On an early Spring day, two gleaming, helix-shaped wind turbines spin energy from atop a residential/office building in Chicago. Sustained 23-mph (37-km/h) winds prompt Frank Mauceri to descend into his basement and examine the electrical output from the inverter’s tiny LED read-out. “Just one turbine produced 4 kilowatts of electricity in the past 10 hours,” he announces. The charge of excitement in his voice is clear. A faint 3.5-mph (5.6-km/h) breeze is enough to start electrical generation, and that’s music to Mauceri’s ears. Frank and Lisa Mauceri are the owners of Chicago-based Smog Veil Records, which, along with the Mauceris themselves, recently found a new home in the Wis Tavern Building. Named after a bar that inhabited the space for decades, the 120-year-old brick structure underwent a complete rehabilitation, incorporating clever resource-conservation strategies and setting some precedents along the way. EARTH, WIND AND FIRE
The Mauceris started with a 2-story, 3,800-square foot (353-m2) building and a clean slate. They gutted the structure and created the offices for Smog Veil Records at street level, putting their residence on the upper floor. The couple was interested in economically sensible, sustainable practices that would complement the design aesthetic of the building. They worked with Chicago-based Wilkinson Blender Architecture to research options that would generate renewable energy year round and lower the building’s electric load. The integrated approach combined geothermal wells and wind- and solar-electric systems. Although “the windy city” would seem an obvious location for turbine technology, the city of Chicago’s zoning-code height restrictions wouldn’t allow for residential wind turbines. Undaunted, the project team took their case before the city council and were able to affect a permanent change on the record books.

The Mauceris’ rooftop turbines aren’t typical, however. Designed by renewable-energy specialist Bil Becker, the twin-rotor vertical-axis turbines are tailored to urban life. “The turbines are completely silent and made of a clear plastic that reflects light, so the birds won’t go near them,” Frank says. In addition, their corkscrewlike shapes can take advantage of multi-directional winds and small gusts.

The 1,500-watt system produces variable 3-phase AC power from two alternators and is estimated to provide 2,500 kW of electricity per year. The turbines sit in a 10-foot- (3-m-) tall rectangular cage. The cage reminded Lisa of a hot-rod car so, in a fanciful move, the couple painted the edges of the cage orange. The turbines now are neighborhood landmarks.

Unlike the eye-catching wind system, another part of the building’s energy production is all but hidden. The top of a trellis holds 30 solar panels that provide a projected 5,500 kW of electricity per year while offering shade to those lounging below. The photovoltaics and wind-electric system are expected to provide 45 percent of the building’s energy, but the Mauceris think real-time operation will amount to even more. They are installing a net monitoring system to track energy production. Initial projections placed the couple’s payback for the green features at 10 years. However, utility rates rose 25 percent last year, which has already reduced the return-on-investment timeframe drastically. UNDERGROUND SCENE
The addition of geothermal wells was an energy-efficiency measure that the Mauceris wanted to include, but because the building covered the entire site, there was no room to drill outside. Wilkinson Blender Architecture and the Mauceris conducted research and found a 3- by 3- by 10-foot (0.9- by 0.9- by 3-m) drill that would make it possible to realize the geothermal goal. The basement floor was torn up during construction and 15 geothermal wells were placed 60-feet (18-m) underground. A geothermal-heat-pump system provides central air conditioning and heating.

Below ground, the temperature of fluid in the wells remains a constant 55 F (13 C). Electric heat pumps in the mechanical room use compression or expansion to heat or cool the fluid. During the winter, the heated fluid exchanges its temperature to fluid-filled radiant tubes embedded in the floor to warm the building. To provide back-up heat, the heated fluid also exchanges heat to forced air distributed through ductwork. The process works in reverse during the summer when the cooled fluid is used to extract heat from the building and return it to the ground. The geothermal heating-and-cooling system is expected to save 30 to 40 percent on energy bills compared with a conventional system.

Measures to keep energy usage in check include the use of building insulation made with airtight, soy-based spray foam and insulated glass with a low-E coating. The Mauceris also selected efficient fluorescent lighting and Energy Star appliances.

Without any outdoor space on the property, the building’s rooftop became an important place for relaxation and the placement of sustainable features. Michael Wilkinson, principal of Wilkinson Blender Architecture, orchestrated the mix. “We looked at the productive green qualities of the roof as a system and found ways to incorporate those qualities into really enjoyable surroundings.”

