Windy City Electrified

By Susan Casey | Sep 15, 2020




“Chicago, Chicago, that toddling town. Chicago, Chicago, I will show you around. I love it!”

This lively city bustles with a range of projects done by some of Chicagoland’s leading electrical contractors.

First Net-Zero Building in Illinois

Hypower Electric and Continental Energy Solutions

The City of Countryside’s Municipal Complex is a 34,500-square-foot, three-story building that replaces a 1960s-era city hall and police department. It wasn’t initially planned to be the state’s first net-zero government building—a structure designed to produce as much energy annually as it uses—but after comprehensive modeling, the idea became a possibility.

“Architects and engineers focused on the air barrier, the primary air enclosure boundary that separates indoor (conditioned) air and outdoor (unconditioned) air, making the building 400% tighter than the current building code. After the building was completely sealed outside, it was possible to properly regulate air flow and lessen the use of air conditioning or heat, depending on the season,” said Jerry Kosteck, CEO of Hypower Electric, Crestwood, Ill., the EC responsible for the building’s lighting, lighting control, and low-voltage power.

To achieve this goal, the building had to be sealed on the outside, which allowed for air flow regulation so that less heat is used in winter and less air conditioning is used in the summer. Any penetrations to the outside were sealed with a rubber material, preventing air flow in or out of the building, resulting in a building that is 400% tighter than called for by the current building code.

“We had never worked on a net-zero project before,” Kosteck said. “Steps we took to decrease energy use included installation of motion-sensor-activated lights in every room and occupancy sensors on wall receptacles. If an employee left a phone charger or calculator plugged in when they left for the day, the sensor would automatically shut it off.”

The project was Certified LEED Gold.

First day of module installation

“Most commercial net-zero energy facilities use a simple box form, incorporating precast wall construction or fully glazed facades,” said Johnathan Tallman, architect of Dewberry. “In contrast, Countryside officials desired a prairie-style-inspired design aesthetic, incorporating a combination of limestone, brick and glass components, among others.

“We collaborated with the construction manager and the client to develop a strategy to construct four conceptual assemblies,” Tallman said.

“The building was designed and built using the latest energy-efficiency technology, for example, LED motion sensor lighting and programmable power outlets,” said Brian Haug, president, Continental Energy Solutions, Oakbrook, Ill., which handled the solar installation on the Countryside Municipal Complex. “That allows the building’s base loads to be significantly reduced when occupancy decreases in the evenings and on weekends.”

The full solar-power system is composed of the carport structures and the rooftop arrays.

“The architect called for all the inverters to be clustered in one central location, on the second floor of the building, just east of the larger rooftop array, so we accepted the challenge,” said Andriy Kovalchuk, project manager, Continental Energy Solutions.

West-facing SolarEdge inverters are installed beneath the eave on the second floor of the building.

“The installation was unique in that, historically, we mount inverters on carports, convert DC power to AC power and then make our run to the client’s electrical panel,” Kovalchuk said. “On the Countryside project, with the SolarEdge inverters being mounted on the second floor of the building, we utilized SMA’s DC combiner boxes at the carports and ran DC strings to the inverters.”

The rooftop arrays were made up of 172 345W SunPower modules with 86 P800 SolarEdge optimizers in a two-modules-to-one optimizer configuration. The carport portion of the solar installation had 466 460W SunPower modules in a 1:1 configuration with P730 optimizers. The rooftop and carport systems combined make up a 273.7 kW DC/230.4 kW AC solar generator.

An energy-saving strategy involved unique 638-panel solar installation with an estimated annual output of 275.2 MWh, enough to produce 100% of the building’s electricity.

The project was completed in two phases. The carport scope was started in winter. The rooftop portion of the solar system wasn’t ready for installation until late summer.

“Building the canopies on-site in midwinter was challenging because the ground was either muddy or frozen,” Haug said.

Firehouse 115

Taylor Electric and Crosstown Electric

Taylor Electric bid and won a Public Building Commission for the 2019 construction of a new firehouse in the Pullman area, a historic Chicago neighborhood that is currently rebuilding.

