It’s been three years since I last measured how much of Chicago’s land area is occupied by parking lots and parking garages. On December 25, 2019, using data drawn into OpenStreetMap by volunteers including myself, 2.5 percent of Chicago was for car parking.
Based on additional data since then, the land area of Chicago occupied by already-mapped parking lots and garages is 176,973,866.57 square feet, or about 2.7 percent of Chicago’s area.
This means that 0.52 additional square miles have been drawn into OpenStreetMap. If it hasn’t been drawn there, we can’t measure it. This means this number is a *minimum* of the land area devoted to car parking in Chicago.
That converts to:
7.08 mi^2 (square miles)
15.93km^2 (square kilometers)
2.7% area of Chicago is parking (Chicago’s land area is ~589.56 km^2 )
There are some future parking -> building conversions coming soon. The buildings will be providing parking, but it will be integrated into a mixed-use development. The parking lot in the image, for example, is slated to become an office tower.
After the bill drama with Peoples Gas last year, in which I was billed a $50 “base” fee per unit per month for the privilege of having a gas line to my house, I decided to make the gut rehab of my two flat all electric. I think that making an all electric house is easy, but it takes a lot of research to know what that means and how to select materials and appliances.
I have several reasons for keeping natural gas out of my house:
Natural gas has point source emissions causing indoor air pollution that need to be vented and evacuated properly (gas stovetops emit methane into your kitchen, so turn on your hood that hopefully vents to the outside)
The price of natural gas is not falling as fast as electricity is falling
Electricity is more and more likely to come from renewable sources, especially in Illinois because of our state policies that require ComEd and Ameren to buy more and more power from renewable sources
A future photovoltaic solar panel array could be integrated and some of the electricity in the house would come from its own generator
Without gas pipes in the house, there is less infrastructure to build and maintain
Climate change is continuing to make life harder for the world’s inhabitants and electrical heating & cooling causes less fossil fuel emissions (“An electrified home uses 8,333 more kWh annually than a gas (or propane) home but displaces 96 million BTU of fossil fuel use.”Elevate+Rocky Mountain Institute study)
There are still some downsides to having an all electric house, namely when the power goes out on the block then nothing in the house will turn on. There are solutions, for this, though, including integrating a battery pack or using a fossil fuel-powered generator with its own tank.
The Passivhaus-certified single-family house in Hyde Park that I toured in 2018 has a small natural gas-powered generator in the rear yard, fueled by a typical Peoples Gas supply line.
What does it mean to have an electric house?
I think there are three categories of choices that one makes, about visible appliances, invisible appliances, and heating & cooling.
A visible appliance is one you use directly and frequently, like an oven and a clothes dryer. These are essentially the only two appliances that have gas and electric versions and electric versions are just as commonly available as gas version.
An invisible appliance is one that’s in a closet or in the basement, like a water heater. Most people I know have a gas-powered water heater (usually a tank, not tankless), and there are two kinds of electric water heaters (which I detailed in Two-flat journal 3). Again, these are very common and electric water heaters (standard with resistance heating, tankless, and hybrid heat pump) can be picked up anywhere a gas-powered water heat can be purchased.
Think of a heat pump as a “reversible air conditioner”: an air conditioner removes heat in the air of a space and puts it outside, while a heat pump “removes” the heat in the air of the outside and puts it inside.
Heating & cooling is the complicated category of the three. A typical new construction house or condo has gas forced air for heating, a condenser for air conditioning, and the air is pushed through the house via ducts. In the electric universe, however, mini splits/air source heat pumps have been around for 40 years and are extremely efficient at both heating and cooling. In cold climate region 5, where Chicago is, air source heat pump manufacturers have additional products to deal with the extreme cold temperatures.
Going electric in the heating and cooling category is the only one that necessitates deeper research on windows, wall assembly, and insulation to go beyond the basic energy efficiency code (Illinois Energy Conservation Code 2018). While the air source heat pump is efficient (some have a coefficient of performance, COP, of 3-4, meaning it transfers three to four times as much heat energy to the house as the energy they consume) it will work very hard to keep a house warm during negative temperature days (F°) and thus it’s important to have a well-sealed house so the conditioned air you’re paying for doesn’t escape.
If you want your house to be all electric, a lot of these choices can be made over time. For example, you can stop the air pollution by buying a range with an induction cooktop, which is extremely efficient, safe for households with children, and very easy to clean. I like to cook soup in my Dutch oven (which is compatible with induction cooktop) and I would rather not have to have the burner on for an hour, accompanied by a noisy vent fan.
Financial benefits of an all electric house
In addition to certain federal tax credits for replacing certain appliances, which you can claim when you file your tax return, there are often local incentives. ComEd has a new Electric Homes program that offers $4,000 cash (to the builder or general contractor) for an electric house (new construction or renovation) that meets their requirements. (2021 is the second year in operation, and there’s no guarantee it will operate next year.)
From ComEd’s marketing:
Building your clients’ dream homes – why not make them energy efficient?
