When Renovating in Chicago It Isn’t Always Easy Being Green

Chris and Jay Tennant

Chris and Jay Tennant

Jay Tennant and his wife Chris own a 1890’s-vintage three-flat in Little Italy in need of massive renovation. They also want to be sensitive to the environment with their project. That’s what brought the Tennants to the American Institute of Architect’s “Working With A Green Architect” session over the weekend at the Chicago Center For Green Technology.

“We wanted to learn what makes the most sense in terms of green technology,” Mr. Tennant said.

The Tennants and a dozen others heard from two architects who know their way around green options: Rob Sierzega, of Roberrt V. Sierzega & Associates; and Frank Michalski, principal of Northlight Architects.

Frank Michalski and Rob Sierzega

Frank Michalski and Rob Sierzega

Sierzega and Michalski explained the role of the architect to the attendees and focused on green options.

“Any architect you work with has to be green because codes require energy efficient design,” Sierzega said.

Michalski cautioned that clients should be realistic with their green goals.

“We can develop a geothermal design or include solar panels, but that costs a lot and could take 10 years to make back the investment,” Michalski said. “We might counsel the client to consider a tankless water heater instead. It’s easy to install and the payback period isn’t as long.”

Similarly, if a client is interested in a specific construction material that must be shipped from across the country, it loses a bit of its greenness.

Sometimes, being green means not necessarily grabbing a trendy technique (like insulation made out of old blue jeans), but rather a vintage solution.

Sierzega gave an example of such a situation. He had a client with a leaky cottage. Leaky as in, the old frame windows were little barrier from wind and cold. They also were tough to open and close. The client wanted an environmentally-friendly design that would still be energy efficient.

Sierzega’s solution was not to install high-tech energy efficient windows, but rather to caulk around the old windows and replace the sash chains.

“I went to Clark-Devon Hardware and they had a complete selection of old chains,” Sierzega said. “It can really help when working with an old home to go to an old, neighborhood hardware store.”

Clark-Devon at 6401 North Clark Street certainly qualifies as old, having been around for nearly 90 years. When Sierzega showed up at the client’s site with the old chains, at first the young contractor was a bit mystified by the old “technology.”

“They had never seen chains before,” Sierzega said. “I thought, God, do I feel old!”

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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