Service desert

Do you have plans for some sustainable renovation or remodeling? If yes, it is very likely that you have given some thought to the project schedule. It is equally likely that you’ll need to commission the help of some experts, such as a mechanical engineer and an installer for the mechanical systems.

This is where it can get tricky, as we found out. Why? Because we sit in the metropolis Chicago, which is proud of its “green” accomplishments and incentives, and I expected it would teem with engineers and mechanical contractors eager to design and install cutting-edge, high efficiency building systems.

But Chicago turns out to be a service desert when it comes to affordable, knowledgeable and skilled green building expertise, particularly on the mechanical side of things and even more so for residential rehabs.

Let’s start at the beginning. We organized a design workshop late last summer and were on the move to finish the design for the green building rehab. Except that the process came to a screeching halt for about three months. I was unable to find a mechanical engineer – and I already had been looking for about two months prior to the workshop!

A mechanical engineer was absolutely critical to the process to assure that the insulation of the building envelope goes hand in hand with the type and size of the heating and ventilation system. My nightmare scenario was to end up with an oversized (and costly) heating system or an undersized insulation assembly.

Most capable and green-minded mechanical engineers I know through my professional network do not work at the residential scale. The few I knew or found that take on residential projects were booked to the gills and unable to help.

I finally stepped outside the Chicago market and contacted IBC Engineering near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I had worked with IBC before and respected their expertise.  I was fortunate enough that they agreed to work with us.

This allowed us to restart the design process in November, three months after the workshop.

This was the first significant delay and only the first problem solved. The next one was already knocking at the door, namely finding a local, green, technology-savvy mechanical contractor. We knew that we need the innovative and out-of-the-box thinking kind.

Don’t get me wrong – they are out there – in rural Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana or the far exurbs of Chicago, but not in Chicago proper as far as I can tell and I have done a lot of searching and asking around. And I am not the only one looking. I know of a couple of green-minded general contractors that are on the search for mechanical expertise in the Chicago dry lands.

How can it be that a population center such as Chicago is critically underserved, considering that the city has pushed green building technologies for quite a while? I expected a well developed if not saturated market but was mistaken.

If you are a future remodeler and interested in green building systems, be prepared to go on a search for the right expertise, because you won’t find it waiting on the street corner.
Here are some resources I tapped into during my search:

Do you know of any other good resources? Let us know and we will post them!

About Marcus de la fleur

Marcus is a Registered Landscape Architect with a horticultural degree from the School of Horticulture at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from the University of Sheffield, UK. He developed a landscape based sustainable pilot project at 168 Elm Ave. in 2002, and has expanded his skill set to building science. Starting in 2009, Marcus applied the newly acquired expertise to the deep energy retrofit of his 100+ year old home in Chicago.

One thought on “Service desert

  1. It does seem really odd that there would be such a lack of resources here. Wish I had some to suggest.

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