CFL News
August 10, 2012

Lemont and green home put in TV spotlight

Chicago carpenters are giving viewers an up-close look at green home building

Source: Chicago Tribune

By Mary Ellen Podmolik

An unusual partnership between a local labor group and a public television station is under way in southwest suburban Lemont, where a state-of-the art green home is under construction and a TV crew is documenting every step of the process.

The project, which TV viewers in the Chicago area and across the nation will be able to see next year, is a showcase for green home building processes, for the constantly expanding universe of energy-efficient home products and for union carpenters.

The Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and Merrillville, Ind.-based Lakeshore Public Television and Radio teamed to produce the inaugural season of "Built to Last," which aired locally in 2009 and 2010.

Its 13 episodes delved into facets of residential and commercial construction and offered information on topics like millwrights, installing different types of flooring, how drywall is manufactured, and door hardware and installation.

"We wanted to show that carpenters are the ones that can do all this work," said Don Scott, a spokesman for the regional council.

That first season was filmed "to build pride in membership during tough times."

The documentary-reality show attracted a following. Susan Shelley, Lakeshore's executive producer on the project, attributes the program's popularity to the fact that unlike all the do-it-yourself shows on TV, "Built to Last" was focused on building products and construction processes.

The success spawned interest in a second season, titled "Built to Last — The Green Home."

"Right now, the only subject to be discussed in construction is energy efficiency and sustainability," Shelley said. "(The carpenters) said, 'Why don't we show how to build a high-performance, single-family property from the ground up.'"

By one estimate, employment in the green building industry is expected to total almost 8million workers by next year.

The project in Lemont has had its challenges, trying to comply with subdivision covenants about the size of the house that conflicted with green building standards, as well as the wait for the delivery of new products to the market.

One example: The home's 2,654 square feet grows to about 5,400 square feet when the loft and fully finished walk-out basement is included. While that size meets the requirements of the subdivision, it's large by green building standards.

Trying to secure the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum rating, architect Bruce Obora said, the home should qualify based on the mechanical systems installed. That includes insulated concrete forms, zoned heating and air conditioning, radiant heating, solar panels and a rainwater retention system.

"What we're trying to show is the options out there to create an energy-efficient home," Obora said.

The first season of the show will air for a third time locally — and now nationally — early next year. Meanwhile, the season focused on the Lemont project is scheduled to air locally and nationally on public television beginning in April.

Viewers of some of the popular home shows on commercial TV stations — and there are plenty of them — are likely to notice a distinct difference between those shows and "Built to Last." Shelley likens it to the difference between a People magazine and an Encyclopedia Britannica.

Nor is the show a commercial for the products seen on any given episode.

"Those shows are really for entertainment value," Shelley said.

"We're entertaining but also educational. We can't produce a show that promotes a specific brand. We can promote processes and products. Public television's mission, our mission, is to educate, inform and inspire. We cannot be beholden to anyone."

The season will have a bit of its own star power, at least in the green building industry. Sam Rashkin, founding director of theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star for Homes program and now with theU.S. Department of Energy's Building America program, toured the site for the show.

The five-bedroom, three-bath home, owned by the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters' Labor & Management Committee, will be completed this fall and was recently listed for sale for $550,000. A portion of the proceeds from the home's sale will be donated to charity.

Meanwhile, a third season of the show, "Built to Last — Retrofit," is in the planning stages.

Twitter @mepodmolik