“Passive House” upgrades should be more peaceful

To the Editor:

I read your recent front page article “Hyde Park has first carbon-free home in Chicago” with great interest.  I live next door to this supposedly carbon-free home, and have watched its conversion from an approximately 2600 square foot historic home, almost identical to mine, to a 3500 square foot “Passive House.” This home had already been gut rehabbed about ten years ago.

What I take issue with is your paper’s writing about a project that I certainly hope will not be emulated by others in this neighborhood. Creating a certified Passive House does not require complete gut rehab, as is spelled out on the PassivHaus website.  The PassivHaus Institute actually promotes a much more energy conservative approach whereby homeowners “upgrade only each building component as repairs are otherwise required,”  but in this case, nearly everything was removed from the existing home except for the stone and brick, creating a huge amount of waste.  Much of what was removed had only been in place since the last gut rehab. My husband stopped counting after ten 30 yard dumpsters were filled with waste from this project.

True green building seeks to reduce waste, thus reducing the amount of building materials that need to be created, shipped and used to complete a project. And most green builders believe we need to decrease the size of individual homes, not increase them. When calculating the carbon footprint of a home you need to consider the amount of CO2 that was released in the building or conversion of that home, and not simply how much CO2 will be released in order to heat and cool it in the future.  I think it’s interesting that our family spent $2563 in total energy costs for our home last year, and the “Kenwood Passive House” is expected to cost $1600 a year to heat and cool, which, by the developer’s math, would equal a supposed 90 percent reduction in cost. If the savings are truly $900 a year, it will take approximately 1000 years for this conversion to pay for itself in energy savings.  

While I am in strong support of energy efficiency and efforts to reduce carbon footprint, I believe these goals can and should be achieved without destroying existing trees, without increasing the square footage of the home and without increasing the selling price of the house by nearly $900,000. There was absolutely no need to completely gut a well-built historic home in order to achieve a supposedly smaller carbon footprint. If this is what is considered “beneficial” and “doable” in our neighborhood, pretty soon most Hyde Parkers will find themselves priced out of their own previously diverse and pleasant neighborhood.

Katrin Asbury
Julie Vassilatos
Jan Holt
Joseph Asbury
Victoria Long