When the Stash family wanted to build a sustainable home in Northbrook, Illinois, they turned to Michael Kollman, president of architecture firm Wexler/Kollman and owner of high-performance home construction company Smarthaus. The resulting residence is the first LEED Platinum home in the Chicago suburb, a home that is at once stripped down and highly sophisticated. Kollman takes us on an exclusive tour.
DECONSTRUCTED BY HAND
The new house was originally sited on a single lot in Northbrook, but during the design process, the Stash family acquired a neighboring home. Kollman sought to minimize the impact of demolition, deconstructing the existing home on the neighboring property piece by piece. Some items, such as brick, Kollman saved for use in the new home. He then invited Habitat for Humanity to take everything it could use or resell, including flooring, windows, plumbing fixtures, and cabinets. Later, other suppliers were invited to reclaim elements they could reuse or resell. As a result, 95 percent of the existing home was recycled.
Early on, the Stash family decided on a prefabricated home, in part to eliminate waste. Ultimately, Kollman panelized the entire shell using prefab trusses and walls from Wisconsin-based Accurate Housing. After the foundation was poured, the structure was up within a week. There was little left to do then but wire and insulate the walls, which Kollman had intentionally left open in order to fine-tune design elements. Kollman achieved his goal of waste elimination, too. “For the whole house, we used one 30- yard dumpster,” he says, “which is unbelievable when compared to a typical construction project.”
The Stash Residence is one of the first in Chicago to feature a conditioning energy-recovery ventilator (CERV), developed for the aerospace industry and designed by Urbana, Illinois-based Build Equinox. “It’s a ventilation system that has a brain,” Kollman says. The CERV, combined with Mitsubishi mini-split heat pumps, continuously monitors indoor air for carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, temperature, and humidity. It also takes note of outside conditions, then imports air as required by established set points. “The Stash children, who suffer from severe allergies, haven’t used their inhalers once since moving in,” Kollman says, “and it cost less than a traditional heating-and-cooling system.”
All of the home’s electronics are highly efficient, and Kollman installed an innovative home-automation system based on the Revolve platform with Insteon devices. Every switch and outlet that’s part of the system has its own IP address and can be programmed to turn on and off at certain times. The home’s audio-visual equipment is also connected to the home-automation system. All told, the energy required to light the home is roughly 20 percent of what it would be for a normal home. And the price was right: “We looked at a number of options, and this was a very affordable way to go,” Kollman says.
The acquisition of the neighboring home expanded the lot size, allowing Kollman to orient the house differently. Situated on an east-west axis, its living spaces are opened to a southern exposure and shaded by a three-foot overhang, taking advantage of passive solar gain. Kollman also oriented the main axis of the roof at an 8/12 pitch to take advantage of photovoltaic panels on the roof. “Even before we installed the solar panels,” Kollman says, “the family used just $100 of energy a month, less than in their previous home, which was a third of the size.”