Dennis Scott and Thom Day fell instantly, madly in love with their Chicago bungalow as soon as they crossed the threshold during a house tour. They admired the vintage trim, the wood floors, the Craftsman-style windows, and the price—an affordable $143,000. Even better, the 1920s house in Marquette Park, on Chicago’s South Side, was environmentally friendly and energy efficient.
Renovated through the City of Chicago’s Green Bungalow Initiative—part of Mayor Richard Daley’s strategy to make the Windy City more ecologically progressive—Thom and Dennis’s bungalow is on the same block as three other previously vacant bungalows that were restored in a way that conserves energy and materials. Defined as cottages with low-profile roofs and single attic dormers, bungalows account for about a third of Chicago’s single-family houses. Most of the city’s 80,000 bungalows were constructed between 1900 and 1940.
“Everyone who worked on the project tried to ensure that materials came from local suppliers to conserve resources,” says Nate Kipnis, one of the project architects. “It’s fine and dandy to use marble, but if it’s shipped from Italy, it kind of defeats the purpose of energy efficiency.”
For Dennis and Thom’s classic bungalow, all the interior trim was saved and reused. Kipnis and his colleague, architect Scott Sonoc, salvaged plumbing fixtures and refurbished vintage lighting and hardware. “We wanted to showcase the heritage of the house as it was originally built,” explains Sonoc.
“Historically, the idea behind the bungalow was to bring nature inside. Many people who bought these homes were former apartment dwellers who enjoyed their new location on the outskirts of town at the end of the trolley car line.” With this in mind, the architects restored the lengthy window box in the front bay window and filled it with flowers. The homeowners decided against curtains because they like the sun shining into the living room. “It’s a nice bright room—very cheery,” says Thom.
The architects rebuilt the crumbling front-entry concrete stairway but kept other classic bungalow features: the stoop and the overhang. “The covered entryway with raised first floor allows homeowners—then and now—to enjoy sitting on a front porch out of the sun or rain,” Sonoc says.
Kipnis and Sonoc also painstakingly retained the bungalow layout as it was originally designed in the 1920s. “These bungalows were scaled-down Victorians for first-time homebuyers,” Sonoc says. “So they have a defined living room, dining room, and kitchen with an open floor plan instead of a traditional hallway. This design allows a great deal of light to enter the house. In fact, you can see all the way from the living room through the dining room and kitchen to the breakfast room.” The couple spends a lot of time in that breakfast nook, originally the back porch, now updated with a new tile floor and new windowpanes.
Sonoc and Kipnis retained the stained-glass windows in the living room, adding thermal glass panels to make the room more energy efficient. They found the fireplace surround in the basement and returned it to its proper place in the living room. “The surround with accompanying stained-glass windows and bookshelves was a traditional bungalow motif, an amenity that was built with the house as an ensemble, which I found amazing,” Sonoc notes. “Today that would cost extra.”
Thom and Dennis added their personal touches, including antique Arts and Crafts–style furnishings and musical memorabilia. Dennis, an organist who frequently accompanies Chicago’s annual Silent Summer Film Festival, has collected a 1920s-era Edison phonograph and sheet music, which perches on the grand piano. A vintage glass cabinet is filled with his player-piano collection. In the basement sits a 1924 Wurlitzer pipe organ that Dennis played while he was a college student working at the Orpheum Theater in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Historical accuracy is charming when it comes to design, but the bungalow required modern technology to provide heat, air conditioning, and hot water. So the original heating boiler made way for an 87 percent-efficient sealed combustion boiler system. The old water heater was replaced by a small, tankless unit that warms water on demand in seconds, an energy-saving alternative to models that keep water hot all day long.
Denim fiber insulates the unfinished attic, which the couple intends to turn into an office. A high-velocity air conditioning unit cools the home during the summer with less energy than conventional cooling systems. “It’s such a comfortable house. In winter we set the temperature at sixty-eight degrees and get very even heat all day,” says Thom. “We don’t get a blast of hot air, followed by cold. And it’s a very quiet heating system.”
Energy efficiency is carried into the small backyard, which is typical of many bungalows. Trench drains recycle rainwater to maintain hardy native plants and reduce the impact on the city sewer system. An underground pipe sends rainwater to various flowerbeds filled with black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, sedges, and bee balm. Landscape designers also minimized lawn space so that Dennis and Thom wouldn’t have to use mowers to trim their grass. To water, they use a perforated hose, which is more beneficial and economical than a high-pressure hose, which doesn’t allow water to saturate the ground properly.
Charles Shanabruch, executive director of the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative, is pleased with the results. “Energy efficiency wasn’t around when the bungalows were built,” says Shanabruch. “This is a really great idea. The project gives people new ideas, directions, products, and materials to work with.”