Chicago Housing Trends: Energy and Mold

Knowledge Center: Chicago Housing Trends: Energy and Mold

Housing Market Overview

Recent nationwide building permit statistics showed that in recent years (2001-2003), Chicago has ranked among the top six cities in the U.S. issuing housing starts/permits. The Chicago metropolitan area saw approximately 35,000 permits for new housing in 2001, more than 40,000 in 2002, and approximately 28,500 in 2003.

The housing market in Chicago reflects a brighter picture than many other markets. This is due to the relatively stable local economy and favorable interest rates.
Areas of particular growth include Chicago-proper and the counties of McHenry, Dupage, Kane and Will. In particular, Naperville and Elgin are experiencing a high level of new-house growth, whereas Lake County is becoming home to the “starter castle.”
Areas of strong renovation activity include Chicago-proper, Arlington Heights and Cook County.

Energy Tops List of Chicago Housing Issues

Chicago endures some of the country’s most severe temperature extremes, driving the need for energy-efficient heating and cooling systems.

In 2000, a natural gas squeeze saw prices in Chicago soar to record levels – nearly tripling those of 1999. In the Chicago area, more than 90 percent of residents heat with natural gas.
Historically, Chicago has experienced the highest electricity rates in the Midwest – they are among the highest nationwide

A survey of Illinois residents in August 2001, conducted for Illinois Clean Energy Foundation, found that energy conservation and skyrocketing costs are big issues for state residents:

Respondents rank energy prices and supply as the third most important economic issue facing the country
75% say it is important that the products they buy are energy efficient
75% say it is extremely or very important that local and state governments make new and existing buildings more energy efficient
84% would favor requiring state-of-the-art energy efficiency in any new construction or remodeling projects funded with state tax dollars

Local Building Trends To Reduce Energy Costs

SMART HOMES is a new energy-efficient pilot project offered through New Home Chicago. They are in such demand that interested buyers currently outnumber available houses.

SMART HOMES use the most up-to-date and energy efficient building technology. Innovations include pre-wiring for computer cabling and using spray polyurethane foam insulation- proven to cut energy costs by 30 to 50 percent.
Not all New Home Chicago’s fit the SMART HOME profile; however, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs does offer $2,000 grants for energy efficient upgrades in New Home Chicago houses.

On January 1, 2002, the city of Chicago implemented its New Energy Conservation Code which redefines energy efficiency requirements for all new and rehabilitated homes and commercial buildings. The code regulates the use of insulation – for the first time ever, HVAC equipment and lighting. The goal is to improve energy efficiency standards by 10 to 20 percent.

The official introduction of insulation by the City as an energy-saving method is one property owners welcome. Current heating/cooling costs of an average sized home in Chicago can range between $900 to $1,000 per year, with insulation. However, many homeowners don’t realize that the type of insulation used in a home can further cut these costs – by 30 to 50 percent.

Insulation specialists, Dwyer’s Foam Systems, offers home owners in the Chicago area several insulation options and will help homeowners choose the best system for their home. In case studies of identical 2,000 square foot homes, the energy costs for homes using spray foam insulation dropped to less than $600 over the course of the year, translating into significant savings over the life of the home.
An additional advantage to the homeowner is the ability to cut the furnace and HVAC equipment size by a third, saving on equipment and costs.

Chicago’s Mold Misery

Chicago’s extreme temperatures also contribute to the likeliness of mold and mildew in Chicago area homes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), surveys of homes in the northern U.S. show that 30 to 50 percent of all structures have damp conditions which encourage mold growth.

The primary contributor to mold growth in a home is moisture. Once trapped inside walls or ceilings, moisture turns building materials, like drywall and traditional insulation, into rich breeding grounds for mold.
A surge in reports of mold infestations in Chicago has also drawn increasing legal and homeowner attention to the problem. The number of mold insurance claims is rising in Illinois. As a result, some insurance companies have eliminated mold coverage altogether.

There are many options for homeowners can take to fix and even prevent mold/mildew growth. One of the most important steps is to ensure the home or building is properly sealed and ventilated. Additional steps, like an air barrier, will help prevent moisture from entering the home from the get-go.

There are also new technologies available designed to minimize air leakage. Unlike other insulation types, Dwyer’s spray foam insulation can prevent mold from traveling in the walls and does not hold the moisture that stimulates mold growth.

There have been numerous cases in the Greater Chicago Area where families, students and workers have complained of illness due to prolonged exposure to mold.

Studies by the Mayo Clinic and the Harvard University School of Public Health prove that indoor mold can contribute to allergies, eye and respiratory infections, skin and mucous membrane irritation, and a weakened immune system.

Among recent mold infestation reports in Chicago:

In April 2001, St. Charles East High School gained notoriety after it was closed because of mold contamination. A student at the school has filed a class-action lawsuit against the district. Testing alone has already cost nearly $750,000 and remediation costs are estimated to be in the millions of dollars.
In August 2001, St. Theresa School in Palatine was shut down temporarily because of concerns about possible mold contamination. In May, mold was also found in two classrooms and some offices at Garfield Elementary School on Elgin.
Residents of a Mundelein apartment building (Lake County), where potentially toxic mold was found growing, were temporarily relocated until mold and structural problems could be corrected.
In a high profile case, the Lamka family was forced to abandon their Rolling Meadows (Cook County) home after members experienced a number of health problems possibly linked to mold. Carpeting was ripped out and many walls and ceilings were gutted.
Kerry and Jodi Strain of Muirfield were not able to occupy their new $360,000 home due to unhealthy levels of mold contamination. Testing revealed levels of penicillium and aspergillus, mold contaminants that cause health problems.