Bungalow Love: An Energy-Efficient Home in Chicago

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Learn how this couple created an energy-efficient home in Chicago. The home—on a street with three other “green” bungalows—is vintage bungalow. In summer, the small backyard blooms with black-eyed Susans, purple coneflowers, and other perennials. Trench drains route rainwater to the plants—and keep it out of the city sewer system.
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Decorative details such as the simple—but solid—wood frames around the stained glass windows in the living room represent an Arts and Crafts architectural style blended with the design influence of Frank Lloyd Wright.
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Vintage lighting and hardware honor the classic style of this bungalow, while modern amenities such as a tankless water heater increase energy efficiency.
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Thom and Dennis consciously left windows uncovered to draw maximum sunshine into their urban cottage. With the home’s snug design and natural lighting, the kitchen and dining room are easily illuminated and visible from the living room.
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At the front steps of a renovated Chicago bungalow, a Craftsman-style Simpson door invites guests into the home. Preserving art-glass windows is a mainstay of bungalow authenticity.
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Player piano scrolls, as well as art and music books, are tucked into this oak cabinet in the dining room.
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Thom Day and Dennis Scott live in a renovated bungalow at the end of the old trolley line on Chicago’s South Side. When the couple moved in, their furnishings blended right into the 1920s Arts and Crafts-style house.
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With a grand piano—decked with 1890s-vintage sheet music—and a Wurlitzer pipe organ in the basement, Thom and Dennis have imprinted the home with their love for music. An Ampico reproducing roll player increases the charm of the Knabe grand piano. The artwork hanging behind the piano is the work of Dennis’s brother, artist Maloy Fisher.
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This vintage Chicago bungalow sits with three other "green" bungalows at the end of an old trolley line.
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A medallion for the Historic Chicago Bungalow Initiative hangs on a tree in the neighborhood. The three-year-old project, started by Mayor Richard Daley, is helping to preserve and improve Chicago’s bungalow neighborhoods.

These homeowners moved into an energy-efficient home in Chicago made in the arts and crafts style vintage design.

An Energy-Efficient Home in Chicago

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.”

Arts and Crafts Bungalow: Historic Character

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.

Updating a Home for Energy Efficiency

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.”

The Green Bungalow Initiative

In his ongoing efforts to make his hometown more environmentally friendly, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley has promoted a green roofs program, renewable energy, flowers along major roadway medians, and a series of new “green” single-family homes. Most recently he paired his energy efficiency agenda with his passion for architecture; through the Green Bungalow Initiative, four Marquette Park bungalows on the city’s South Side have been restored in a way that conserves energy and materials.

“It was the next logical step for this project,” explains David Reynolds, deputy commissioner of the city’s Department of Environment. “We wanted to take these historic buildings and develop the green technology without destroying historic details.”

All four houses had been foreclosed on and were boarded up when they were chosen for the program in 2001. The goal was to develop each according to a theme: handicapped accessible, home office, young professional’s home, and a classic bungalow. The city’s housing and environment departments worked with the Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, the Southwest Home Equity Assurance Program, the Greater Southwest Development Corporation, and the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association to restore the bungalows.

The handicapped-accessible bungalow has wide doorways, a wheelchair lift, and gardens at wheelchair level. Old newspapers and phonebooks insulate the attic, and the home is heated and cooled using geothermal energy, a system that transfers heat and cold via three 150-foot-deep holes in the backyard. The office bungalow’s floor tiles are made of recycled tires, and it’s insulated with rockwool, a nonflammable type of insulation popular in the early twentieth century. Radiant floor heat keeps the house warm in winter. The roof of the young professional’s bungalow has air-flow panels to keep the deck from rotting and solar panels that provide electricity. Windows are made from aluminum and the trim from recycled wood.

Perhaps the bungalows’ biggest contribution to the environment is their impact on their immediate surroundings. The four previously forgotten houses have been sold to new owners (the most expensive bungalow was the young professional’s model, which sold for $155,000). They have inspired others to undertake similar renovations on bungalows in the up-and-coming Marquette Park neighborhood. More than twenty homeowners have already taken advantage of a city grant program that helps them repair and restore their bungalows. “This is exactly the kind of community pride and response we hoped for,” says Betty Gutierrez of Greater Southwest Development Corporation. “We expect that the hundreds of people who view these homes will also get excited and return to their communities to do similar renovations and updating.”

Mayor Daley agrees. “Even if you’re not interested in a major renovation like we’ve done with these homes, you can obtain information on replacing windows, upgrading heating systems, or creating a home addition in ways that will save money, reduce energy consumption, and be environmentally responsible,” he says.