The Greenest Garage in Chicago on Google Earth

September 12, 2010

With the recently updated satellite images on Google Earth/Google Maps, The “Greenest Garage in Chicago” announces its presence to the world-wide audience:

Google Maps:   Link

At the West end of the property you can see the 40 solar manuals atop the garage canopy.  The building image shows the standing metal roof about 50% complete when it was installed this summer.

Super Site

August 27, 2010

Elemental Building, and the “Greenest Garage in Chicago”, were selected to be a Supersite for the upcoming National Solar Tour.  The tour is held annually the first Saturday in October (this year it will be Oct. 2) and is sponsored by the American Solar Energy Society (ASES).

The ASES National Solar Tour is the world’s largest grassroots solar event. This event offers you the opportunity to tour innovative green homes and buildings to see how you can use solar energy, energy efficiency, and other sustainable technologies to reduce monthly utility bills and help tackle climate change. More than 160,000 participants will visit some 5,500 buildings in 3,200 communities across the U.S.

Now in its 15th year, this event is coordinated nationally by the nonprofit American Solar Energy Society in collaboration with dozens of outstanding partner organizations.

For more information about the Illinois chapter tour, click here.

As a Super Site, Elemental Building will be listed as a suggested starting point, and a docent from ISEA will be on hand to help answer questions about solar PV and solar thermal.  The day starts at 10 am.  All are invited to attend.  1610 N Honore, Chicago Il. 60622.

Radiant Cooling? In the Ceiling?

July 30, 2010

Radiant mats installed on the second floor ceiling

One of the more novel approaches we using in the building is the process of heating and cooling the space with radiant mats in the ceiling.  The mats have a  more narrow diameter than the typical radiant tubing used in radiant floors (as seen below), but they work just the same.  In the floor, the tubing is encased in finished concrete.  

Radiant Tubing in floor


In the ceiling the tubing will be encased in plaster.  Both will create a ‘thermal mass’ and radiate heating and cooling up and down into the space.  The system works with a closed loop process, and hot water is pumped through the tubing in the winter and cold water is pumped through during the summer.  

Heating water (to run through the tubing) is more efficient than heating air, so the system will use less energy to provide the same amount of heat.  It will also be an even heat (making it more comfortable).   And because it is not a forced air system it will reduce the amount of contaminants and allergens blown around the space.  

Because the overall system is solar-based, the majority of heating will be free heat from the sun.  The set-up of the solar system is also novel in that it maximizes efficiency in a way that most solar systems do not.  The concept was initially implemented and shared with me by another green builder – Timothy Heppner. 

Below are two typical solar set-ups: 

two examples of typical solar set-ups

The downside of the above set-ups is inefficiency.  In the first example, the requirement is that the 100 gallon tank always maintain a certain temperature (ie 120 degrees).  So if the sun is not shining then either a gas or electric element heats the tank water- Even if there is no demand for hot water.   In the second example, there is no continual heating of the tank water (which helps efficiency), but if the tank water is not hot enough to supply heat to the forced air furnace, then the gas burner kicks on in the furnace and doesn’t use any of the solar heated water.  

In the system we’ve installed – the “Tim Heppner model”, the system is efficient because if there is no demand for hot water no fossil fuels are used.  If there is a demand, and solar production is sufficient then no fossil fuels are used either.  And finally, if there is demand and solar production is existent  but insufficient, fossil fuels are used only to make up the difference between what is needed and what the solar panels can produce. 

The Tim Heppner System

Wally Shah from Radiant Cooling Corporation

 Above, Wally Shah from Radiant Cooling explains the system. 

Robert Dec and Greg from DECO HVAC

the mat for the powder room is installed

More mats get laid out

Wally and Robert discuss some of the finer points (Wally isn't really mad)

Making Progress

Pressure tested and ready for water



Are those solar thermal panels on your roof, or are you just happy to see me?

July 14, 2010

6 solar thermal panels which appear to be on my neighbor's roof but aren't

John Caravette and Jerry Bradford from Earth Wind and Solar are finishing up the solar install this week.  The 6 solar THERMAL panels (not to be confused with the 40 solar PV modules on the Garage which produce electricity) will provide approximately 60% of all the heating needs of the home.  That includes domestic hot water for showers, faucets and such as well as the heating system which is a radiant floor and radiant ceiling system (and will be the subject of future posts).

Before the panels were installed though we Arthur with a little help from Superman installed the metal roof.  I found this nice description of why a metal roof on another green home’s blog – the equinox house.  In addition to the reason’s below, the standing metal roof has the bonus of not being made from petroleum. 

Why Metal?:

lasts longer (50 year warranty)
is lighter weight
higher wind resistance
fully recyclable
saves energy (keeps roof cooler)
sheds water and snow faster

Arthur and Ted check the line

Superman (aka Woytek) happy about the day's work ahead

Jerry from Earth Wind and Solar marks out the supports for the panels

Arthur's Progress

Mr Happy (photo looking east)

Arthur enjoying the heat

The finished roof

Jerry from Earth Wind and Solar, explains the system

Jeremy, the earliest investor in Elemental Building checks out the system

Jerry and Matt check out details of the supply line.

