Tag Archives: neighborhood

Major milestone

Today was a big day. After five years, Cathy and I feel that we finally got a big step closer to one of our goals: Getting information about our project and information about energy retrofits into the hands and minds of our neighbors in North Lawndale.

This was a long road, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Yes, we had a number of open houses, with the last one (open house #4) being the best attended event. Visitors came from all over the city of Chicago and suburbs, which was also the case for the preceding open house. But almost no one from our community attended.

Yes, there is this blog. I have fun writing and publishing it and I am always amazed when I run into people who recognize me because they’ve read it. I am still surprised by how popular it is. But it doesn’t necessarily reach the demographic I want to reach most – the North Lawndale community.

And yes, our adventures have been published and featured elsewhere, such as on Chicago Public Radio. Did that help us connect with our community? Not in a noticeable way.

We have reached out to local community organizations whose missions clearly overlap with our deep energy retrofit goals, focusing on indoor air quality, material reuse and repurposing…you name it. Nothing panned out, despite numerous follow-ups.

It was only in the past couple of months that I came across a group right here in North Lawndale calling themselves “Men Making a Difference.” One of their goals is to help young adults from our community to enter into trade training programs.

That generated the spark through which we connected, and we organized a tour of our deep energy retrofit made up completely of local residents!

Five years in the making! I have to say that this felt like one of the most relevant events we’ve had to date. And I hope we have a lot more of this coming!

Related posts:

Open house #4 – as much Q&A as we could handle

On Air with Worldview

Project featured in Medill Reports Chicago

Open house #3…

1st Open house


Hot 4th of July

… not only in Chicago, but the whole Midwest.

Once it became clear that it would get steamy, I began to take records of daytime highs and nighttime lows based on the thermometer along the north side of our building. All readings are shade readings.

Tuesday, 07/03

  • High 98F (37C)
  • Low 79F (26C)

Wednesday, 07/04

  • High 104F (40C)
  • Low 82F (28C)

Thursday, 07/05

  • High 107F (42C)
  • Low 83F (28C)

Friday, 07/06

  • High 106F (41C)
  • Low 84F (29C)

Saturday, 07/07

  • High 98F (37C)
  • Low 75F (24C)

Cathy took the dog for a walk on Saturday at 9:00 am, when we were close to the high of 98F. She wished she would have waited a couple of hours, because by 11:00 am the wind shifted to the northeast and temperatures crashed. Before we knew it, we had a stiff, dry breeze with temperatures in the lower 80’s. Boy did that feel pleasant after three days of 100 degree temperatures!

How did we cope with the heat? We kept all the windows and doors shut, and hoped that our insulation would help keeping the inside comfortable and cool. To maintain good indoor air quality, we run the ERV for brief periods in the evening and again in the morning.

That worked pretty well, except that humidity levels rose to the point where it got uncomfortable. To manage summer humidity in the garden unit, we bought an efficient portable AC last year. It is a product by Whytner (Model: ARC-14S), with an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of 11.2 and a specific dehumidification setting.

We turned it on for a couple of hours in the morning and again in the evening, while outside temperatures were somewhat cool. The total run time per day may have been up to five hours. The energy consumption of the AC per day ranged from 4 to 5 kWh (measured with a Kill a Watt (TM))

That allowed us to maintain the indoor temperature at and just below 80F (27C) with comfortable humidity levels. Also, the ceiling fan over the bed made for some very comfortable nights.

We had another excellent way to cool off – in the Park District pool just across the street (1/3 mile), barely five minutes’ walking distance.

This is where our initial research back from the house hunting days begins to pay off. The pool admits the general adult public from 6:00 to 7:00 pm, and it’s free! Cold pool water has never felt so good!

I had to figure out what kind of daytime work I should and could do on the 1st floor, which is not conditioned and got rather steamy. How about installing radiators?

More about this later…


Transportation folly

… or should I call it Truck folly?

February 2009: I have a long laundry list of preparations for the upcoming purchase of our house and the planned remodeling. On that list is the purchase of a pickup truck so that I can haul materials around.

Great idea, except that most times I am just driving the 1 mile from our current rental place to the house and back, hauling next to nothing.

Let’s see:

  • There is myself (around 215 lbs),
  • the dog (around 75 lbs),
  • a tool box (around 100 lbs),
  • a tool bucket (around 40 lbs),
  • the document and lunch bag (around 10 lbs) and
  • the camera bag (also around 10 lbs).


