Chicago’s Bungalows: A Hundred Years of History, Ten Years of Sustainability

By Eugene Weibel

“Bungalow” means different things around the world. To some it’s akin to a country cottage, to others it’s a beachfront mini-resort. The word is unmistakable in Chicago, however, as anything other than the modest, narrow, single-family brick houses that dominated home construction in the area during the first half of the twentieth century.

Once comprising up to a third of all housing in the Chicagoland area, the bungalow has been in decline. As American standards for single-family homes grew over the years, bungalows fell into disfavor in lieu of McMansions and other engorged housing. The modest bungalow was in need of help.

Recently, Mayor Richard M. Daley joined officials from the Historic Chicago Bungalow Association (HCBA), development partners and residents of the South Shore community in dedicating a fully rehabilitated green bungalow. Like other houses in the program, it showcases innovative ways to make these iconic Chicago homes more energy efficient and adaptable for today’s families.

Launched in 2000, the HCBA is a non-profit organization charged with the mission of fostering an appreciation of the Chicago Bungalow as a distinctive housing type, encouraging the rehabilitation of bungalows and assisting bungalow owners with adapting their homes to current needs, which in turn helps to strengthen Chicago bungalow neighborhoods.

The non-profit organization offers a variety of financial resources, from grants to loans, as well as technical resources like special permit assistance and “how-to” seminars. Grants of up to $5,000 are available for energy efficiency retrofits, including air-sealing, insulation and high efficiency heating system installations.

“This model home looks far different today than it did the day we entered it,” Daley said at a press conference at the home at 7622 S. Cregier Avenue. “It serves as an example of our efforts to not only make energy efficient upgrades to our housing stock, but of how we transform and stabilize neighborhoods hard hit by foreclosures.”

The home was acquired through the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP) that allows for the purchase and rehab of vacant and foreclosed, bank-owned properties. In addition to the model green home, another bungalow directly across the street has been purchased through NSP and will be renovated and sold as affordable housing.

The Green Bungalow Block project is unique in that it not only helps to stabilize and revitalize the South Shore community using a successful block strategy, but the rehabilitated model bungalow serves as an educational tool to homeowners in the neighborhood. Tours of this model bungalow during and after construction provided local residents with hands-on, visual examples of the energy efficient technologies and sustainable home improvement products available to them.

Since its inception, the HCBA has certified more than 10,000 bungalows and provided more than 4,600 homeowners with grants totaling over $7.5 million. The support is designed to make these classic homes more energy efficient and update them to meet the needs of today’s modern living. It has also provided low-cost financing for home purchase and repairs, as well as federal income tax breaks, technical assistance and discounts for various home products and services.

Over the years, the HCBA has received support from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation (ICECF), which has provided the funding for the green model bungalow and block program. Additional funding from ICECF has also allowed bungalow owners to use matching grants to help insulate their homes, purchase water-saving fixtures and appliances, upgrade their heating and cooling systems, install solar panels or make other improvements to their homes.

The model block effort is an example of how the city is meeting the goals of its green agenda. It is estimated that the energy efficiency measures that were installed in these bungalows—including air-sealing, insulation and high efficiency heating systems—will reduce each household’s energy use by 30%. These energy savings not only help reduce carbon emissions but also help lower homeowners’ utility bills, saving them money and helping to stabilize the neighborhood and local economy.

The Cregier Avenue home was developed through a partnership of Mercy Portfolio Services and Genesis Housing Development Corporation, with considerable support from a number of sponsors who made possible the landscaping, energy efficient appliances and other features of the home. The HCBA also receives support from Abt, Christy Webber Landscapes, Comcast, Peoples Gas, The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation and Bank of America.

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