The Midwest is not known for its cutting edge green home building, but one local custom home builder is trying hard to change that.
Custom home builder Robert Lord Builders, Inc., headquartered in St. Charles, Il., is utilizing multiple energy saving techniques in the construction of this 15,000 square foot home.
Robert Lord Builders is working on an ambitious spec home with lofty green goals to balance its large footprint and lavish appointments. Located at Red Oaks, a single-family home community in the Chicago suburb of St. Charles, Ill., and expected to complete this summer, the home could be among the most environmentally friendly new homes in the area.
The nearly 15,000 square-foot, $3.5 million home will use three fairly innovative energy saving systems – geothermal, closed-cell insulated foaming and a highly insulating house wrap.
The earth’s temperature is a fairly constant 55 degrees at a certain depth. Lord plans to use a series of ground source geothermal heat pumps to effectively heat and cool the home with water or an environmentally friendly antifreeze liquid circulating through a closed-loop pipe buried in the ground. The conditioned air will then be distributed throughout the house via forced air blowers and traditional ductwork.
“This house would have had a 19-ton load,” says Robert Lord, owner of the company. “On a commercial level, it would take five furnaces and five air conditioners to heat this space and cool it in the summer. For residential, it would be a lot more than that. But we don’t have furnaces or air conditioners. Nothing.”
Lord says some studies of geothermal systems haven’t always turned out well but says that’s because people trench them at five to seven feet, which is too shallow to consistently reach the 55 degree temperature.
“We drill [deep] into the ground, just like a water well,” Lord says. “We’re going to have a total of seven wells. …This is going to be an extreme level.”
Lord says a geothermal system will save homeowners up to 70 percent in heating costs and up to 50 percent in cooling costs compared to a conventional system. With a conventional air source heat pump, the airflow is seldom warmer than 80 degrees. But because water transfers a greater volume of heat than air, the ground source heat pump is able to deliver about 110 degrees.
The home also uses closed-cell foam insulation—a spray-applied polyurethane foam that surrounds the home’s building shell with a single layer of airtight insulation. Lord says this not only offers efficient insulation material at a higher R-value than traditional fiberglass products (typically up to R-24 versus R-13), it prevents mold growth, restricts moisture transmission and increases a home’s structural strength.
“Close-cell foam is exactly what you have in your refrigerator and freezer,” Lord says. “The efficiency in this product can save as much as 75 percent energy over cellulose, cryoplex, you name it. I don’t know of anyone else in the Midwest that’s doing closed cell.”
Lord says they are also the first company in the world to use Tyvek DuPont’s ThermaWrap to regulate the radiant energy of wall systems for increased comfort and reduced energy costs.
The home will be “low E from the top of the ridge down to the foundation,” Lord says. “Anything that touches it bounces back. Your hot stays in your cold stays out.”
The home also uses Tyvek AtticWrap, a breathable membrane that helps create an airtight seal to reduce air leakage and energy loss through the roof.
Lord, who builds ten homes a year, estimates that these three green elements alone add around $30,000 to the cost of the home, which will also be furnished with Energy Star appliances and products.
“Essentially, these energy-efficient systems and products we installed, while more expensive initially, pay for themselves after just a few years,” says Lord.
“Nobody’s ever done a study [of a home] with all these elements,” he adds. “Everybody’s done the certified home, the Energy Star [home]. It’s insulated but it’s not closed-cell foam. It’s not geothermal. It’s not this house wrap. They may have one or two pieces, but not all of them.”
Time will reveal the impact of the home, but there’s no doubt this degree of green in a high profile, luxury home in a quiet suburb of Chicago will create some noise. Stay tuned.