and Artur set the steel (honest)

Woytek Celebrates

Vladamir pontificates

Artur communicates

The North Wall

December 7, 2009

Continued Progress on the 2nd floor addition. . . .

2nd floor - looking West

A wall rises

More to come

The finished product

The view west

The Steel Also Rises

November 28, 2009

Woytek in charge!

The steel deck for the second floor went in.  Soon walls will rise, then the roof will go on, and then we’ll have a completed envelope.

How do you fit 21 ft beams into a 16 ft alley?








Vladimir gets ready for the beams


The South Facade, Looking East

The steel deck on top of the new beams

Looking West: Foreground to background-the future living room, dining room, kitchen, with Chicago's greenest garage in the back-background.

View from the future kitchen of the future rooftop deck

Looking East: Foreground to Background-Kitchen, Dining Room, Living Room

‘Officially Green’

November 25, 2009

Not to be confused with Soylent Green (or should it?!)

The house is now officially registered with the USGBC, and the City of Chicago Green Permit program.

The official email

The City's official sign

A home, and its sign

The project is projected to be the highest of both group’s ranking systems (Platinum for the USGBC/LEED, and 3-star for the City) Now we just need to build it! 

USGBC is one of the biggest players in the green building industry and is composed of architects, builders, engineers, real-estate professionals, landscape professionals and many other trades people.  For the past 17 years it has worked to establish a 3rd party independent standard for green building.  There are almost 10,000 building professionals who are members of the USGBC and it has many supporters.   It does however have its share of detractors as well.  Like this guy.  Some people fault the system for being more about chasing points than for being about sound ecological construction.  Others complain that the system doesn’t do a good job of rewarding the right things.   

I believe that it’s an important organization which has developed one of the first comprehensive systems for defining what components should go into green building and a scale for determining ‘how green a building is’ relative to others.  It’s not perfect but it is a huge step in the right direction- and it is an organization that continues to evolve its standards based upon input and consensus of the building professionals who work at the front lines of design and construction. 

In much the same way as the USDA definition of ‘organic’ is far from perfect (if there are any doubts about this please read Michael Pollan’s seminal work “The Omnivores Dilemma“), it is a step in the right direction.  As prevalent as ‘greenwashing’ (the masking of poor ecological products with the veil of something sustainable) is today it would probably be worse with out organizations such as the USGBC.