City’s first Passive House set to go on the market in October

The Kenwood Passive House, 5485 S. Ellis Ave. – Spencer Bibbs

Staff Writer and GAUTAMA MEHTA,
Herald Intern

The Kenwood Passivhaus (or Passive House), the first in the city of Chicago, has been fully renovated and will be on the market next month. While neighbors like the passive house concept, they expressed concerns with the not so passive home restoration process.

The Passivhaus Institute was started about 25 years ago in Germany and builds houses to specific standards using green building methodology. The term “passive” comes from the lack of a need for heating equipment.

According to the Passive House Institute, there are over 30,000 Passive House buildings around the world. There are certified Passive Houses in Urbana, Ill., and in River Forest, Ill.

As of July 2017, the Kenwood home passed all its rough inspections, said Liz Kuehn, tour coordinator of in a written statement. Making it the first Passivhaus Institute certified building in Chicago.

In August 2015, Hyde Park resident and Developer Mike Conners purchased and began renovating a historic home at 5485 S. Ellis Ave., which was built in 1980. The 3,500 square-foot home, which includes five bedrooms, a rooftop terrace and hardwood floors has been renovated to leave a zero carbon footprint. It is the prime example of “living green,” according to Conners.

Conners, who purchased the home after a bank foreclosed on the property, said that the home was renovated 10 years prior to his purchasing it but that the work was done “very, very, poorly.”

He said due to shoddy work and poor conditions, the home saw a significant increase in mold in both the interior and exterior of the building.

“This house was a dead house on the inside and the foundation,” Conners said. “We gutted the house out down to the brick and ended up replacing 80 percent of the entire roof.”

The energy efficiency features that make the Kenwood house a Passive House include an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) that acts as the “lungs” of the house, retaining the energy so that 85 percent of the energy stays inside the home and triple-paned windows that seal in air and heat. Roxul insulation used throughout a majority of the house also improves the energy efficiency of the home. With these features, the house has a 90 percent reduction in dust, pollen, mold, legionella and bacteria.

Conners said that the project will be completed by Oct. 31 and he wants to build more standardize Passive Houses in the near future. Once completed and on the market, the Kenwood Passive House is expected to list at $1.4 million.

When Conners first presented the Kenwood Passive House to the neighborhood with an open house tour during a Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce last December, a few of the neighbors came forward a few weeks later to express their concerns with the building process of the home.

“While I applaud any effective effort to combat global warming, I have to question the size of the carbon footprint that was created by converting this historic home to a ‘passive’ one,” said Katrin Asbury on the Hyde Park Herald website. “I live next door to the property … and witnessed first hand the incredible volume of waste that was created during the conversion. I also lost a 100-year-old shade tree to this project, when the property owner decided its branches were in the way of his addition.”

Another neighbor Julia Vassilatos said while the project has its merits she hopes this particular construction project is not a template for any more. 

“The developer has cut down trees from the parkway and from adjoining properties with no notice to the neighborhood,” said Vassilatos on the Hyde Park Herald website. “[T]he asking price for this home is well beyond the range of other neighborhood homes, suggesting to this long-time Hyde Park resident that perhaps passive technology executed in this manner may not be quite ready for prime time.”

Ashbury and Vassilatos along with several other neighbors also wrote a letter the editor of the Hyde Park Herald [Feb. 1] expressing their concerns about what they considered the large amount of waste that was created during the conversion of the energy efficient home that aims to reduce its carbon footprint.

In his response to the neighbors, Conners said the only trees removed were marked for removal by the city of Chicago “at our expense and [we] planted two 12 foot maples in their place also at our expense. We’ve also planted six 12-foot maples in the rear yard that will grow in a columnar habit and more plantings will occur.”

Conners said as for the price of the Passive House a newly renovated single-family house across the street from the Passive House has come on the market at $1.4 million.

According to Jeanne Spurlock, real estate broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices KoenigRubloff Realty Group, homes in the 5400 block of South Ellis Avenue can range from $450 to $500 thousand dollars for townhomes and $500 to $1.3 million dollars for single-family homes.