Special Segment: The Greenest House

June 8, 2009 4:25:57 AM PDT
It's in Chicago, and it just may be the 'greenest' house ever built anywhere, producing more energy than it consumes.ABC7 Chicago's Kevin Roy first noticed the stunning home being constructed in his neighborhood about a year-and-a-half ago. And the bigger it got, the more interesting it sounded.

Up went signs calling it a "net zero energy residence." Imagine it: no electric or gas bills to pay. In fact, ComEd may even owe the homeowner a refund.

Looking more like California than Chicago, with its inverted butterfly roofline and ultra modern design, the home is designed to grab attention and send a loud message.

"I wanted to set an example. I wanted to show that alternative energies could be used in Chicago, in the upper Midwest," said homeowner Michael Yannell.

Yannell is a part-time pharmacist who had a big-time dream: to build the most energy-efficient home ever.

Three years ago, he found the architects who would help him pull it off.

"And you can imagine our reaction as architects, we were thinking this is a gift," said architect Jonathan Boyer of Farr Associates.

That "gift" sits in the Ravenswood area, right next to a row of traditional Victorian houses. And it's even more remarkable not for how it looks, but for all it does to save energy.

"I said I wanted the most energy-efficient home that you can build me that uses alternative energy systems," Yannell said.

Mission accomplished. Forty-eight solar panels on the roof generate more electricity than is used at the home. The extra power feeds back into the ComEd grid and will be credited on Yannell's bill.

Another four solar panels act as a water heater. And there's another solar feature, passive solar in the way the home is designed, with two wings separated by a courtyard. It allows for two walls of windows, facing south to take full advantage of the sun.

The brains of the operation is down in the basement, where all of the systems are tied together, including Chicago's first single-family residential gray water treatment system, which reuses the water from the washing machine for the toilets in the house.

"So, we kind of use the same water twice, once to wash the clothes and the second time to flush the toilet," said Sachin Anand of DBHMS Engineering.

The house is heated and cooled with a geothermal system that sends water to underground wells, where it is cooler in the summer and warmer in winter, then circulates that water through the house.

"We've made the breakthroughs, created the pioneering that's necessary permit-wise, construction-wise and design-wise, and we're hoping we will be imitated, which would be the greatest compliment we could imagine," Boyer told ABC7 Chicago.

Costing $1.6 million, the four-bedroom, two-bath house isn't going to be a green model for the masses, and Michael Yannell knows it. However, from the kitchen countertops made from recycled newspapers, to the flooring that is all either recycled porcelain or walnut, his hope is that Chicagoans might find something in house they can use to make their houses a little more green.

"I just really hope people take note and change some attitudes, and ultimately, change their behaviors," said Yannell.

The house could be the 'greenest' ever built, and there is a certification process for that by the U.S. Green Building Council. Michael Yannell says the house will certainly receive the highest possible rating of 'platinum,' and it should receive the highest point total ever from the council's Leed program.

Yanell expects to find out officially sometime in July.


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