Lombard couple's home rebuild wins sustainability award
When a fire left Dustin Smith and Cherry Countryman's Lombard home uninhabitable, the idea of rebuilding it using sustainable architecture, landscape elements and appliances came naturally to them.
As graduates of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at the State University of New York, the couple comes from a school of thought that favors helping the environment in all situations.
So they reused windows from the burned home and kept as many trees as possible on the property. They built a rain garden for water drainage and started growing edible plants, including blueberries, peppers, peaches, tomatoes and strawberries, all over their yard.
"We made the best of it and really made the most sustainable decisions that we could," said Smith, 29, a landscape architect and lead designer for The Planters Palette, based in Winfield.
But Smith and Countryman's green home rebuilding efforts were more than natural to the Lombard village board's environmental concerns committee. The committee saw the actions as exemplary and rewarded Smith in late May with the village's first sustainability award.
"We just wanted to be able to start incentivizing more people to be thinking about building green, and we wanted to reward those who we felt were kind of at the forefront," said Dana Moreau, a former Lombard trustee who led the environmental concerns committee when it developed the sustainability award.
Staff members in Lombard's community development department worked with Smith and Countryman on the project, and suggested the pair be considered for the sustainability award.
"It's always nice to see when people try to do the right thing and incorporate sound building practices rather than by a mandate," said Bill Heniff, Lombard's director of community development.
Because the rebuilding project wasn't planned but, rather, made necessary by the electrical fire on July 25, 2009, Smith and Countryman have tried to cut costs whenever possible "just through working hard, saving things and going smaller," he said.
But passing up Energy Star appliances in favor of cheaper, less efficient ones was not an option they chose.
"We spent extra money on things that would pay for themselves," said Countryman, 27.
And they didn't bother buying things they doubt they'll need, such as an air conditioner (the new home has ceiling fans in every room and is shaded by mature trees) or a large home with several bedrooms (Countryman said she and Smith may have a small family, but won't need too much space.)
During the construction process, they hired a demolition and excavation company to raze the old house and lay the foundation for the new one. Carpenters were brought on to build the new frame.
"After that, we took over," Smith said.
Relatives, friends, even the couple's architect contributed in their own ways to the rebuilding effort, helping lay the roof, put in the flooring and cabinets, and provide Smith and Countryman places to stay before they moved into their new house this March.
Architect Dean Pozarzycki allowed the couple to stay in his home for about six months this past winter. The price? Free, with a "pay it forward" suggestion that Smith and Countryman help others out when they get the chance.
"We had some empty space in our house and we just let them stay while they were putting it (their new home) together," Pozarzycki said. "Everyone has an opportunity to help others out.
The rain garden, edible plants and other landscape features are mainly Smith's project. He calls the entire home and his outdoor environment "a work in progress," and said he's happy to continue working on it -- regardless of the sustainability award.
"We were already environmentally-friendly people," Smith said. "Everything that we did here was natural to us."