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Creating the market for smaller, green homes key to success for developer

Scott Sanders, owner of BrightLeaf Homes, sits in the living room of one of his newest green home projects in the area, located in the 4100 block of Grove Avenue in Brookfield.
Scott Sanders, owner of BrightLeaf Homes, sits in the living room of one of his newest green home projects in the area, located in the 4100 block of Grove Avenue in Brookfield.

Scott Sanders is out to change the Chicago-area housing market one home at a time.

It’s no small challenge, but the housing developer believes it will be the key to his success down the road, as well as the home’s future owners and, ultimately, the world.

Sanders, a Brookfield resident, is the owner of BrightLeaf Homes LLC. The company builds high-performance, sustainable and energy-efficient homes, according to its marketing materials.

Sanders sees an opportunity to get a jump into Chicago’s market for energy-efficient homes, which hasn’t grown in demand as quickly as other area’s of the nation, he said. The key to that is affordability, Sanders believes. With walkable downtowns and proximity to public transportation and the city, Sanders believes Brookfield and La Grange are the prefect places to start.

BrightLeaf built five highly energy-efficient homes in Brookfield in 2013 and 2014. In 2015, Sanders has plans to build eight homes in La Grange, La Grange Park, Western Springs and Forest Park. Homes in La Grange and Forest Park will be the site of each village’s first Zero Energy Ready Home, a home “so energy efficient that a renewable energy system can offset all or most of its annual energy consumption,”according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.

Sanders got his feet wet in the housing development industry working for a home builder in the area near Washington, D.C.

Built quickly and cheaply and then sold at the height of the housing market, the profits were there, but the quality always wasn’t, he said.

“I got a lot of great experience,” Sanders said Friday at the home he recently built in the 4100 block of Grove Avenue in Brookfield. “But you also saw the bad side of the construction industry.”

He came home to Chicago with a mission to build extremely high-quality homes in a sustainable way and founded BrightLeaf with business partners Rick and Alex Thompson. The homes BrightLeaf is building, he said, are highly energy efficient, solar ready and, most importantly, affordable.

“Our computer models show that [owners] can expect to save about $180 a month on their utility bills,” he said.

BrightLeaf verifies these claims for homeowners through an independent third party, he said.

The homes are well-sealed and stuffed with recycled blow insulation. Even the floor below the home is sealed and insulated to prevent water and dampness in the basement and to keep the house exceptionally warm and cool. Which helps when you then buy the smallest, most energy efficient furnace to heat the home. As an experiment, Sanders shuts the furnace off to test the home’s heat retention. Three days after shutting off, the home was still at 40 degrees (schools closed that week because of the cold temperatures outside).

The Grove Avenue home he was showing off Friday is on the market for $406,000. With four bedrooms and three bathrooms, home side on lot with a yard and a garage. It’s asking price puts it above others in the neighborhood. The average sale price of a similar home in Brookfield is about $334,000, according to real estate website

One way to build a less expensive home in the area, such as for young professional couples buying their first home, would be to go smaller in square footage and in lot size.

“I’d love to build a $350,000 house,” Sanders said. “So more people can afford a really well built, green home.”

He has run into problems with villages like Brookfield’s and La Grange’s zoning codes with that plan. But it hasn’t deterred him. Sanders said he’ll build it somewhere eventually and then use it to show municipalities a small home on a smaller lot could work in their community.

Two communities he’d like to target for such projects down road are Berwyn and Cicero, he said.

A lower priced and high-quality green home, he believes, is key to opening up the market in Chicago, even if it means less profits now.

“We’re a mission-driven company,” he said. “We want to turn the tide in Chicago.”

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