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Green Pioneers On the Cutting Edge of 'Greening"

Green Pioneers

 Going green doesn’t have anything to do with choosing a natural paint color for your kitchen, or  planting herbs in your community garden. But the phrase can have many different  meanings across a broad spectrum. Turning off lights in rooms in vacant rooms  is a green move; installing a gigantic wind turbine in your backyard is a  bigger one. Communities throughout the Chicagoland area place green practices  and programming at different positions on their lists of priorities—and the steps they take depend on funding, community interest, feasibility and  other factors.  

 Green Priorities

 About 15 years ago, former Mayor Richard M. Daley started the ball rolling to  make Chicago the most environmentally-friendly city in the country. Today, the  Second City has become number one on the green scale: Chicago is one of the  world’s greenest and most livable municipalities supported by seven million square  feet of green roofs, an eco-friendly transit system, and more bikeways and  parks than any other American city.  

 Some Chicago-area condo communities have followed suit and make energy-saving  policies and programs a top priority for their building community. Residents  have jumped on the bandwagon with their own initiatives. Simple tweaks, such as  updating light bulbs and plumbing fixtures are a good start, says Jennifer  Easton, communications associate for the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in  Washington, D.C. Homeowners can also use recycled materials to make their home  more green, such as using salvaged wood when building a porch, setting up a  composting operation or building a rain garden.  

 Condo owners can also save on their electric bills while helping the environment  by sealing up cracks and gaps in their homes.  

 “It will reduce the amount of air that you have to heat and cool, which will save  you money,” says Peter Ludwig, energy efficiency programs manager at CNT Energy in Chicago.  “It also reduces the spaces where vermin enter and exit your home, reducing the  need for toxic pesticides and extermination costs.”  

 Another simple green fix is to get a rain barrel to reduce flooding in your  basement, which can lead to mold. This also reduces the amount of water that  goes into the combined sewer and must eventually be treated, Ludwig says.  

 Seal It Up

 Adding insulation to walls and ceilings and adjusting the heat or air  conditioning when you aren’t home helps save energy and also cuts costs. One of the most important—and simplest—fixes is to examine your windows. Specialty coatings on window panes can reduce  the number of UVA and UVB rays that enter your home. These coatings can reduce  your air conditioner needs.  

 If your building allows it, you can switch out your single pane windows and get  multi-pane windows, these insulate your unit from the snow, besides doing a  better job retaining heat.  

 If your building won’t budge on the windows add blinds that have a form of light control already  built into them. The blinds can be encased between two window panes, which  reduce dust and diminish chances of airborne pollutants.  

 Owners may also enroll in real time electricity pricing programs, and pay the  wholesale hourly rate by checking out www.cntenergy.org/pricing/comed-rrtp.  

 Green By the Numbers

 The trend to go green has gone viral, and is expected to continue growing. Last  year, green homes in the United States accounted for 17 percent of the overall  residential construction market, according to the National Association of Home  Builders' Green Home Buildings and Remodeler Study. That number is expected to  grow to between 29 percent and 38 percent by 2016.  

 In monetary terms, this equates to a five-fold increase, from $17 billion in  2011 to up to $114 billion in 2016, based on the five-year forecast for overall  residential construction. Chicago-area builders, contractors and designers  should also be brushing up on their eco-friendly techniques.  

 By 2016, 34 percent of remodels are expected to be primarily working with  eco-friendly products—which is a 150 percent increase since last year. Part of the trend toward  remodeling, re-using and recycling has to do with the money saved by not buying  new, says Harvey Bernstein, vice-president of Industry Insights and Alliances,  McGraw-Hill Construction.  

 “Despite the drastic downturn in housing starts since 2008, green has grown  significantly as a share of activity, indicating that the green market is  becoming an important part of our overall economic landscape.”  

 It’s not hard to see why going green has become so popular. “It’s a decision that saves building owners and tenants money through decreased  utilities and operating costs, it creates more healthful and enjoyable indoor  environments for occupants and it conserves energy and resources,” Easton says.  

 And there are many examples why Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design  (LEED) certification makes good economic and marketing sense.  

 One great example is the EcoLogic Lofts in Bucktown. More than 20 percent of the  building's architectural materials utilize recycled materials, and apartment  units have dual-flush or low-flush toilets, but perhaps the most unique feature  are the wind turbines located on the roof, which generate two percent of the  building's power. This alternative energy source reduces demand on the grid and  leads to less fossil fuel burning to create electricity, according to their  website.  

 Bob Horner, developer and co-owner of Winthorp Properties agrees and has become  a believer in LEED certification. The Winthorp Club, a 15-story condominium in  Evanston, didn't start out on the LEED track when planning began in 2007, but  then the company started learning about LEED. As an exercise, the company  compared their plans with LEED's requirements and saw many similarities...so  they decided to apply.  

 “When we realized we could already make a solid silver [certification] we asked,  'What do we need to do to make this a gold certified building?' It wasn't that  expensive. We had the high energy standards and quality control, and the  [proper] carpeting was picked out. We weren't making specific investments in  LEED.”  

 Among the green features at the 96-unit development are high-efficiency  mechanical systems, water-conserving plumbing fixtures, low-emissivity windows,  multiple green roofs and rainwater irrigation for landscaping.  