The view looking west

The 'Coyote', Bucktown's iconic tower building in the background

Two more happy workers (Matt-Left, Jerry-Right) at 1610

Are you Serious?

July 6, 2010

Windows from Serious Materials went in over the last couple of weeks.    Not only is Serious Materials doing the 6,500 window window replacement in the Empire State Building, but they are also doing the 35 window replacements in 1610 N Honore! 

Serious Materials builds one of, if not the most energy-efficient windows in the world.  The windows going in at 1610 contain 2 planes of glass, a suspended film, and krypton gas.  The frame is made from fiberglass which has lower thermal-bridging characteristics than vinyl, wood or aluminum and doesn’t have the carbon footprint of vinyl (an oil based product) or wood.    

R-value: an average window might have an R value of 1.  A really well-made double pane window from a company such as Marvin or Pella might achieve an R value of 3.  The Serious Materials Windows achieve an R value of 9.  The higher the R-value-the higher the resistance, the higher the resistance the higher insulation, the higher the insulation- the slower heat moves through the material, and the slower heat moves through- the lower the energy required to heat or cool the inside space. 

In addition to the recent press on the empire state building, the California-based company also made news a year and a half ago when they bought the Chicago based window company Republic Glass who gained national press when the workers staged a sit-in to save their paychecks and benefits when the then ownership up and left town and told the workers they were out of jobs.  Article.  So in addition to being good for the environment, it’s a company with a social conscience as well.

What’s with the balloon?   Since the windows are manufactured in Colorado at higher elevation, the change in pressure at Chicago’s near sea level elevation compresses the Krypton gas in-between the window panes.  Since the Krypton is an important part of the insulation, having less of it in the window is bad. . . . The solution?  fill the balloon in Colorado with Krypton and when the windows get to sea level and the pressure changes it forces the gas out of the balloon and into the window- and solving the problem.  The wire tube is then crimped and cut and tucked into the frame.

exhibit A


The truck arrives

two major sections await their new home

Chris, Woytek and Arthur take charge

a view from the south-east

A view from the West

Just the house

The master bedroom (middle level) and kitchen windows (above)

view from the south (Kitchen to the left, Stairwell to the right)



the Chapman family (Roy, Mel, Mitch, Dane, and Skyler) gets Serious

Greenbuild 2010

June 27, 2010

It’s official!  1610 N Honore and ‘the greenest garage in Chicago’ will be part of Greenbuild when it comes back to Chicago.  Greenbuild is the annual meeting of the USGBC and brings 25,000-30,000 building professionals and others interested in sustainability together for a 3-day conference, exhibit hall, and tours.  The international conference is one of the largest in the greenbuilding industry and past keynote speakers have included Bill Clinton, Van Jones and Al Gore.

From the acceptance correspondence:

Congratulations!  Your tour proposal has been accepted for inclusion in the Greenbuild 2010 Tour Program as part of the following tour package:
Approved Site: Elemental Building
Primary Contact: Thomas McGrath
Tour Package: Sustainability in Chicago’s North-side Residential Neighborhoods
Tour Theme: Residential Green Building
Tour Schedule: Afternoon of Friday, Nov. 19

The Bridge . . . .

June 21, 2010

is back! (as Elton John used to say something along those lines).

The bridge from the kitchen to the rooftop deck on the garage was sent off for galvanization and then re-installed.

view from the courtyard

View from the kitchen

From Floor To Ceiling

June 16, 2010

The 1890’s home contained some nice, wide old-growth pine wood floors.  Over the years they had been painted and covered in newspaper, multiple layers of tile, and carpet.  Also, because they were soft wood they developed extensive wear patterns and shallow spots in high traffic areas.  As a result, they weren’t great candidates for re-use again as flooring. 

example of old flooring

Rather than give up on the product and send it off to a landfill, we decided to flip it over, plane it, seal both sides and re-purpose it as soffit facing. 

West porch soffit

Sheet-rocked 2

June 11, 2010

Below Arthur, Vladamir and Chris put the final touches on the glasroc ceiling.




The final product- looking East

A ceiling sheet-rocked

June 10, 2010

the new ceiling- looking West

There was a time when choosing drywall amounted to determining if you wanted 3/8, 1/2, or 5/8 thickness, white board or green board and that was it.   Recently though, problems have developed related to certain drywall brands that contained sulfur and mercury and other toxic elements that corroded copper pipes and other metals in the home.  The attached story highlights ‘toxic drywall” installed in Richmond Virginia which was imported from China.  Other stories have been published about the rebuild in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina where residents found similar results.  

The EPA did a study looking at both foreign as well as American made drywall, and though the drywall with the most toxins was a foreign brand, several american products were found to contain contaminants as well.  The Pharos project– part of the Healthy Building Network, also has created a rating system for drywall in which they review and assess manufacture reported content.  There is still a lot of gaps to be filled in on what products do and don’t contain and how they are getting in there, but in the end after reviewing safety data sheets from companies and using the EPA study we decided to go with glassrock from Certainteed for the ceilings (due to the lack of paper they are mold-resistant) and gold bond from National Gypsum for the walls. 

Now that we have that settled, and the ceiling is up, we’ll next install the radiant ceiling system which will heat and cool the house- Efficiently, and be the subject of a future post.