We are the Lewandowski family and we're building a new house from the ground up. Our goal is to build a comfortable and efficient green home that works for our family. We want to prove that building green is the right choice for the environment, our lives and our pocketbook.

We invite you to come follow us during our adventure and learn along with us, how to build and live green.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chicago Magazine and WGN Radio

Last month Tony and I were invited to our friend Kevin Williams' company holiday party.  We've gone before and it's always a fun evening.  We struck up a conversation with Dennis Rodkin, a journalist for Chicago Magazine and significant other to Kevin's star attorney, Jessica.  He was interested in our house and you know us, we love to talk about it!  This past week we gave him a tour of the house while he interviewed us and took photos for an article in Chicago Magazine on-line. I was glad Tom Molidor was able to make it for the interview too.  If you would like to read it, click HERE.

Dennis also asked Tony to be part of an interview with John Williams of WGN radio.  Tony did a great job sharing some of what he's learned about building green.  If you would like to hear the interview, click HERE.

Thank you Dennis for helping us spread the word about building green!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Cultec and Dig Right In

Managing rainwater on the property is an important aspect of building any structure.  Some of you may already know of the lengthy discussion we have had with the Village of La Grange's Department of Building and Zoning on just this subject.  After many months we have come to an agreement thanks to the tireless work of our landscaper.  They will allow us to use a Cultec System as designed and installed by Jeff Swano of Dig Right In Landscaping in lieu of their required system of large pipes and stone.  Our engineers provided a stamped design using the Cultec System and Jeff and the Village further 'tweeked' it and installed their version.  It made it in the ground just before the first frost.  WHEW... we were worried it wouldn't make it in before the ground froze.

By using CULTEC chambers, rainwater is collected in inlet structures and piped to an underground retention/detention system. The chamber systems control roof and driveway run-off thereby eliminating ponding.  The collected water then dissipates underground.  If you want to learn more about the system, you can visit their web-site at http://www.cultec.com/

After the system was installed, the grass was laid.  Again, just in time for the first frost. Apparently we were the last sod cut of the season.  Thank you Freyja Conrad of Dig Right In for your help and coordination with the grass, patio, etc.

The thing that bothered me about these systems as they were designed in the beginning of the project, was neither the Cultec or the Village's preferred system with the big pipes left us much planting space for a tree or shrubs.  What ended up being installed was a bit more of a compromise and we were able to get a decent size silver maple in the yard.  We really like how pretty it is when it's in bloom and it's a tree that sucks up a lot of water; a natural way to manage rainwater pooling should there ever be any.

If you want to know more about Dig Right In and all their services, click on the highlighted link and check out their website or give them a call at 708-485-1234.  Ask them about their rain gardens too.  I wish we had room for one of them!

The LaGrange Patch

There was an article in yesterday's LaGrange Patch about our house.
Click HERE if you would like to read it.
Thank you Matthew Hendrickson for taking the time to write about what we are up to!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Energy Recovery Ventilation

This is an ERV, Energy Recovery Ventilation unit. What do we need that for?  We spent all this money on insulating the heck out of this house to keep air out, so why would we need to spend more money on this thing to pump air in? 

Here's what I leaned... 

ERV is the energy recovery process of exchanging the energy contained in normally exhausted building or space air and using it to treat (precondition) the incoming outdoor ventilation air in residential and commercial HVAC systems. During the warmer seasons, the system pre-cools and dehumidifies while humidifying and pre-heating in the cooler seasons. The benefit of using energy recovery is the ability to meet ventilation & energy standards, while improving indoor air quality and reducing total HVAC equipment capacity.  This technology, as expected, has not only demonstrated an effective means of reducing energy cost and heating and cooling loads, but has allowed for the scaling down of equipment. Additionally, this system will allow for the indoor environment to maintain a relative humidity of an appealing 40% to 50% range. This range can be maintained under essentially all conditions.

