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Sustainable green homes merge style, social responsibilty

The Green Built home along the 70 block of 7th street in La Grange open for tours the weekend of Aug.4. The home promotes energy efficiency.
The Green Built home along the 70 block of 7th street in La Grange open for tours the weekend of Aug.4. The home promotes energy efficiency.

LA GRANGE – A drive down Seventh Avenue in La Grange revealed a row of beautiful homes resting underneath a canopy of tall trees. Shielded from the scorching sun and away from the hustle and bustle of the nearby downtown, the neighborhood sat still, unmoved by the occasional uproar of a lawn mower or children’s laughter.

Scott Sanders stood on the second floor of an unfinished two-and-a-half story million-dollar house. It’s about 2 p.m. Aug. 3, and he and his team were close to wrapping up the first leg of the GreenBuilt Home Tour, an annual showcase focused on sustainable green homes across the Chicago area.

Peering out a big window, Sanders called his clients’ custom build a “transitional” design, a happy marriage between the historic Victorian farmhouses that surround the infill lot and his company’s mission to produce high-performance, eco-friendly homes.

“They have a front porch, we have a front porch,” said Sanders, who plays a dual role of CEO and managing partner at BrightLeaf Homes in Hinsdale. “They all have lap siding around the perimeter, and we will have lap siding around the perimeter, too.”

The real difference, he said simply, is this home will be brand new. In just about five months of construction, the frame of the soon-to-be farmhouse, which was recently lined with insulation, offered guests a glimpse into Sanders’ clients’ requests and what it takes to build a BrightLeaf Home.

“That’s why we like to try and get a home that is under construction, where you can see inside the walls,” said Sanders, as he pinched the insulation off the wall and balled it up in his hand.

The insulation is made of mostly recycled newspaper, a material that proves to be better quality than the common fiberglass insulation, Sanders said. Fiberglass insulation “is cheap, which is great, but it also performs cheaply,” he said. Recycled newspaper is not only fire retardant, but it is mold and insect resistant, he said.

Climbing up and down the staircase, Sanders stopped at every floor, pointing to the corners of the rooms, which will eventually become bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen complete with cabinets and a butler’s pantry, or perhaps an office. As a company, Sanders shared that BrightLeaf Home’s mission is centered on creating a space that is energy-efficient, comfortable, durable and has improved air quality.

Sanders pointed to the large windows in the soon-to-be family room as an example.

“We try and put all the living space to the south[-facing] side, where we can get more natural light,” he said.

Solar panels and a small, on-site stormwater management system are important beneficial features to this luxury home.

Sanders believes that homes like this one still cater to a niche market, and he and many other builders in the industry must continue to work and educate the public on green homes.

At BrightLeaf Homes, Sanders and his colleagues find themselves partnering with clients who are interested in making changes to their homes because they or their children have respiratory issues such as asthma or currently live in a place with poor airflow.

“And then we give them the energy efficiency and the low utility bills on top of it and all of a sudden they can go out to dinner two more times a month,” Sanders said.

‘A social responsibility’

Mia Rubenstein, founder of Lifestyle Homes in Lisle, echoed Sanders’ sentiments. On the same day, Rubenstein welcomed a small group into the newly constructed farmhouse built near the edge of a winding private road on Fairhaven Court in Downers Grove.

Rubenstein looked out of the large window in the master bedroom, which offered a view into a lush backyard complete with a waterfall and an in-ground swimming pool.

When it came to drawing up the plans for their homes, Sanders and Rubenstein needed to understand their clients, who were couples with young children. Both families wanted something spacious, but also sought common rooms to entertain guests or simply to hang out. These homes, Sanders and Rubenstein said, were not only an investment but built to last throughout the years and hold the memories to come.

Rubenstein, too, talked of finding ways to invite more natural light, as well as the value of a well-insulated home and Lifestyle’s signature design of a tight-enveloped exterior. She also highlighted her farmhouse’s use of solar panels and natural building materials.

With the GreenBuilt Home Tour, Sanders and Rubenstein were able to speak with visitors one-on-one and give them the chance to learn about what a home could truly offer and the greater message behind going green.

“It’s a social responsibility,” Rubenstein said.

“Education is really, really important,” she continued. “For every little way of living that we do, we need to be responsible.”