ComEd provides a $2,000 incentive per home for electric homes new construction! All-electric home construction can sound daunting at first, but with the knowledge and help of ComEd, you too can benefit from tight envelope, all-electric HVAC, heat pump water heating, lighting and appliances. Construction of single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes, and 2-4 flats are eligible.
Make the jump to high-quality, next-generation, electric homes. Reduce energy bills while providing superior comfort. Prepare for a clean, resilient energy future.
Learn about additional clean energy strategies like solar power, electric vehicle charging, smart homes and induction cooking.
I’ve done a lot of research on appliances in all three categories because my architect needs to know exactly which appliances I’m selecting so the kitchen, utility closet, basement, and other spaces can be designed to fit them. Thankfully, a lot of appliances have similar dimensions so it’s easy to match the available space with the catalog of laundry machines, refrigerators, etc.
There are two main attributes to watch for when selecting electric appliances: the yellow Energy Guide label that estimates the annual cost of operating the appliance, and whether it has Energy Star certification. One of the ComEd Electric Homes requirement is that every appliance that can be Energy Star certified is – I’ve found that there are no certified ranges.
Frigidaire FCRE3052AB ($629) – Not Energy Star certified, not induction
Frigidaire GCRI3058SS ($1,169) – Not Energy Star certified, yes induction
Water heater. Something to know about tankless is that it’s not necessary to have a single tankless source for the whole house, as it’s possible to have multiple tankless water heaters at each water source, sized to the need – the kitchen sink can have one, and the shower and the lavatory can share another. The hybrid heat pump water heater currently has a 10% federal tax credit, up to $300.
Rheem brand’s “Performance Platinum 40 Gal. 10-Year Hybrid High Efficiency Smart Tank Electric Water Heater” (Home Depot)
Each dwelling unit will have the same water heater but may not have the same kitchen and laundry appliances.
Clothes washer. Stacked, to save space, from (each is about $800):
Mini split systems have two parts: An outdoor condensing unit and one or more indoor fan units. They’re connected by a refrigerant line, an outgoing condensation line, and electricity from the outdoor unit to the indoor units that is routed through a small diameter (3″) hole in the exterior wall.
There are several options for indoor units: Wall-mounted, ceiling mounted cassette, ceiling mounted box, and ducted (the outdoor unit will provide the hot or cold refrigerant and the ducted unit will blow air through a duct network). My architect and I have selected two ceiling-mounted cassettes per dwelling unit; these fit within the 16″ between joists and avoids the protrusion of wall-mounted units.
Outdoor unit, Mitsubishi MXZ-3C30NAHZ2 (Ecomfort, $3,365 x2)
Ceiling cassette indoor unit, Mitsubishi MLZ-KP09NA (Ecomfort, $895 x4)
I will need a venting system to exchange fresh air into each dwelling unit, without relying on the typical situation where the leakiness of houses brings in fresh air. An energy efficient way to do this is to use an “energy recovery ventilator” (ERV) that transfers the heat or chill of outgoing conditioned air to incoming fresh air to reduce the amount of energy that the heat pump would expend to warm or chill the incoming air.
Oh, one more thing, the electrical panels in the basement will need to be replaced (which is part of the replacement of the entire electrical system), and ComEd will likely need to string higher-amperage lines from the alley overhead power lines to the house. This area requires more research and possible a conversation with an electrical contractor or ComEd. I’m currently assuming that I can specify that the electrical contractor will handle this with ComEd.
A vacant lot is for sale near the 606’s Bloomingdale Trail, a popular amenity that’s now known to have an effect in increasing home values. It’s zoned RS-3, which means it bans apartments. If the zoning stays the same, then the vacant lot will only allow a rich family to move in here. If the lot’s zoning is changed to allow apartments or condos, then the vacant lot could welcome families that earn median incomes.
You can build multi-family housing on the lot if you can get a zoning change, but you’ll have to pay the city a fee, convince your future neighbors that they shouldn’t oppose it, convince the alder that he should support it, and you’ll have to hire a lawyer.
Let’s say that zoning changes in Chicago were free and frictionless*. What should be built on this lot?
If the lot would allow multi-family housing, we can build several units for less money per unit than if we built a single-family house. That means that three families (let’s stick with three, which requires a zoning change to RM-4.5) could be housed for less money per family than the cost of one family.
How’s that? The sticker price for this lot is $425,000 right now, and if one family is paying for that plus the cost of building a house, then your minimum investment is pretty massive. (I suspect the lot will sell for something closer to $400,000.)
I looked at new construction costs on Chicago Cityscape, as indicated on building permits issued within 1 mile of the vacant lot, took the average, and added it to the cost of land per unit.
The average new construction single-family house, from the 10 most recent permits, is $304,052.78.
The average new construction multi-family housing, from the 10 most recent permits, is $230,192.13 per unit.
Total cost per unit (land + construction)
Add in the land cost per unit ($425,000 for the single-family house and $141,666.67 per unit for the 3-flat) and you end up with the total costs of:
$729,052.78 for the single-family house
$371,858.80 per unit in the 3-flat
Add in the profit or “cap rate” that a builder wants to make and the price is even higher, but the people who would buy in the multi-family house would be paying much less for their homes.