We spoke to a few people who have this system in their homes and had many disuccsion with our HVAC installer.  All say this system is amazing and well worth the cost.  This home is all about living healthy so we are convinced it is the right choice.  As our furnace guy said... "this house is going to purrrrr!"

Drywall is finished!

It's almost like a real house!  This past weekend the drywall was finished.  They did a great job.  I love that everything is level and all corners are square.  The miraculous thing was that they cleaned up after themselves.  What a nice break for us.  The painter comes next week to prime.  Keep your fingers crossed that the rest of the process goes as smoothly as this did.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fire Stopping and Insulation

 I am a little behind in my posting so I'm going to try to get caught up...
The Kitchen

A few weeks ago the house was insulated.  I learned a little something during this process.  Before the insulation is put in, the insulatiors add fire stopping.  It is an expandable foam that insulates around all the openings to the outside of the house.  It is used on every opening in an exterior wall. Basically, anywhere you see light from outside while your inside the house.  These areas are where water and electric pipes come into the house, around the windows, etc.  Here is a photo taken from inside the house of the junction box that an exterior light fixture will eventully be attached to.  The foam further seals the perimeter of the house helping to keep moisture out, reduce drafts and keep the heat/airconditioning in.  There is also a different type of expandable foam used around the floor to fill in any gaps made in the sub-flooring.  In the event of a fire, this helps keep it contained so it doesn't spread to other floors. 

Insulation is important in any home.  If you have or currently live in an old home you understand just how important it really is.  The rental house we are living in is poorly insulated. It is so hot during the warm weather and freezing during the cold.  Unfortunately, we have the heating bills to prove it!

R-value is a number assigned to insulation as a way to measure the efficiancy of insulation in a house.  The US Department of Energy has recommended R-values for given areas of the USA based on the general local energy costs for heating and cooling, as well as the climate of an area. In general, the bigger the number, the better the building's insulation effectiveness.  There are five types of insulation: rolls and batts, loose-fill, rigid foam,dence pack cellulous and foam-in-place. Rolls and batts are typically flexible insulators that come in fibers, like fiberglass. Loose-fill insulation comes in loose fibers or pellets and should be blown into a space. Rigid foam is more expensive than fiber, but generally has a higher R-value per unit of thickness. Foam-in-place can be blown into small areas to control air leaks, like those around windows.  We've done a combination of these things.  There is the foam-in-place as I described above, a 1" rigid foam insulation on the exterior of the building that will be under the siding and stucco, and all perimeter walls are insulated with a dence packed cellulous and in between that is a theral break further adding to the value.   We added roll insulation around the laundry room which is in the center of the 2nd floor and is used as a sound insulator.  The State of Illinos has adopted an energy criteria noting the minimum R-value on a wall be no less than R-19.  The Village of  LaGrange told us in our initial meeting that they won't really inforce that code (not sure why), but it needed to be listed on our drawings anyway.  Our total wall value should well surpass that... somewhere in the R-30's.  The state requies the roof to be R-38 and ours is about higher than a R-44.  This will be a tight and efficient house.

Now that the insulation is finished, drywall in next!

Clean up

Part of the LEED requirements is that the house be kept clean.  So for the past couple of weeks have been a busy time for us.  We have spend a lot of time over the weekends cleaning, cleaning and then cleaning some more!  I'm so proud of the kids because they have really stepped up.  It isn't the most fun job and I'm sure they would rather be out with their friends, but being involved helps them to invest in the house.  They feel part of  the building process and hopefully they will appreciate the hard work that goes into building a home because they are an important part of the process.  This is an opportunity to teach the children to value hard work and to experience that in the end, they will reap the reward of living in this beautiful home.   

