Uber Home Blends Tech, Style and Green

This home may be loaded with energy draining high-tech A/V and control systems, but the design team still managed to keep it eco-friendly.

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The electronic trappings alone stand out—a basement home theater, a pop-up plasma in the bedroom, a TV over the fireplace, multiroom audio, climate and lighting control systems, and more. However, this stylish Lincoln Park–area Chicago home isn’t merely about fancy audio/video and automation. They’re big brush strokes in an overall green picture that’s been carefully crafted by everyone from the builder to the interior designer to the electronics systems contractor.

Because it was constructed as a spec home without an owner waiting in the wings, those pulling the project together could go really green and say it was built for the planet, not the individual. “We’re always looking into the home, but there’s a livelihood that’s more than in these walls,” says Paul Baumeister, whose Niles, IL–based Baumeister Electronic Architects served on the project. “There’s obviously the energy savings, but I think it’s also a way of appreciating the world and nature.” It’s safe to say Baumeister has spent time on the Zen-like rooftop garden.

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Of course, the recycled roofing and the outdoor speakers planted up there are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to meshing electronics and green building practices here.

Built to Last
From the moment ground broke, this residence needed to be unique—it was going to be featured in Cooking Light as its 2007 FitHouse. Chicago homebuilder City View Real Estate Group—whose owner, Brad Schreiber, has since been living in the home with his wife and two kids—turned to local architect and green development specialist Kevin Pierce for advice. “He gave us a checklist for being LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified for the city of Chicago,” says Shannon Davies, City View’s project manager. “It was hard because the program was not quite developed yet, but we tried to include what we could.”

Because of Chicago’s ruthless winters, ways to better insulate the home needed tackling first. City View did things such as separating slab from foundation walls to reduce the transfer of cold elements; framing 2-by-4s in a perpendicular fashion to provide a larger insulation cavity; installing triple-paned Pella windows that also reduce the intake of UV rays; and sheltering with Carlisle EcoStar roofing materials.

The 1,500 square feet of roofing, made from 80 percent recycled post-consumer plastic waste such as tires, is lightweight, so it offered cheaper shipping from Pennsylvania and a trimmer top to the home. “It looks exactly like slate and there’s a 50-year warranty, so you save in maintenance alone because it won’t crack like regular slate,” says Davies. “Especially having such a harsh climate here, we wanted a nice product that’s attractive—it definitely holds up.”

The roof is also green in that it’s packed with plantings, which aid in aesthetics as well as insulation, Davies adds. The native Illinois prairie grasses aren’t the only way City View tried to keep transportation-associated costs and emissions down, either; limestone and brick came from nearby Indiana and Kentucky, respectively.

Interior Efficiency, Too
The outside is great, but how about when the family wants to go inside and watch the Bears games in November and December? They can start by keeping warm, thanks to a robust and energy-friendly CleanEffects HVAC system by Trane. It filters 99-percent of the allergens from the air and keeps the gas bill at about a third of what a typical 6,000-square-foot home requires, says Davies. Along with the two-zone heating system, the lower level features subfloor radiant heating in the theater room, exercise room, two bedrooms, bathroom and storage room—only a wine cellar is without it. The exercise room also has rubber-tiled flooring made from recycled tires.

Speaking of recycling, the home has a second kitchen that resides on the top-floor penthouse, where you can place your utensils and cups down on PaperStone countertops. They have the strength of stone, Davies says, but are made of 100-percent recycled paper. “The concept of reuse, I found it just so interesting,” says Davies, who wrote a thesis on recycling buildings while at San Diego State. “It’s a challenge to figure out the best way to do things, and we’ve taken on a motto to be a green builder. This seemed like it was doing our part to help the environment and create a beautiful project out of it.”

Also on the interior, cabinets are formaldehyde-free and green-certified by the Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, and the Sherwin Williams Harmony paint is VOC-free and green—though the wall colors might not be.

Control and Convenience
The theater projector and big-screen plasmas in the home, however, aren’t the friendliest for the environment. They’re also not where Baumeister’s team needed to shine. In a home this big, with multiple levels, programming and installing lighting and climate controls are at the heart of electronics efficiency. In this case, a Lutron HomeWorks system and Crestron home control system work together to provide savings on utility bills.

“In almost every project we’re doing, there’s an aspect of lighting control,” says Shaun Barkman, a design consultant for Baumeister. “In most, there’s climate control, but because of the green initiative in Chicago it’s a big push.” The team was able to schedule automatic lighting events for specific times of the day and program scenes that manage the amount of lights in use and the intensity of the lights. A party scene, for example, uses more of the kitchen’s can lighting than task lighting to accent particular areas. A welcome home mode provides a safely lit path inside and disarms the security system, while an in-usage scene reduces wall sconces to half brightness for stairwell travel.

All-in-one touchscreens and half-dollar-sized remote temperature sensors also enhanced the decor. “It was a big concern for [interior designer Susan Fredman], because she didn’t want to see technology anywhere,” adds Barkman. “An all-governing system allowed us to do things like eliminate wall ‘acne’ and offer all the flexibility the future homeowners wanted.” In-wall and in-ceiling loudspeakers, plus the bedroom’s pop-up plasma, also aided the decor. Form, functionality, electronics and green all living in harmony? Now that’s Zen.

Checking the Checklist
How did this home score after using green architect Kevin Pierce’s checklist? Here’s what he listed as the top efforts:

  1. Site selection: People who live in walkable city neighborhoods average much less than a typical auto-oriented locale, which can exceed 25,000 miles per year.
  2. Durable and handsome construction: This home is built to last a long time. Materials with long life cycles are of little use when installed in buildings of short lives.
  3. Well-constructed and well-insulated building envelope: The walls, doors, roofs and windows of a building are its first line of defense again heat loss. More important, it’s constructed to minimize air leakage, which is a greater issue in most buildings.
  4. High-efficiency, smart HVAC systems: Once the building is tight, efficient systems can provide comfort with energy savings. This home is zoned and has programmable thermostats, so heat can be low in areas that are unoccupied.
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