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Lake County Forest Preserves Leads the Way for Net-zero Buildings

July 20, 2021 08:43 AM


As stewards of healthy landscapes and proponents of climate resiliency, officials at the Lake County Forest Preserves altered their Capital Improvement Plan to prioritize and accelerate current net-zero building goals and lead the way for others. 

“It’s only natural as guardians of Lake County’s open space that our Board of Commissioners and staff find ways to implement these goals. We should attempt to apply for grants and invest funds in net-zero buildings and the technologies that support them,” said Angelo Kyle, president of the Lake County Forest Preserves. “It’s critical to our brand and mission, and upholds who we are and what we do,” he said.  

A net-zero building, also referred to as a zero-energy building, produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, reducing the use of nonrenewable energy. These buildings use cost-effective measures to reduce energy usage. 

“There are several advantages in moving toward zero-energy buildings, including lower environmental impacts, reduced operating and maintenance costs, better resiliency to power outages and natural disasters, and improved energy security,” said Julie Simpson, Board member and Finance Committee chair. “We want to ensure the most energy efficient use of existing facilities and build stronger more resilient ones for the future. To do this, we must commit to achieving net-zero carbon emissions and investing in clean energy infrastructure.” 

At the Ryerson Conservation Area in Riverwoods, planners at the Lake County Forest Preserves are currently working with design architects to replace aging classroom cabins with a new net-zero environmental education center. A similar style of building for grounds maintenance at Lakewood Forest Preserve in Wauconda is in the design phase.

“We want to raise the bar and set the example when it comes to green buildings and environmental sustainability. Our goal is that these new and retrofitted buildings will become viable models of long-lasting energy-efficient design. There are several big and small things we can do now to lead the way toward creating a greener infrastructure and a benchmark for others to follow,” said Alex Ty Kovach, executive director of the Lake County Forest Preserves. 

Architects told the Board’s Planning Committee that net-zero buildings are essentially air tight. “Plans for the Ryerson education center include walls that are 16 inches thick, compared to the typical 4 inches. The roof is 24 inches thick with a great deal of insulation, and the windows are triple-pane instead of the typical double-pane,” the architects said.

Featured components and building materials chosen to meet net-zero energy building requirements include: 

  • An array of rooftop solar panels
  • HVAC systems and mechanical equipment with the highest efficiency ratings
  • Increased insulation values in the walls and roof
  • High-performing windows and strategic placement to help regulate temperature
  • LED lighting throughout buildings and parking lots
  • Occupancy sensors in rooms and daylight sensors in perimeter spaces
  •  EPA Indoor Air Plus requirements for paint and materials

Other Efficient Buildings

Completed in 2006, the Ryerson Welcome Center is Platinum LEED Certified, the highest level granted by the U.S Green Building Council. The building’s green infrastructure and geoexchange system have offered significant environmental and financial benefits over time. 

“To make the Ryerson Welcome Center even more green and efficient, an array of solar panels is being added to its metal roof this summer. We received an Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation grant to pay for this project,” said Kyle. 

“When our Operations and Public Safety Facility in Lindenhurst was completed in 2009, a key factor behind the building’s design was energy efficiency,” Kovach said. An energy analysis from 2010 showed that the lighting savings was 24% better than industry standards required due to efficiency of the fixtures selected and daylighting enhancements. Occupancy sensors were also installed throughout the facility which resulted in increased energy savings. The performance measure of the building envelope was 10% better than the standards required because of thermal energy-saving materials used for walls, floors and roof. The windows have a low U-value as a result of improved insulation measures. 

“Focusing on these net-zero building goals is important for the future of the Lake County Forest Preserves and the community in which we serve,” Kovach said. “We are running out of time to preserve a habitable planet for our children and grandchildren. Now is the perfect time for us to engage in these clean energy projects.”