The Garage

There wasn't to much to salvage from the old house, but we were able to save one window and a french door.  They ended up on the garage. The window is a little small, but it will get the job done.  The second floor isn't a finished space.  It's storage for the outdoor furniture and such, so the little window will probably never be opened.  The french door became the service door.  It's a little different to have a fancy door on a garage, but when we have summer parties it can be opened so we can use the garage for more space.  I'm really happy about the 8' garage door. The style really dresses up the front.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Quiet Today

We've been moving along at such a productive pace, but it feels like things have come to a screeching halt.  About a week and a half ago, just after we decided on interior and exterior doors, interior trim, etc., we found out the supplier, ProBuild, is going out of business.  Sadly, this economy is so hard on the building industry.  Tom, our GC, was on board with another supplier right away, but this still puts us behind because we have to wait for estimates when we thought we were waiting for delivery.  We need the temporary exterior doors to continue. That's another 2 or 3 weeks.  I had a meeting with the new supplier, McIlwee Millwork, at the house and just as we were wrapping up a ProBuild truck arrived with 2 of the 3 exterior doors.  (The third is due to arrive tomorrow.)  The funny thing is neither Tom, Tony or I signed off on an order for doors with ProBuild, but here they are!  The doors will be installed at the end of the week and insulation is scheduled for next week so in the end we didn't loose much time. Tony thinks we could be moving in by Christmas, but I think January.  This is the one time I hope Tony is right!

Happy Birthday Evan!

October has been a busy month, but I need to stop and tell you about the excitement in our house.  Evan turned 13! My baby is a teenager.  I can hardly believe it.  It seems like it was just yesterday she was singing happily in her crib.  Jack would call her little sweetheart and you know, she really is. Happy Birthday Evan. We love you!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Lion Newspaper

Part of building LEED is community awareness, thus the blog.  Communicating ideas and sharing what you learn is important no matter what you do. Building LEED encourages this and Tony and I really believe it is an important part of this project.

Recently our family friend Katie Norton-Williams asked us if she could pitch our green house project to the school newspaper.  Katie is a junior at LT and a recent addition to the staff at the Lion.  She interviewed us and I'm happy to report her article made last weeks paper.  Nice job Katie!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


A good window is key in building any home.  With this house, we are trying to make sure it's as energy efficient as possible.  This means sealing the envelope of the house keeping air leaks out and heat/air conditioning in.  We checked out all the manufacturers we could think of and we liked Pella the best, but we were not totally convinced.  We used them before and I didn't like the way they tilted in to clean and there were a few issues with the locking mechanism but, the customer service was great so it ended up we were happy.  In our last house we used Eagle.  While we were happy with the windows, they were expensive and the sales rep seemed to care more about his golf game then our business so we decided against them this time.   Our friend Freyja (a landscape designer that you will hear about in the coming weeks) invited us to see a house she worked on in Oak Park.  This beautiful house was full of inspiration for building green.  Tony spent some time talking to the builder (One Watt Construction) asking him so many questions about the house.  He learned a lot about building a passive house and many of their ideas were incorporated into our home.  The windows in this house were spectacular.  Not only did they have the contemporary look we were looking for, they offer a true triple pane. In the end we went with Lowen. 

Our job has been going along well with very few bumps.  Well that is, until the windows arrive.....  Three of them were broken.  That happens.  If the rep would have been on site when they were delivered (like promised) he would have been able to come up with a plan on the spot with the carpenter on how to best solve this problem.  Because he wasn't there, the carpenter had to reject the broken windows and send them back with the truck.  Tony figured out a solution with the rep over the phone later that day and the broken windows were scheduled to be re-delivered and we will wait for the replacements to come in.  The Lowen guys can then pop the broken ones out and pop the new ones in.  Easy.  This protects the inside of the window frame from the weather, keeps the house dry so work can continue inside and allows the carpenters to continue working on the outside.  When the broken windows were re-delivered (again no rep on site as promised) the carpenters put them in as directed but there were no broken windows in them.  This means no protection covering the open space so of course the ran got in. When Tony called the rep he was basically told that it was our carpenters problem and not theirs.  Where's the customer service?