All together, we are talking about 450 lbs that get hauled around with a 5500 lbs truck. Even better, 290 lbs of the 450 lbs (i.e. myself and the dog) wouldn’t even need the truck. We could use our 6 legs and walk!

That leaves me with only 160 lbs of equipment that need hauling most days. Using the 5500 lbs truck for this job suddenly seems grotesque.

Solution: we talked to our bicycle friends at the HUB. Sam pulled a very sturdy bicycle trailer out of the basement, I mounted a hitch to the back of my bike, and the dog and I get our exercise twice a day, riding to the house and back.


This mode of transportation reduces my carbon footprint, saves money on gas – and it’s fun riding around and making heads turn!



Do you live there?

As you can imagine, this project is a big part of our lives. And we talk about it a lot. Not so much as to bore people, but our friends and neighbors frequently ask us for an update.

Just about every conversation includes the question, “Do you live there yet?”  Of course the answer to that is no. There is no electricity, no plumbing and of course no heat.  We’ll live there someday, but not anytime soon.

So where do we live?

You may recall that we had been working on a project in Elmhurst for the past few years. Last spring when we bought this building on 15th St. we clocked our travel to the city and back to Elmhurst at 45 miles, round-trip.  We did that trip many times in the spring of 2009.  That is certainly not sustainable, nor was it any help to our sanity.

We decided we really needed a place in the city … but how would we find a comforting home on a temporary basis?  One day we were at brunch with some very cool friends at their place, the HUB Housing Cooperative.  (HUB stands for “Housing for Urban Bicyclists.”)  As it turns out, they had a unit for sale and our friend Ted was interested in renting it to us.  So we moved in last Memorial Day weekend.

The HUB is a six-unit co-op right at 24th and Marshall Boulevards in the Little Village neighborhood. It’s an intentional community comprised of 11 people, 4 cats, 2 dogs, 3 worm bins and more than 50 bikes.  The group meets once a week to talk about business and there are lots of social opportunities.  I’ve known many of the people who live here for about 10 years through Critical Mass and other bicycling activities.  They are truly a great bunch.

The unit we’re living in right now is for sale.  It’s about 1,000 square feet with big windows and lots of light.  And lots of built-in friends. The kitchen looks out onto the boulevard. If you think you might be interested in buying the share of the co-op that is this unit, please let us know and we’ll pass your info along.


Price drop with catch

Remember that two-flat where we had the trouble determining the actual lot size (see 04/04/2009 post)?   While we were still pursuing it we’d received a call from the owner’s representative asking for our “final and best offer.” We were told at the time that they were giving us one more opportunity to adjust our bid because the seller had four other offers on the property. Once we withdrew our offer, we noticed that the property was promptly put back on the market. So much for the four other offers…

We kept monitoring the two-flat because we could not really find any comparables – and because we could not really put it out of our heads or hearts. Furthermore, we had been house hunting for close to a year and got increasingly anxious to buy.

Fast forward three months: Our two flat is listed with a huge price drop, of a whopping $35,000 – from the original $105,000 asking price down to $75,000. We were worried that this would be again one of those too good to be true situations. And I am sad to report that it was!

We went back to the property to take another look. My heart dropped to the floor when I walked up the front steps and saw through the window plaster and lath lying on the floor. Remember, this place needed a serious clean up, but was otherwise completely intact, including the heating system.

The old hutch in the living room was ripped out of the wall, probably to retrieve the lead from the stained glass doors. Some of the copper piping in that bathrooms and kitchens was removed; some of the walls were ripped open. The two furnaces in the basement were still there, but most of the copper piping was gone. We don’t own the place, nor do we have an offer on it. And still, it felt very personal.


But here is the good news: We have seen much worse. The more we started looking the more surprised we were to see material left behind, and walls only partially open. This was not a finished job. We learned from the neighbors that the vandals – excuse me – thieves, were interrupted by a resident down the street who came home from night shift. She saw someone standing guard, and the guard saw her. The thieves took no chances and were gone when the police arrived a few minutes later.

Here is more good news: This is a case were the neighbors actually look out for a vacant foreclosure on their block and call the police if something looks or sounds suspicious. This is a very good thing, another sign that this is a neighborhood where we’d like to live.

And here is the best news ever: That same week, the copper market collapsed. Whoever got that material out of the two-flat could now only get pennies for what he/she could have previously sold for dollars.

After we recovered emotionally from this shock, we decided that we should put another offer down, despite the damage and despite the smaller lot size. This two-flat in this neighborhood for the price of $75,000 is not something we want to ignore. Which presented us with a new challenge: How can we make sure no one is coming back to finish the job?