Sustainability In Chicago, Part 2
March 24, 2009
Solar Verde Estates is being marketed as a planned community of 20 zero-energy “green” homes on the southeast side of Chicago. The rooftop solar PV system is the key point of the energy efficiency of the homes. (No solar thermal, however.) I was at the grand opening last summer of two model homes in the community. The facades of each model home are meant to emulate turn-of-the-20th-century Midwest mail-order homes. Both are two-story, almost 1,600 square feet, with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, and a full basement.
The grand-opening celebration included lunch, speeches from the local congressman and the builder (Bernie Schmidt of Green Homes Midwest), as well as music performances by Green E, the environmental Elvis. Green E (“the earth-friendly Elvis impersonator”) takes familiar Elvis Presley songs and rewrites them with eco-friendly messages - “Don’t Waste Fuel” to the tune of “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Are You Recycling Tonight?” to the tune of “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” and much more. The small crowd gathered for the grand opening of the homes got a kick out of Green E, even getting autographed photos of him (including yours truly!).
Instead of TCB (Taking Care of Business), Green E advocates TCP - Taking Care of the Planet. If you live in Chicago and want to TCP, make sure Green E is at your next event! He’s pretty funny, too - he made the day for me.
The PV system (solar shingles mounted on the back of the homes) is supposed to provide all the power and energy that the home will need for a typical family - a mini power plant. It relies on the Illinois-mandated “net-metering” agreement that feeds excess energy back to Commonwealth Edison for credits and allows the homeowner to bank this energy for later use. Energy is produced during daylight, banked with the utility company for credits and used when the sun is not shining. The size of the system is such that it allows the homeowner to benefit from net-zero electric bills during a one-year period.
Other green features of the homes include: low-flow and double-flush toilets; hot water is delivered to the home via an on-demand water heater; all the appliances for the homes are Energy Star-rated; heating and cooling is provided by an energy-efficient heat pump; the extruded polystyrene exterior wall system has an R-value of R-40; window and skylight placement for natural lighting; bamboo flooring and low-VOC carpeting; tile made of 50 percent recycled content; countertops of recycled plastic laminate; and kitchen cabinets are made of renewable wheatboard and sustainably forested beech wood.
I was impressed with the planned community’s intentions, but since I toured the homes last summer, the project has stalled - most likely because of the recession. For current information on the project, click here.