The thing that bothers me the most is the attitude.  We've done this a few times before so we know what service other companies provide.  In this economy you would think the various trades would be offering discounts and things just to get business when in fact, most are not.  They have bills and people to pay so they can't really discount all that much.  So where they SHOULD shine is in the area of customer service.  Word of mouth is the best advertisement.  I hope this isn't Lowen's way of doing business, just bad sales representation.  We are disappointed in they way Assured Corporation has been handling our customer service situation, but we do like the window.  Once this is repaired, I hope we don't have problems in the future because I'm sure we won't get any help from our rep.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Evan's Style

Isn't it fun?  Ok, there is nothing eco about it but it's filled with style and so is Evan.  She's been asking for this fixture for a few years but now with the new house we can finally make it happen.  The kids have always had input in their rooms.  They throw out a "theme" and I make it work.  This time we are pretty much letting them do their own thing; paint color, layout, flooring, the works.  She wants her walls black with an accent wall of hot pink and metallic wallpaper. (We're still looking for that but there are a lot of options.)  Evan is full of creative ideas.  She's big into fashion and loves to sew.  A skill I would love to learn one day.  She may even try to make her own curtains.  I can't wait to see how it all turns out. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Through the Roof

It's really starting to look like a house!
Last week the carpenters framed out the 3rd floor so we should be about ready for the plumber to come in and do his thing (venting). Then comes the roofing. The guys have been very patient with us taking photos, something that is a requirement for LEED. Tony took these last Friday. It's a good thing they are not afraid of heights.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Our GC's Assistant

Our son Jack couldn't find a summer job. This poses a problem because he likes to spend money and we like to keep ours, so we hired him for Tom, our general contractor. He has been Tom's assistant on the house. This means he runs errands and does a lot of clean up around the constructions site. He's been pretty responsible about it and is doing a good job. He hasn't complained about getting up earlier than noon on the weekends (He is a teenager after all!) to go with Tony to sweep up, sort wood, etc. Since he was a little boy he liked to build things, use tools, create and construct. For a 16 year old he has some skills! The past two summers he's gone on a week long mission trip to an impoverished area in the Appalachian Mountains with our church and an organization called ASP. He's been working on construction projects to help people fix their homes. I think he likes the work and knows he has made a difference in the lives of families that do not live a life as fortunate as we do. Definitely a noble thing. When we went to check out the framing for the second floor, we walked through the house talking about what will go where. It's always helpful to visualize everything. You know, to get the big picture with your minds eye. As usual I was snapping away with the camera. The top picture is Jack using his minds eye in his bathroom. Guess what he's standing in front of? Sometimes that kid cracks me up!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Green Choice Bank

The planning and construction for this house is all well and good, but you need to be able to pay for it all. The current state of the economy has made it difficult for anyone to get a loan, even for the most responsible of people. When we sold our last house we had to be finger printed even though we were the sellers. Don't even get me started on the fact that no one has yet to be held accountable for this recession...

Anyway, there aren't many banks who give construction loans anymore and that was a concern for us. Tony attend a 'Green' seminar this past winter and learned about Green Choice Bank. To quote their mission statement "Our relationship-driven approach is built on a foundation of core values designed to enhance the environmental, social and financial well-being of our communities and planet." .... "There is a growing need for a better relationship between banks, the public they serve, and their collective impact on the planet." Sounds to good to be true, right? I mean, a bank that actually CARES about the planet well beyond just recycling their used copy paper and actually supports the community it serves? This bank truly believes in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) process, supports green building and puts their money where there mouth is.

If your looking for a loan for your green project, I highly recommend this bank. For more information, check out their web page: http://www.greenchoicebank.com/

Friday, August 26, 2011

Our First Visitors

We had visitors today! Our friend Eileen Norton came to the new house for a visit. We took her on a tour of the first and second floor framing. She brought with her Carly and Keri, Evan's friends. Ev gave them the grand tour and showed off her bedroom. The neighbor kids, Hannigan, Cameron and Ben came over too. It was like a party in there!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Just catching up...

I've been a little behind on posting photos because I've been busy working on all of the interior stuff. I'm loving it! The hustle and bustle of it all takes a lot of time and organization. It's very exciting. It's all started to become very real this week. The basement floor was poured, the joists were put into place and the first floor framing is in place. Tony and I walked the floor on Friday and we're getting excited about it all coming together.