The city can generate more affordable housing if it “upzones” vacant land and stops banning multi-family housing. (Much of the city’s parcels have been “downzoned” to ban multi-family housing in a process that creates “exclusionary zoning” and allows only – expensive – single-family housing.)
The city and the Chicago Transit Authority will earn more real estate transfer taxes (RPTT) from the sales of the units as condos than from a single-family house.
Three families instead of one would enjoy living to the wonderful amenity that the Bloomingdale Trail and the parks that the 606 offers.
* The City of Chicago charges a zoning change fee of $1,025, and you will most likely have to hire a lawyer, and it will take about 3-6 months, depending on the complexity of the proposal that requires the zoning change. You can use Chicago Cityscape to see actual approval times (excluding the time meeting the alder for the ward of the proposed project).
About five years ago (I’m too lazy to look it up right now), the City of Chicago adopted an energy benchmarking law. This means that owners of buildings of a certain size would soon be required to report how much energy (electricity, natural gas, district steam, chilled water, and other fuels) their buildings use. Every few years they have to audit their reports.
The city has posted three years of energy reports for the “covered” buildings (the ones of a certain size) on its data portal. I copied the Chicago Energy Benchmarking dataset into the Chicago Cityscape database (for future features) and then loaded it into QGIS so I could analyze the data and find the least efficient buildings in Chicago.
The dataset has all three years so I started the analysis by filtering only for the latest year, 2016. I first visualized the data using the “ghg_intensity_kg_co2e_sq_ft” column, which is “greenhouse gas intensity, measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per square foot”. In other words, how much carbon does the building cause to be emitted based on its energy usage and normalized by its size.
In QGIS, to symbolize this kind of quantitative data, it helps to show them in groups. Here are “small fry” emitters, medium emitters, and bad emitters. I used the “Graduated” option in the Symbology setting and chose the Natural Breaks (Jenks) mode of dividing the greenhouse gas intensity values into four groups.
There are four groups, divided using the Natural Breaks (Jenks) method. There’s only one building in the “worst” energy users group, which is Salem Baptist Church, marked by a large red dot. The darker red the dot, the more energy per square foot that building consumes.
Among the four groups, only one building in Chicago that reported in 2016 was in the “worst emitters” group: Salem Baptist Church of Chicago at 10909 S Cottage Grove Avenue in Pullman.
The Salem Baptist Church building was built in 1960, has a gross floor area of 91,800 square feet, and an Energy Star rating of 1 because it emits 304.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per square foot (kgco2esf). (The Energy Star rating scale is from 1 to 100.)
The next “worse” emitter in the same “Worship Facility” category as Salem Baptist Church is several magnitudes of order lower. That’s St. Peter’s Church at 110 W Madison Street in the Loop, built in 1900, which emits 11.7 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per square foot (but which also has an Energy Star rating of 1).
The vast difference is concerning: Did the church report its energy usage correctly, or are they not maintaining their HVAC equipment or the building and it’s leaking so much air?
A different building was in the “worst” emitter category in 2015 but improved something about the building by 2016 to use a lot less energy. Looking deeper at the data for Piper’s Alley, however, something else happened.
In 2015, Piper’s Alley reported a single building with 137,176 gross square feet of floor area. The building’s owner also reported 5,869,902 kBTUs of electricity usage and 1,099,712,681 kBTUs of natural gas usage. Since these are reported in kilo-BTUs that means that you multiply each number by 1,000. Piper’s Alley reported using 1 trillion BTUs of natural gas. Which seems like an insane amount of energy usage, but could be totally reasonable – I’m not familiar with data on how much energy a “typical” large building uses.
Piper’s Alley in Old Town is the building that reported two different floor areas and vastly different energy usage in 2015 and 2016. The building’s owner didn’t report data for 2014 (although it may not have been required to).
There’s another problem with the reporting for Piper’s Alley, however: For 2016, it reported a gross floor area of 217,250 square feet, which is 36 percent larger than the area it reported in 2015. The building reported using significantly more electricity (58 percent more) and significantly less natural gas (137 percent less), for a vastly lowered kgco2esf value.
The area in green only allows single-family houses to be built.
Something’s gotta give.
This is all of the land area within two blocks of the Bloomingdale Trail that allows only single-family housing to be built (view full map). This isn’t to say that multi-family housing doesn’t exist here; it definitely does, and there’s probably a handful of two-flats on a majority of the blogs.
All of the five parks of the 606 are within this two block radius, and 49.6 percent of the land allows only single-family housing to be built.
But why build a transportation corridor, a park, a new, expensive, public amenity, and not change the kind of housing – which often determines the kind of family and makeup of a household – that can afford to buy a home near here.
It’s already been shown that detached single-family housing prices have grown intensely the closer you get to the trail. That price growth has meant displacement for some, and “no chance to buy or build a house here” for many others.
There are still plenty of vacant lots within the mapped area; lots that should have a 2-4 unit building built on them, but where only a 1-unit building is allowed.