About the Sustainability Trifecta at Eco Terra Chicago

Having maintained a focus on sustainable, green building practices and energy efficiency since the late 1990s, Hawthorne Development Corp. has remained true to its motto: “Green building, green energy and green living”. Currently, the Illinois-based company is working on a project that will be the nation’s largest multi-family development built to Passive House Institute US (PHIUS) standards.

Dubbed Eco Terra and formerly known as Garden Station, the two-year project will be a seven-story, 348-unit mixed-use luxury apartment community in Chicago’s Villa Park. The development is expected to feature standard amenities for high-end living environments, such as a fitness center, pool, theater, dog park and dog grooming station, as well as WeWork spaces on each floor .

READ ALSO: Passive house standards are gaining ground in multifamily

What is exceptional is that it will use between 40 and 60% less energy than conventional buildings thanks to a range of sustainability features. As well as being built to PHIUS standards for energy efficiency, Eco Terra will also meet the requirements of two other certifications, with all power to be generated onsite and stored in lithium-ion batteries, so gas will not be needed. Additionally, it will reduce energy consumption with features such as LEDs throughout, variable refrigerant flow that is 30% more efficient than conventional HVAC systems, heat recovery ventilation that reduces heating demands and cooling and triple glazed windows. The property will also have its own solar panel and water efficient plumbing fixtures will help control water usage.

Hawthorne founder Ganesan Visvabharathy reveals all about this unconventional project and building to Passive House standards today.

The attention to durability doesn’t stop at PHIUS standards. Eco Terra will also meet Net Zero Energy Use and Net Zero Carbon certification requirements. How will these green goals be achieved?

Ganesan Visvabharath, Founder, Hawthorne Development Corp. Image courtesy of Hawthorne Development Corp.

Visvabharathy: Net Zero Carbon is achieved through a all-electric building, thanks to the elimination of the use of natural gas in the building, which is replaced by clean electricity. While it is true that we have not examined the amount of carbon produced during the production processes of each building material – which would be a monumental and prohibitively expensive task – Hawthorne only works with materials with the status Net Zero Carbon.

Net Zero Energy certification is achieved through the use of solar technology that provides sustainable, clean energy to the building.

Tell us about the team behind the project: who takes care of which aspects of the development?

Visvabharathy: Yolanda Contreras, vice president of Hawthorne Development Corp., has worked in the real estate development industry for 15 years and in the solar industry for eight years. She is president of her own solar company, Solar Micro. Yolanda oversees Hawthorne’s day-to-day operations.

Kitrthiga Krishnamurthy, chief financial officer of Hawthorne Development Corp., is a fourth-generation real estate businesswoman who has been in the industry for 12 years. Born into a real estate family, her ideas about the industry have evolved with respect for the environment, and her drive to be part of industry change has aligned her path with Hawthorne since 2018.

Nick Pancotto, project manager at Hawthorne Development Corp., has been in construction from an early age, when he helped his father build apartment communities and single-family homes. He continued his career at PCH Ltd. and Kipling Development, where he oversaw the acquisition and allocation of large parcels of land, as well as the coordination and management of development projects consisting of hundreds of units. Over the years, Nick has honed the skills that allow him to design cost-effective solutions for virtually any construction problem, whether it be in the soil, building superstructure, or operation and maintenance.

Eco Terra, the largest multi-family project built to Passive House standards
Eco Terra. Courtesy of Hawthorne Development Corp.

Is it difficult today to find competent teams in passive house construction practices?

Visvabharathy: Not easy. Depending on the location of the project, it may take some time to find a team that has the skills and hands-on experience with sustainable and green building techniques.

READ ALSO: New Building Codes Boost Multi-Family Developer Creativity

Which phase of the project is most important to you? Are there any aspects of development that worry you?

Visvabharathy: While all phases are equally enticing, the execution phase is the one that comes up against challenges, so it provides immense pleasure once this phase is completed. These days, the challenges have increased due to substantial increases in material prices and material shortages.

Another big challenge is the shortage of skilled workers on the ground serving the utility sector. Although connecting new developments to utilities has never been a quick process, since 2019 the shortage of qualified people has led to significant delays as team moves were required.

How have rising construction costs and rising inflation impacted your project?

Visvabharathy: Construction costs have skyrocketed and while you can handle the rising costs, logistical issues have made it harder to locate and source needed materials such as wood. This has led to traders not wanting to hold prices for more than two weeks anymore, and this is a huge challenge.

Eco Terra, the largest multi-family project built to Passive House standards
Eco Terra. Courtesy of Hawthorne Development Corp.

Green development has been gaining momentum recently, driven by younger generations prioritizing eco-friendly features in their homes. Does the current economic volatility threaten its expansion?

Visvabharathy: Yes, I see a jolt in the market due to economic volatility, but I think it is a temporary phenomenon, which will last three or four quarters. I don’t see any long term impact.

Do you have any advice for those considering building to Passive House standards?

Visvabharathy: The team is the most important. You need a great HVAC design team, with in-depth knowledge of Passive House standards, a ratings consultant and a contractor who are willing to try new things if they are not already experienced in the field of passive house. Usually, entrepreneurs are very risk averse and don’t want to venture into new areas, and that’s a big deal.

Another tip would be to get involved with the various industry associations that support sustainable, green and eco-responsible construction. There are many national, state, and local associations that provide information on education, certification, and most importantly, networking opportunities. Hawthorne is a member of PHIUS at the national level, the Illinois Green Alliance at the state level, and the US Green Building Council Chicago Chapter.

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