Ryan Kolar‘s $1.5 million west Lakeview home has been described as the “most sustainable home in Chicago.” And while that sounds a little bit like marketing hype, it’s hard to deny, as sustainability was integrated into every single element of the building’s construction and design. To bring the project to fruition, Kolar and his team at Ariise, a green real estate development company, had to get approval for innovations nobody had ever used before in Chicago architecture. When he started the project in 2016, gray water systems, which recycle drained water from sinks and showers into toilets, were not allowed, and neither was collecting and recycling roof runoff. “We wanted to service our own water and irrigate with our own runoff to eliminate any wasted water supply,” Kolar says. Luckily, he jokes, zoning on the unique triangle-shaped property took so long that they were eventually able to get approval for the systems — which currently recycle 60 percent of the home’s water supply.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the architecture delivers the same attention to detail as the infrastructure. The home is filled with natural light, but it’s achieved with only eight windows, strategically placed around the house to maximize light and privacy — and there are no views of alleyways or other houses. “With every penetration of the exterior skin, you lose some energy efficiency,” says Kolar, who wanted to minimize the number of windows while maximizing their size. The resulting custom-made, wood-framed windows are triple-paned: The exterior pane is reflective, the middle is tinted, and the interior is low-e, allowing in light, but not heat, he explains.
As for the structure of the home, the walls are made from 6-inch poured reinforced concrete sandwiched between two sheets of 3-inch-thick rigid foam insulation called ICF. “It’s like a Styrofoam Lego that you stack and build and shape, then reinforce with steel and concrete,” Kolar explains. This gives the building an R-value of 81, while the standard house has a 35 (R-values denote the effectiveness of insulation: the higher, the better). This shell, along with the wide, central staircase, open spaces, and 40-foot balcony, allows the five-bedroom, 4,700-square-foot home to utilize a central air system built for a two-bedroom condo. The unit is also installed on the roof — antithetical to the standard basement placement — and forces the air down, allowing hot air to rise naturally to the top, further minimizing energy use. A recycled concrete three-car garage boasts two charging stations, and the home itself can run on a battery, making it possible to go completely off grid.
Inside, all the materials selected are recycled, from the glass shower tiles to the quartz countertops. “We thought about sustainability with every single element of this house,” Kolar says. “The appliances and PVC and copper piping are newly fabricated, but the rest is recycled or repurposed.” To that end, the flooring and interior millwork is all grown from Forest Stewardship Council forests, created for construction and then replanted, and the wood that flanks the exterior was sourced from a 125-year-old Midwestern barn.
Despite the revolutionary sustainability measures taken to build the home, it hasn’t yet found a buyer. The two most interested parties so far have been couples from California, where this kind of emphasis on green design is commonplace. Here, although buyers are certainly drawn to eco-friendly elements, a complete commitment to sustainable design isn’t something that’s been fully embraced — yet. But Chicago’s future looks greener than ever, as sustainable construction has been cropping up all over Chicagoland in the two years since Kolar broke ground on this project. Remember “Field of Dreams”? Here’s proof that if you build it, they will come.
Michelle Huffman is a Chicago-area writer and editor. Over the past decades, she has written about homes, real estate, and personal finance for Yahoo, CBS News, and The Chicago Tribune. Michelle lives in Evanston with her husband, daughter, and dog.
Is there a cause or nonprofit you’re passionate about?
“Yes, actually. Becoming a parent made my heart all soft and squishy and I want to make sure all babies and moms have their most basic needs met. So I work with Share Our Spare, an organization dedicated to getting baby and child items like diapers, bottles and clothes in the hands of parents who need them.”