KAP FAQ For Sustainable and Resilient Design


Sustainable Questions

+ Why should I consider Sustainable Design for my project?

There are several reasons to integrate Sustainable Design into a project.

• Climate Change requires us to consider the climatic conditions that the building will be operating in in the future.

• Sustainable Design promotes a healthier and more comfortable interior environment.

• A sustainably designed home will have a better resale in the future than one that isn’t.

• It is also a great feeling knowing your home is designed to be in tune with Nature, and if it is a ‘Net Zero’ home, designed to generate all of its power on site on an annual basis, you have carbon free home operations.

+ What if I don’t want to have a significant Sustainable Home?

We realize that not everyone wants or needs a sustainable home done to the very highest level. We still integrate ‘best practices’ that are significantly better than ‘standard’ homes. We will provide cost effective energy efficient designs at distinct price points.

+ Can Sustainable Designs be incorporated into existing homes?

Existing homes can be great opportunities to modernize. Additions and renovations to existing homes can take advantage of a homes ‘good bones’ while bringing the house up to 21st century functionality. There are many options to improve an existing homes insulation, windows, mechanical, lighting and control systems, as well as other key items.

Another aspect of renovation is that if the house is in a local historic district, and the renovation work fulfills the requirements of the State of Illinois, it may be eligible for the Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Freeze. This freezes the property taxes for a period of 8 years and then steps the tax rate back to the current level over the following four years. This program can be worth more than $100,000, and to date we have successfully implemented this for eleven homes.

+ Does it cost more to incorporate Sustainable Design features?

For some aspects, there is no cost. For others, there is an additional cost. No cost items include the proper orientation of windows and correct sizing of overhangs to manage the solar gain into the house, as are properly locating windows for natural ventilation and natural daylighting.

Areas that can be more than standard construction include the insulation systems, electrical and mechanical systems and renewable energy systems. There are differing system combinations for these for various price points, so we will look at what makes sense for the project’s sustainability goals. The upfront cost provides benefits that include reduced utility bills, less maintenance, greater comfort and the peace of mind that the home is as efficient as possible. Over time, these savings can offset the upfront costs.

+ What is the payback on the various sustainable systems?

It depends on which systems are being reviewed. Some systems have very short payback periods, such as improved insulation systems. These typically have paybacks in a few, short years. Improved mechanical systems are in the neighborhood of five to ten years. Solar photovoltaic panels have longer payback periods, in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 years, as we currently have low cost electricity in northeastern Illinois However, the cost of electricity is anticipated to increase over time, driving down the payback period. We are happy to review payback periods for various project specific components.

+ What is Resilient Design?

Resilient Design is the ability of a building, or community, to respond to natural or man-made impacts and recover quickly. This can translate to incorporating on-site renewables, battery backup storage, redundant flood prevention controls, redundant heating and cooling systems, and providing key lights, fans and operable skylights, all controlled from a carefully thought out electric sub panel that runs these systems during a power outage. We also integrate whole roof waterproofing, oversized gutters and downspouts and other water and wind management techniques to ensure the house is built to handle changing weather conditions.

We can certify the homes through the ‘Net Zero Ready’ program from the Dept. of Energy, and the ‘Fortified Home™’ program from IIBHS.

+ What Certifications are available for my project?

There are many programs currently available. Beside the ‘Net Zero Ready’ and the ‘Fortified Home™ standards mentioned above, the primary ones are LEED, Passive House, Living Building Challenge and HERS. All of these certifications are third party verified.

LEED is a checklist based program that focuses on energy use, water efficiency, indoor air quality, green materials and how ‘walkable’ the project location is. There is a significant fee for this to us for our work, a fee to a third party manager for the project, and additional construction costs for items that are prerequisites for the construction. We have three people on staff that are LEED accredited professionals.

Passive House is a high performance standard that focuses on energy efficiency. The goal is to make the house as tight as possible through the design, detailing and execution during construction. The fees are similar to LEED, but there are also potentially higher construction costs due to the detailing required to achieve this standard. We have one person on staff that is a Certified Passive House Consultant.

Living Building Challenge is the ultimate standard. It is both a checklist and performance based system. There are 20 ‘pedals’ that range from all energy being generated on site without combustion, collecting all of the homes water from rain water, growing a portion or all of your own food, etc. It is an extremely demanding standard, and has costs that correspond to that.

A HERS rating (Home Energy Rating System) is the easiest standard to achieve. It concentrates on how tight the home is built, and like all of the standards, requires a ‘blower door test’ to certify that how tightly the house is actually built. This is a very low cost standard, being around $500 or so.

+ Why are many of KAP projects ‘all-electric’?