The first photo is of Evan in front of the foundation. Isn't she cute?

The second photo is the first floor framing complete!

The third photo is the open web trusses lined up every 16" on center. They are closer together to avoid a 'bouncing' floor.

The forth photo is the basement floor being poured. The blue underneath the concrete is a foam barrier that is going to keep the floor warmer underfoot.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Construction should start moving along a little quicker now. The first floor decking is on. It looks like a dance floor!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

And Many More!!!!!

He is a loving father and husband, a loyal friend, an honest man, the calm during a storm, a fun dad, a patient husband, hard working, silently strong, almost devilishly clever, funny with a quirky sense of humor, levelheaded, conservative, a deep thinker and a tall, handsome man. Today he is 50 years old.... Happy Birthday Tony!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Birds Eye View

We are going to have such nice neighbors! The Racelis family live to the north of us. Jack is friends with their lovely daughter Hanigan. We've gotten to know Chris and Mary through various friends around town and they are a lot of fun. Their two boys, Cameron and Ben, seem like nice kids too. Chris and Ben even came to the pre-demo demo! When we looked at the property last November, we were greeted by Mary who was excited that we were interested and ready to get the house torn down. She didn't run away or yell at us as we have experienced in the past. After building several homes through the years, most neighbors are not to happy with the disruption construction causes. We are so happy and appreciative that our new neighbors are cool with it all! Last week Mary took some pictures from the 2nd floor of her house. A birds eye view. Thanks Mar, keep them coming!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Oh No!!!!!

Small heart attack today. Everyday on his way home from work Tony drives by the house. It's good to check on things. Today there is an ambulance, firetruck and 2 police cars in front of our house. All kinds of craziness runs through your head... I HOPE NO ONE FELL IN THE HOLE... DID SOMEONE GET HURT... PANIC... OH NO... WHAT HAPPENED? Turns out it was a downed power line at the back of the property. It was a freak thing not related to our construction. Thank God no one was hurt. It cut out the power in the neighborhood. I've had more emails from people asking what we did.... Honest, it wasn't us! :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It Keeps Getting Better!

We actually got shut down this afternoon. After the soil boring incident this morning (see previous post) they came back and told the guys they have to stop until the permit is displayed on the job site. If you read the permit it says "...must be placed on the street side of building..." We get that... BUT THERE IS NO BUILDING! So it is now in a Ziploc bag zip tied to the fence. Maybe we should have duct taped it to the port-a-potty! Let's see what they find tomorrow.

Right Out of the Gate

We had a little hiccup in the beginning, but it's been taken care of. I'm glad to say things are rolling now. We feel we have all our 'i's crossed and our t's dotted', as Tony likes to say, and we're looking forward to all the activity coming on the days ahead. The crew is there today to form out the foundation walls. YEAH! Then there was the first inspection.... not so yeah. Apparently the Village inspector was going to stop the job because he didn't have copies of the soil baring test. Thank God our GC called us and we were able to email them out asap. Soil test are not required, but we did them anyway to make sure we could deepen the basement without future water issues. Better safe than sorry. We gave the Village copies with one of our many reviews. How can they stop our job based off of information that isn't required anyway? It boggles my mind. Tom, our GC, explained that we supplied this information already and they let the guys continue working. I know I've posted this before, but I really feel this is going to be an ongoing problem. From my point of view it seem the rules change as we go, except they forget to tell us what they are. Thank you Tom, Tony and the Internet for your quick work! :)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Going, Going.... GONE!

At 9:30 this morning the bucket came down on the house. It was so exciting to see it finally happening and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Tom (our General Contractor) has the schedule moving so it won't be long now!

