Carbon-Neutral in the Windy City: A Geothermal Chicago Home

The best-kept secret in green building—a hybrid geothermal-solar energy system—puts a luxurious Lincoln Park home a step ahead.

| July/August 2007


The reflection in this expansive mirror adds an enlarged perspective to the front hallway.

Photo By Barry Rustin

Michael and Beth Yerke’s house might look like any other home on Chicago’s upscale North Side, but this is one case where looks certainly are deceiving. This home’s cutting-edge energy infrastructure and high-tech green materials make it one of a kind—even in a city that’s working hard to be the nation’s greenest. The home stands alone as Chicago’s first entirely carbon-neutral, all-renewable-power home—and its renewable energy system will pay for itself in about five years.

Designed by architect Patricia Craig, the stately 4,500-square-foot home meshes well with its neighbors, classic brownstone buildings in Chicago’s lively Lincoln Park neighborhood. But the home is much more than just a pretty face, thanks to the involvement of David Dwyer, founder of American Renewable Energy, a company that designs, finances and builds renewable energy systems for homes, businesses and communities. Dwyer used multiple renewable energy sources and energy-efficient strategies to build the home to Energy Star standards and thus to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions to nearly zero. (Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming.)

A geothermal energy system, complemented by a solar thermal array, provides the Yerke home with forced-air space heating, radiant in-floor heating, air conditioning and hot water. Several gas fireplaces help warm extra-cold Chicago winter nights—the couple offsets the home’s minimal electricity and natural gas use by purchasing carbon-emission offsets and renewable energy credits.

Green energy pays off

Under the Yerkes’ foundation, 22 loops of pipes, called geothermal wells, reach 80 feet into the earth and circulate a solution of water and glycol, a natural additive that absorbs heat and functions as antifreeze. In summer, heat from the air is pulled from the house into the water/glycol solution and transferred to the earth. In winter, the system works in reverse to heat the home.

A six-panel solar energy unit complements the geothermal system, providing heat for the home’s hot water and radiant heat to the basement floor. When Chicago winters get extremely cold, the solar panels add to the heat from the geothermal system.

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