Hundred Year Old House on the Green Connections Bike Tour

Submitted by Ginger Vanderveer

Green Connections Tour host shares impressions from the visitors to her home

Fifty or more engaged citizens visited the one hundred year old house at 824 Woodbine in Oak Park.  The first ten delighted in tasting fresh asparagus that was harvested as they watched.  Another group spied an infant American goldfinch munching on seeds from the prairie garden in the parkway.  Several gasped in surprise when the forty-foot oak in the parkway was described as twelve years old.  This Swamp White Oak was nourished for twelve years by the vegetation collected at the storm drain nearby.  The children that dropped by were most interested in the ‘Halloween Bugs’ clinging to the butterfly weed.

Everyone agreed they would come back next fall to help harvest the sweet potatoes that will be growing in the green roof at 824 Woodbine in Oak Park.  Maybe we can have a fire pit and roast them with some marshmallows.

Visitors questioned the rain barrel configuration and noticed that the barrel was raised to improve water pressure.  The modified green roof on this house uses deep flower boxes bolted to the outside wall.  As one visitor noted – the green roof is removable.  This manner of attachment protects the roof from bearing excessive weight.  The flower boxes were added to the porch roof to cool the black asphalt shingles that surface the roof.  The upstairs room whose windows overlook this roof has been cooled by as much as seven degrees since adding the green roof.  In discussing the green roof there were inquiries about the benefits around the color choice of asphalt shingles.  The consensus is as follows:  a dark colored roof keeps the house warmer (the house is less expensive to heat in winter); a light colored roof keeps the house cooler and reflects light (the house is less expensive to cool in summer and the reflection of light).

A variety of old and new techniques employed

The variety of old and new techniques employed to create a sustainable existence opened up possibilities for those home owners who visited.  They saw a twenty-year old low-tech low-flow toilet (a five gallon tank modified by adding a water displacement item).  Windows became highly efficient by adding plastic sheeting between old storm windows and the inner glass double hung windows.  Some windows have been replaced by new energy efficient windows.  The walls were insulated in two different ways at different times:  when plaster walls were cracked and replaced insulation was added; foam insulation was also pumped into the outside of the building by removing siding from key locations and then reinstalling it.

Everyone agreed they would come back next fall to help harvest the sweet potatoes that will be growing in the green roof at 824 Woodbine in Oak Park.  Maybe we can have a fire pit and roast them with some marshmallows.

More background about the 100 Year Old Home and it's journey toward sustainability . . .

One hundred years later this home embraces nature's systems to enhance the sustainability of Oak Park and the planet Earth.  Simple engineering and simple living combine to gently diminish the impact of one human family on native creatures and flora.

Ways we recognize and harmonize with the natural world

  •  Swamp White Oak w/ wild strawberry ground cover (provided by visiting birds).
  • Parkway prairie garden fed by the remaining roots of the third largest Elm in Oak Park.  Front Window boxes to cool and shade house from afternoon sun.
  • Window shades on outside of front windows to reflect afternoon sun – will be replaced in winter by the storm windows.
  • Vines and vegetation growing along side of house to cool house and planet.  Shade tree in back.
  • All outdoor plants become indoor plants in winter (even flower boxes and hanging planters).
  • Screened porch reminder to appreciate the outside versus the inside space.
  • Rain barrels used to capture water for watering plants. Storage system with bottles  for ease of watering.  Closed off downspout into OP sewage system.
  • Compost bin in back.  Extra Space for leaf litter and logs place on top to prevent blowing.
  • Grow raspberries, asparagus, lavender, sage, and seasonal veggies (such as: arugula, peppers, dill, cilantro, parsley, rosemary, eggplant, okra)
  • Wildlife is plentiful:  Three monarch caterpillars/butterflies, 100 American goldfinch + 200 sparrows + 100 robins + 50 cardinals + 2 woodpeckers + 1 bluejay, 1 hummingbird, 100 butterflies (monarchs, yellow + black swallowtails, Endangered Karner Blue), bunnies, 1 chipmunk, 100 squirrels, 2 mice, 1 hawk, 1 red wren.

Lower and higher-tech measures combine to promote energy efficiency

  • Zone heating cooling in multiple ways:  Added doors to block kitchen/family room.  Keep vents in basement closed.
  • Window blinds in bedroom and back family room adjusted to warm or cool the rooms.
  • When plaster walls were replaced added insulation (R20?) – 10 years ago.  Sprayed insulation from outside into frame two years ago.
  • Added new windows to upstairs bedrooms (2 bedrooms).  Added new windows to dining room.  Use thick plastic sheeting on storm windows.  Add storm windows back to basement every winter w/ new efficient windows.
  • Replaced washing machine with high efficiency machine.  Use laundry lines for drying clothes.  CFL bulbs in every light.  No VOC paint used on walls.
  • Grill all food in weather warmer than 85 degrees or eat cold foods (salads).  A/C only comes on when temp is 90 degrees plus.  In winter use oven as frequently as possible.
  • Measuring the difference – Front bedroom stays five degrees cooler with new blinds and green roof.  Lower part of house is cooler as well.