“We just came off another job for the City of Chicago, a warehouse and maintenance facility that houses fire trucks, so this was right up our alley,” said Kendra Dinkins, president and CEO of Taylor Electric, a Chicago contractor that has been family owned and operated for some 95 years.

The 27,000-square-foot brick-and-concrete firehouse will house 20 firefighters and has a training facility, a commercial kitchen, an eight-bay apparatus structure with hose towers, and eight officers’ quarters. It will feature daylight-harvesting; dimmable lighting using mostly LEDs; and public address, wireless antenna and surveillance systems.

Since the structure has a cinder-block interior and brick exterior, the electricians and the masons coordinated closely.

“On other projects, if you did miss something, you could cut the drywall open and install it,” said Gloria Miles, estimator and project manager, Taylor Electric. “But on this project, if something was missed, the wall would have had to come down and we would have had to hire masons to build it up again.”

Taylor took steps to avoid that situation.

“We marked where the boxes were to be installed so the masons knew that location,” said Larry Orr, project foreman, Taylor Electric. “We prepped all the boxes, putting in connectors and pipe, so that everything was ready to go when it was time to go in that wall, and our guys were stationed near the walls as the masons built them.”

“It was kind of exciting working on a project that everyone—including Mayor Lori Lightfoot—came out to look at. It makes you feel proud that everyone is going to enjoy it and that it will be useful for the community,” Miles said.

“Being given opportunities to rebuild portions of the city has always been near and dear to us,” Dinkins said.

Installation of piping for the generator distribution panel on Firehouse 115 project in Chicago

For the Firehouse 115 project, Crosstown Electric, a subcontractor of Taylor Electric, did the site electrical work: underground pipe and wire installation, light-pole base installation, and electrical service and communication pipe sleeve installation.

“All electrical work required to be installed underground, we do it turnkey,” said Rich Hoff, supervisor, Crosstown Electric. “On the Firehouse 115 project, we used a 12,000-pound mini excavator to excavate the site, then installed the underground primary conduit sleeves, concrete transformer pad, secondary conduit sleeves, generator pipe sleeves, communication pipe sleeves and concrete light pole bases.”

Crosstown’s slogan shows it is the perfect EC for jobs like Firehouse 115: “We do the dirty work.”

Navy Pier

JMS Electric and Taylor Electric

Navy Pier, Chicago’s most popular tourist site, opened to the public in 1916 and was designated a Chicago Landmark in 1977. The “Centennial Vision” to redevelop the iconic 34-acre landmark destination was launched in 2016. Working with general contractor McHugh Construction, JMS Electric, Schaumburg, Ill., the electrical maintenance contractor for the pier, assisted with the electrical assembly of the Centennial Wheel, a 196-foot-high Ferris wheel.

In 2018, JMS Electric participated in the construction of the pier’s Family Pavilion, a more than 200,000-square-foot dining, shopping and entertainment area. Still on the pier, JMS started construction of Offshore, a 36,000-square-foot bar with a 20,000-square-foot terrace replete with seven fire pits, and multiple large event spaces. The project, completed in 2019, was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest rooftop bar. The company’s crew worked on construction of the seven-story, 223-room Navy Pier Hotel, which overlooks Lake Michigan in 2018 and 2019.

“Landmark status of Navy Pier makes coordination and planning essential,” said Nick Santoro, president, JMS Electric. “To assist with that, we utilized Virtual Design and Construction to efficiently collaborate and communicate with all the construction trades to identify design conflicts and system clashes before construction began. Additional challenges our electricians face in working at Navy Pier include maintaining barriers between construction zones and the public areas and ensuring that downline systems remain operational during the brutal Chicago winters.”

Taylor Electric provides electrical maintenance of the retail and meeting spaces and works on various Navy Pier events and shows as a subcontractor to JMS Electric.

About The Author

CASEY, author of “Women Heroes of the American Revolution,” “Kids Inventing!” and “Women Invent!” can be reached at [email protected] and





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