Electricity is the ‘currency’ of renewable energy. It can be fossil fuel free, and every day the percentage of electricity generated by renewable energy is increasing globally. We want to ‘decarbonize’ the operations of the building, and by using electricity, either generated on site or from certified renewable sources, we are accomplishing that.

The systems that tend to use natural gas in Illinois are the heating system, the dryer, the water heater and the cooktop. We prefer to use high efficiency electric versions of these, including the cooktop. Induction cooktops are preferred by top chefs for its convenience, speed and even cooking. We have the ability to take you to the GE Monogram showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago for a free lunch (yes, there is such a thing!) prepared by an executive chef using the induction cooktop to show you how great it is!


Working with Kipnis Architecture + Planning

+ What are the steps involved with working with KAP?

There are a number of parts to designing and building a project. If necessary, ‘Pre-Design’ is the initial phase, where we may be brought in to review the feasibility of building or a site. The five standard phases encompass the following;

• Schematic Design - This is for the design of the initial site plan and building floor plans. We typically look at three distinct possibilities for a project if the scale of the work warrants that. Design Development - The selected floor plan is refined, and the exterior elevations, interior elevations and lighting/electrical layouts are completed. We can do preliminary pricing at this time. Extensive 3D and Virtual Reality imaging can be provided at this point.

• Construction Documents - The design is memorialized in the highly detailed construction document phase. Any alternates that want to be considered are included in the plans. The plans go in for a permit review by the local municipality at this time.

•Bidding - There are two ways to do this. We either have a general contractor selected at the beginning of the job so they can provide continuous pricing feedback, or the project is competitively bid out to three general contractors.

•Construction Administration - During construction we go to periodic site visits, resolve issues that come up, review pay requests and ensure that there is clear communication between the

+ What is the permitting process like?

The permit process timing is never fully known and is in the hands of the local municipality. We generally assume 6 weeks to get a permit in the Chicago area and approximately 8 to 10 weeks in Chicago proper. In Chicago, we contract with a permit expediter to guide the plans through the permitting process. We will receive comments from the permit reviewers during their review. Generally, these comments simply require clarification.

+ What if I need a zoning variance?

Zoning variance requirements vary by municipality. The variance is submitted to the municipality and presented to the zoning board of appeals. As such, there is no guarantee on the outcome of a zoning variance application. The process takes between a month and several months, depending on the variance being applied for and the specific municipality.

+ Who will I be working with on the project?

The advantage of a smaller office is that we are all involved with every project. There will be a project manager assigned to the project, and Nathan Kipnis will be involved with the design and attend key meetings.

+ Who will I be working with on the project?

Which consultants are required and how are they assembled? Generally, there is typically a structural engineer on each project. Other projects may require a civil engineer. Depending on the scale of the project, an interior designer, a landscape architect and a technology integrator might be involved. We typically do our own mechanical, electrical and plumbing design in house. However, on ultra high performance homes, we may enlist a separate mechanical consultant.

+ What is my responsibility for this process?

The owner is responsible for a number of things during the project. The site survey is required to begin the work. This should be found with your mortgage documents. For the initial design process, the owner should have a solid idea of what the project concept goals are. We like using ‘Houzz’ as a way to document design concepts and images using their ‘ideabooks’. As the design process progresses, the owner would provide feedback and further direction on the presented designs.

During construction, the owner would typically be responsible for a series of ‘owner provided’ items that include selecting the cabinets, countertops, appliances, plumbing fixtures, paint colors and related finishes, and decorative light fixtures. An interior design can assist with specifying those items. We can provide you a list of interior designers to work with if you need recommendations.

+ How should I figure out a budget to work from?

Online sources and shows like HGTV tend to provide overly optimistic pricing. Depending on the level of design and the particular project, we initially start with costs per square foot that we have seen over many similar projects. We can provide a spreadsheet of the costs per square foot for various areas, such as the main area versus the basement, the garage, and outdoor components. We can also provide line items for significant sustainable features, like solar photovoltaic panels or other components that are unique to a project.

At the Design Development phase of the work, as an option, we can engage a general contractor to provide a more refined estimated construction cost. This generally takes a few days to compile, and should give you cost feedback to make key decisions prior to moving forward with the construction documents.

+ At what point in the process can I take my plans to the bank to get a loan?

When the project is towards the end of Design Development, the second of the five phases of the work, the project will have a site plan, floor plans, exterior elevations, interior elevations (of cabinets, fireplaces, stairs, built-ins, etc.) and a lighting and electrical layout. If a preliminary bid is obtained, this information is what the bank needs to start on a construction loan for the project.


Commercial Projects

KAP has experience on a wide range of commercial projects.  

+ Are there any differences in the process for commercial projects?

The five part process is similar to the process listed above for residential work. We realize that timing can be more critical for these types of projects, and we are capable of working on compressed timelines. We also realize that there may very well be additional meetings required with the building owners for their review.