Tour of 'this old house' gives some green remodeling ideas

Published: Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013 2:57 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Dec. 30, 2013 8:19 a.m. CDT
(Jeff Krage – For Shaw Media)
Naturalist Ben Katzen, rights, shows visitors the lighting used during a tour of Creek Bend Nature Center on Sunday.

ST. CHARLES – When the Kane County Forest Preserve District bought the property which is now the Creek Bend Nature Center  within LeRoy Oakes Forest Preserve, the district spent $2.5 million to remodel and add on to the 1930s house.

Four adults attended a program there Sunday on "The Nature Network: Make a Green Resolution."

Naturalist Ben Katzen said the district put in upgraded energy efficient windows, motion detector lights and room-by-room climate controll. All work together to keep the  older building's energy costs down.

Katzen led the group through the older parts of the house that are available for rentals. He also took them on a tour the upstairs where bedrooms were converted to offices, work and conference rooms and in the basement, where nature program supplies are stored.

One of the things done to the older building during the remodeling was to add a supplemental heating system to the existing boiler and radiators, Katzen said.

"People have told me they love the heat from radiators versus forced air heating," Katzen said. "But the problem is there's a lot of hot and cold spots. This side of the house designated for rentals and parties and things. You want to have a lot more control over the climate."

The supplemental climate pads allow for heating and cooling of each individual room, in addition to the radiator heat, he said. 

The district rents out various rooms for private parties such as for weddings, showers, graduations and various banquets.

The basement is the nature education headquarters, Katzen said, where a donated insect collection is kept, along with animal and wood artifacts and craft supplies.

Because the district renovated the 80-year-old house, some aspects were more expensive than building new, he said. These include adding an elevator so it would be handicapped accessible, putting in new water heaters, water filtration and sprinkler systems.

"Because the house is on a well, there's not enough water pressure to operate the  sprinkler system, so this [sprinkler system] had to be installed," Katzen said. "There's a big tank [buried] in front of the nature center, and this builds up the pressure so if there was a fire, it would be able to spray through the sprinklers."

Tom Priscal of Geneva said he came to learn more about the center.

"I wanted to learn what they had to say not only about this house ... but hopefully ways we can make our lives more energy efficient and preserve the environment," Priscal said.

Tom Sherwin and Shelly Windett of North Aurora said they came because of their interest in the environment.

Windett said she especially liked the light switches that were motion-detector, automatically going on and off  when people enter or exit a room.

"I'm into the going green things and we are remodeling our basement," Windett said. "We'd like to do it more environmentally friendly."

Susan Bell of St. Charles, said she toured the house before.

"I just really love it here," Bell said. "I was interested in the green aspects of it and how it applies to what I'm going to do at home."