 Since the 2008 economic downturn, LEED certification has become an important  marketing tool. Buildings such as the Aqua on Lake Shore Drive East, and the  Hyacinth Place Town Homes in Highland Park, proudly tout their LEED  certification on their sales websites.  

 Edie Jahn, a real estate broker with Re/Max All Pro in Sugar Grove agrees that  the demand will grow. “I'm now seeing buyers looking at existing properties and asking, 'Where can I  get tax credits for energy conservation' or 'How can I landscape for energy  efficiency?' They want to be kinder to the planet and have energy efficiency in  their home, and the two go together.”  

 A Greener State of Mind

 Overall, going green creates a better living environment for everyone involved,  says Wendy Berger Shapiro, president of WBS Equities LLC., a real-estate  development and green consulting firm, and publisher of GreenBean Chicago,  (www.greenbeanchicago.com) a source for information about green projects in and  around Chicago.  

 Using low-VOC paint creates a better breathing environment, while using recycled  materials and content helps the planet. “We have the ability to do the right thing,” Shapiro says.  

 More and more people are trying to do just that, to the point that homebuyers  are expecting their new condos and houses to be outfitted with the latest  eco-friendly products.  

 “Real estate professionals are seeing green buildings as the new Class A property  type, which means those buildings that are not green may soon be obsolete on  the market affecting their value,” says Jason La Fleur, Chicago-based regional director for the Alliance for  Environmental Sustainability, and chairman of the Residential Green Building  committee of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Illinois chapter. “As such, green buildings that receive certifications such as LEED enjoy a  competitive differentiation in the market, and can enjoy sales price or rent  premiums. Additionally, efforts around energy conservation result in direct  operating expenses, increasing the net operating income for building ownership  and as a result, increasing the building’s appraised value.”  

 Government Help

 In Chicago, government agencies are helping pave the way by offering financial  incentives. As part of the Chicago Sustainable Backyards Program, Chicago is  giving those who qualify up to 50 percent off their next local purchase of  trees, native plants, a compost bin and even a rain barrel.  

 But even without the government’s help, those who choose to go green will find out quickly that they’ll be saving money in the long run. The great thing about going green is that  nearly every eco-friendly move you make will reduce your operating costs,  Ludwig says.  

 Sealing windows will lower your heating and cooling bills. Getting  energy-efficient appliances will also lower bills. Save money on water by  finding appliances that use less water or lower water flow; installing a low-flow shower head will lower water bills  without spending much to start.  

 More Than Money

 It’s not just about the money, however.

 “Beyond the obvious economic rewards from lower energy and water bills, a  comprehensive approach to green building results in multiple benefits that are  not just economic, but also environmental and social,” La Fleur says. “This is referred to as triple bottom line benefits.”  

 Green buildings usually have a better location and stronger community.  Implementing simple practices such as a shared vegetable garden allow neighbors  to interact, creating a stronger and more desirable community, La Fleur  explains.  

 “It’s worth noting that survey data shows the most important reason people are  attracted to green homes is not for the environment aspects or energy-saving  features, although those help,” he says. “The most important reason is that green homes are more comfortable and healthier  for people, particularly those with asthma, allergies and chemical  sensitivities.”  

 It isn’t all roses and butterflies, however. There are some obstacles that building  owners, developers and unit owners face if and when they decide to make some  eco-friendly changes. Most eco-friendly options cost more initially than their  standard counterparts—whether you’re researching washing machines, dishwashers, flooring or building materials.  

 “Getting the maximum return on an investment from going green requires a  comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach, as this covers many different  design, construction, operations and maintenance aspects of a building,” La Fleur says.  

 And since the current green market is exploding and expanding every day, you  really need to do your research before making any decisions.  

 “I think there is so much information out there, that finding credible  information is the hardest part for people to do,” Shapiro says. “A lot of people out there are saying that their materials are green, but there  aren’t an easy set of standards. A lot of people talk the big green game, but how do  you know who to trust and who not to trust?”  

 The first step, says Shapiro, is to ask salesmen and contractors to explain each  product, and detail how it is an environmentally-friendly, sustainable product.  Doing that will hold the people you hire accountable.  

 Also, check out the USGBC’s green home guide at www.greenhome guide.com to see a valuable Q&A with green home professionals, in addition to a searchable feature that will  allow you to locate green home professionals in Chicago.  

 At the Rebuilding Exchange in Chicago, homeowners can source reused old growth  timber, windows and other home materials. They work to deconstruct buildings  instead of demolishing them to divert the waste from the landfills.  

 There isn’t a comprehensive green living program available currently to enlist individual  homeowners in green lifestyle choices, although proposed changes to the Chicago  Green Homes Program would certify individual units through the city’s green certification program. Additionally, there are several incentive and  rebate programs from utility companies to get people to save energy, La Fleur  says. One good one is CNT Energy’s program called Energy Impact Illinois, which is designed to help homeowners,  building owners, contractors and communities take action and find resources in  a straightforward manner. Through this, you can get an energy rater out to your  home to help you identify where your biggest issues are, and what the best  low-cost improvements for your home would be. For more information about Energy  Impact, check out www.energyimpactillinois.org.  

 The LEED rating system should also help you figure out your best buys. It  rewards new and existing commercial buildings using a tiered (silver, gold,  platinum) rating system.  

 It’s clear that green is finally the new black. Get with the trend.    

 Danielle Braff is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to The  Chicagoland Cooperator.  

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