Greener gestures: A sustainable home that's meant to last

What does 'green' really mean? In corporate America, it's definitive and quantifiable, such as Patagonia's $20 million green venture capital fund or Cisco's stringent greenhouse gas reduction goals, which just landed it on the prestigious annual Global 100 list of world leaders in clean capitalism.

"That's not how it works for the rest of us," quips Christian Narkiewicz-Laine, director of the Chicago Athenaeum Museum of Architecture and Design. "We don't have whole teams to create and manage our individual sustainability strategies and tell us where to shop, what to buy or how to 'green' our homes." Instead, he believes 'greening' our lives and abodes is a series of steps that people commit to gradually.

That's exactly how the process has worked for Sharon and Scott Krone, whose Wilmette home won the Chicago Athenaeum's Green GOOD Design Award in 2011 — founded in 1950 by Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. But Scott adds another dimension to the progression when he points out "our journey got increasingly faster and more comprehensive with each home."

The couple's current sustainable lifestyle has been 19 years in the making, but Sharon believes it "will always be an ever-evolving process." It began when "I started applying what I was learning to our home," Scott explains, at the time the couple's loft in a former Evanston biscuit factory. He had just earned a Master of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology and was working at Optima under architect-developer David Hovey, whose award-winning structures are noted for both their impressive modern design and environmental and cost efficiencies.

But he found "there wasn't much I could do in our loft because it had already been built out and our funds were limited." The couple finally got to apply green strategies to their home in 1998, when Scott started his own firm, Coda Design + Build. They bought a 1950s ranch in Northfield and gave it a complete overhaul using primo materials Scott salvaged from other jobs and high efficiency mechanicals, windows and insulation.

Today, the Krones and their three children are living in their sixth home, which Scott designed and built in 2008 to accommodate the ideas he and Sharon have embraced over the years. "We were able to accomplish everything we wanted in this house and we love the diverse community," he says.

It also has a high green quotient, though measurement standards vary and are not an ideal benchmark of true sustainability, notes Scott. For instance, LEED for Homes (the United States Green Building Council's certification standard), which many consider a gold standard, "was developed after I built our home so I didn't even consider using it. But I've seen really large houses earn platinum (the highest award possible), which says to me the standard can be more about earning points than achieving environmentally mindful performance and sustainability," he says.The Krone's home packs a big punch in both arenas, measured by the five Principles of Sustainable Design identified by the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C.

They mean green

Here's how the Krones home embraces green design principles:

Optimizing use of the sun: Scott designed the home to incorporate passive and active solar strategies. Two courtyards are edged in Moduline sliding glass doors and floor-to-ceiling windows. They face south and west to capture light and heat, supplementing12 photovoltaic panels on the gabled garage roof that provide power to the house.

Improving indoor air quality: Geothermal heating and cooling and an electronic air filter that removes allergens and pollutants provides economical environmental control; the garage is 37 feet away from the house to eliminate exhaust fumes; and the Krones used low-VOC materials throughout the house.

Using the land responsibly: "We choose a compact corner lot by East Wilmette standards, which is close to public transportation, schools, services and the beach," says Scott. Scott maximized the home's footprint with vaulted ceilings that drop to five feet on the edges of the second floor and soar to 23 feet in the center. "Village zoning doesn't count any space lower than seven feet, so we effectively increased the size of the house by 20 percent," he estimates. He also optimized the site by setting the long side of the house's T-shape facing the house next door, fenestrating it with clerestory windows for privacy.

Creating a high-performance and moisture-resistant house: The house is built with engineered lumber, steel, common brick and fiber cement board, and the roof is standing seam aluminum — all materials that contribute to the strength, water resistance and reflectivity of the house. Coupled with high-density foam insulation and the heating and cooling system, "the house costs us very little in monthly expenses and is easy to maintain," says Scott.

Wisely using the Earth's natural resources: "We've very careful about what we bring into the house and how much we own," says Sharon. "We've chosen our furnishings very carefully to last for a lifetime."