Demo Before the Demo

Last night we let the kids and their friends destroy the house. How fun is that?! They had a blast spray painting and busting holes in the walls and throwing rocks through the windows.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


After much to-do, and I mean much to-do, as of 4:00 this afternoon we have a building permit! This is a good thing because we scheduled demo for tomorrow morning. The big truck will arrive at 8am and the hammer should fall around 9am. It's been quite a process to get us to this point. We have an agreement that we will build the dissipation system as outlined by the Village if we fail to come to an agreement on a greener option by August 15th. That seems reasonable. I'm just upset about the fact that they left things to the final hour. At least we have a permit and things are ready to go. What I've learned throughout this process so far is that I'm not sure I trust that there will be a timely and fair evaluation of a greener system. I'm also a little afraid that we will have many hiccups along the way that will be met with unreasonable requirements. We are going to try to trust things will go well. We'll see how it goes. For now, we're just going to celebrate that we are moving forward!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


The fence is up, all permits are applied for, we've got an agreement with the Village, had our pre-construction inspection and we're still waiting. What for? That's a good question!
Last week we worked out an understanding with the Village. To get things started we would get approval to proceed using their dissipation system but continue to negotiate a greener alternative. We need to trust each other. Tony worked everything out with their engineer, we got a verbal "OK, looks good" and then our Jack (16 with a new drivers license) drove to Tony's office to pick up plans and then delivered them to LG'S Building and Zoning so they could forward them to their engineer. We are going to trust each other, work as a team and get this project going! Guess where the drawings were yesterday morning.... still sitting in their office! My understanding is they wanted to see how much more we owe them, get us to pay the bill and then they will give the drawings to the engineer for his approval. Except they neglected to tell us. So another week go by waiting. We've already paid them quite a bit and isn't the understanding that the bill be paid in full before permits are issued anyway? That's usually how it works. When have we not paid our bills? So much for trust.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


I feel like I've been such a downer about this house lately. We just can't seem to get it off the ground. As time clicks by we loose patience and money. The hold up has been this disconnect over one issue with the Village, managing water on the property. Simply put, it's green management vs. non-green management. It is still a problem, but I was put in contact with one Village employee who makes me feel like there could be a little glimmer of light a the end of the tunnel. Maybe we should take the chance that we can work it out and not sell the property. My biggest fear is if we come to an agreement on this system, what obstacles will we encounter during the rest of the project. It's the unknown path that causes me sleepless nights.

Anyway, while we work out our issue, I'm hoping maybe the Village would issue us a permit (or a partial permit) so we could get started on the tear down and the building of the house. The issue isn't with the structure of the house and the review process for the building itself was complete in under two weeks, so why couldn't we get started? The water dissipation system really shouldn't even be put in until after all the heavy equipment is off the property anyway. Crazy idea? We'll see what they say....

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Our Contractor

This is Tom Molidor. I met him a few years ago when I took a class through LT's adult continuing education. He was teaching the ins and outs of building a custom designed home. I really like what he had to say and the patience he had with me and my one thousand questions. (Most people are not so patient.) At the time, we were living in a little house on Bluff Avenue in La Grange that we renovated. We loved living there. The neighbors became some of our best friends. While we loved our little house, the kids got bigger and so did their stuff. It was time to go. Then we bought the tear-down house at 324 S. Peck. Tony and I interviewed a few builders, but we both really like Tom so we partnered up with Molidor Custom Builders and built our first house from the ground up. I think we all worked well together. One of the things we like about Tom is his focus on building with healthy home materials. When we met with him a few months ago to talk about our latest purchase he was as excited as we were to be building green. I think he will have a lot to offer. I'm glad we going to be working together again. We can't wait to get started!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What Makes a House a Home?

It doesn't matter where we live, the important thing is that the four of us are together. That makes any house we live in a home. Even though the past 6 months have been tough to get this house project off the ground, I am happy that we stand strong as a family. The best gifts my father ever gave me was the understanding that family comes first. He worked hard for us and gave my sister and me a great childhood. Sometimes I can't believe he's been gone for 11 Father's Days now. Today I would like to take a minute to post a thank you to him for 34 years of parenting and for teaching me the value of family.

Happy Father's Day!