Green Rehab Comes to Rogers Park

Tom Heineman, RPBG Treasurer

 

Janelle Walker, a Rogers Park resident and mother of three, teaches two courses at DePaul University to incoming freshmen. One of the courses is part of DePaul’s “Explore Chicago” curriculum. That course is focused on the Maxwell Street and Pilsen neighborhoods of the city. She explores gentrification in these two neighborhoods and the impacts, both positive and negative, that gentrification has on the residents of these areas.

Walker has rented in Rogers Park since 2013 and is committed to the neighborhood for the long term. When she unexpectedly came in to a family inheritance, she decided to purchase a home in the area. She enjoys apartment living and set her sights on buying a condominium. A friend, who lives in an owner-occupied six-flat, suggested that she should consider purchasing his building from the aging owner. The seed had been planted. She later purchased a different vintage six-flat at 1126-28 West Morse, just east of Sheridan, that had been used as a residence for Catholic nuns and brothers for decades before it was put on the market. The building was “tired” but, like many century-old properties in the neighborhood, had enormous potential.

Walker is currently doing major renovations to the building but trying to preserve vintage features where possible. The foyer below is an example.

She is committed to keeping rents in the building in line with other apartments on her block of Morse Avenue. In addition, Walker is addressing the carbon footprint of the renovated building by installing solar panels on the roof and a geothermal heating and cooling system.

As we all know, major renovations like this can be extremely disruptive to neighbors. Walker has tried to communicate with neighbors on a regular basis to give them plenty of notice when potential noise and traffic disruptions may occur. She has given neighbors gift cards to JB Alberto’s pizza and sought their input about scheduling noisy activities, such as dumping of debris into dumpsters, to minimize disruption.

Walker’s extensive renovations include a new brick and limestone façade to replace the former brick which was in poor condition. The original limestone was stored, cleaned and reused wherever possible.

The renovation will also add new back decks to the existing, reinforced, enclosed back porches in addition the new façade in back.

All of the existing apartments will be totally renovated. Master baths in several units will preserve the original tile and vintage look. Walker will live on the 3rd floor in a new “loft-like” apartment, joining the footprints of two existing apartments. A private elevator will service the 3rd floor. It will have bedrooms for guests and her college-aged daughters.

One of the first floor apartments will only occupy the back portion of the existing footprint. A common area in the front will be renovated for the use of all tenants. She wants to create a “community” space and hopes to build community among her tenants.

By all indications, this project appears to be the “greenest” in the neighborhood. Walker will market the building to tenants who want to live in a low carbon footprint building. There will be 38 solar panels on the roof that will produce up to 22.8 kilowatts of electricity when the sun is shining, and a gas powered generator to provide electricity for her geothermal and other systems in the building in case of a prolonged power outages.

But the feature that will truly set Walker’s building apart is a new geothermal system to provide heating and air conditioning. Installation of this system required eight borings, each about 500 feet deep, behind the building. Each bore hole has a pipe with an antifreeze mixture inside that make the round-trip from the surface to the 500-foot depth. This is a total length of 8,000 linear feet of 1.25” diameter pipe. This pipe then runs through heat exchangers in each of the units to provide heating or cooling, using Freon gas similar to a refrigerator or air conditioner. According to David Buss, geothermal engineer and designer, geothermal is the most efficient way of heating and cooling. The reduction in carbon footprint of the building with this system in place is the equivalent to planting 400 new trees!

The solar project is being done by Windfree Solar. Windfree is the company that put 25 solar panels on my roof in 2015 and, full disclosure, is where my son Eric works. Eric is pretty passionate about what he does, saying “we've been saving people money and saving the world since 2009.” Eric says a solar project typically has a three to five-year payback with current federal tax credit as well as accelerated Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs) in Illinois. SRECs are a solar incentive that allows homeowners to sell certificates for energy to their utility. Eric can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.

The geothermal project was explained to me by David Buss, the geothermal lead at Connor Co. Connor Co. is a family run plumbing and HVAC business in Central Illinois. David said that the typical payback on Geothermal systems is five to ten years. He loved the idea that Walker was going with rooftop solar since the heat exchangers and pumps will be electrically powered. David can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Once the COVID crisis is finally over, David Buss is open to doing a presentation of geothermal in general and Walker’s project in particular at a future RPBG meeting. Eric Heineman is also open to do the same with solar portion of the project. Finally, Walker is open to letting our group tour her property to see the results. In the meantime, take a ride past 1126-28 W. Morse. The building is not only sustainable but architecturally stunning.