In addition to the unique wind turbines and subtle PV trellis, the 1,900-square-foot (177-m2) roof has ample patio space and a roof garden composed of flowering plants. The visually pleasing garden insulates the building and reduces storm-water runoff. The project earned a $5,000 grant from the City of Chicago’s Green Roof Grant program, which helped to offset the garden’s cost.

Wilkinson maintained his approach on the interior and blended technologies and sustainable materials into the design by giving them a modern flair. Skylights over parts of the stairwells cast natural light into the living areas. Finely finished terrazzo floors in Smog Veil Records’ offices contain recycled glass and old vinyl record particles. The original roof joists were reclaimed for staircases and landings.

“We didn’t want to live a Spartan lifestyle,” Frank says. “Absent the wind turbines and the fact that we don’t have mechanical chimneys emitting noxious gasses, you wouldn’t know this building is filled with sustainable measures.” The Wis Tavern Building received a LEED for Homes Gold rating from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council, and the Mauceris expanded their environmentally responsible initiatives to include the operations of Smog Veil Records. In keeping with their green manifesto, the couple eliminated the use of plastic jewel-case packaging in favor of recycled paper and soy- and vegetable-based inks. They also introduced downloadable digital insert booklets and opted to send out digital press kits and promotional graphics rather than printed copies. Not only are the Mauceris living their dream, they are helping to influence their industry and hopefully some music fans along the way.

K.J. Fields writes about architecture and sustainability from Portland, Ore.


  • ARCHITECT / Wilkinson Blender Architecture, Chicago, www.wbarch.com  
  • STRUCTURAL ENGINEER / Enspect Engineering, Merrillville, Ind., www.enspectinc.com  
  • MECHANICAL/ELECTRICAL/PLUMBING ENGINEER / Eta Engineers, Champaign, Ill., www.etaengineers.com  
  • LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT / Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, Chicago, www.douglashoerr.com  
  • LIGHTING CONSULTANT / Mitchell B. Kohn Lighting Design, Highland Park, Ill., www.mbklightingdesign.com  
  • RENEWABLE-ENERGY CONSULTANT / Aerotecture International Inc., Chicago, www.aerotecture.com  
  • CONSTRUCTION MANAGER / Wilkinson Blender Construction, Chicago, www.wbarch.com  
  • GEOTHERMAL/HVAC INSTALLER / Optimal Energy LLC, Arlington Heights, Ill., (847) 368-8484
  • CARPENTRY / Comet Renovation, Chicago, (773) 454-5100
  • LEED-H PROVIDER / Alliance for Environmental Sustainability, Grand Rapids, Mich., (616) 458-6733



  • 100 PERCENT RECYCLED-GLASS TERRAZZO WITH RECLAIMED BROKEN RECORDS / Metropolitan Terrazzo, Elk Grove Village, Ill., (847) 434-0700
  • 99 PERCENT RECYCLED-MATERIAL DRYWALL / USG, Chicago, www.usg.com  
  • KITCHEN AND BATH CABINETS / Valcucine Chicago, Chicago, www.valcucinena.com  
  • 40 PERCENT SOY-BASED SPRAY-FOAM INSULATION / KTB Foam Insulation and Roof Systems, Chicago, www.sprayfoaminsulationroof.com  
  • FLY-ASH CONCRETE / D&D Concrete LLC, Chicago, (773) 663-2911
  • DECKING MATERIAL / Trex Decking, Winchester, Va., www.trex.com  
  • STEEL STAIR AND WINDOW SEAT / Iron and Wire, Chicago, www.iron-wire.com  
  • METAL SIDING / Berridge Manufacturing Co., Houston, www.berridge.com  
  • GREEN ROOF / Soprema, Wadsworth, Ohio, www.soprema.us  
  • WIND TURBINES / Aerotecture International Inc., Chicago, www.aerotecture.com  
  • PHOTOVOLTAICS / Suntech, San Francisco, www.suntech-power.com  
  • PV SYSTEM DESIGN AND INSTALLATION / Aerotecture International
  • SKYLIGHTS / Velux, Greenwood, S.C., www.veluxusa.com  
  • LOW-E WINDOWS / Marvin Windows and Doors, Warroad, Minn., www.marvin.com