America's Newspapers

Paper: Chicago Tribune (IL)

Title: Smog Veil Records creating green digs in Chicago

Date: October 18, 2006

The building at 1825 W. Wabansia Ave. looks commonplace by current Bucktown standards. A hollow two-story structure ringed by Dumpsters and construction barricades, it's another example of the rehab frenzy that has brought million-dollar homes to this gentrifying bohemian 'hood.

But that will all change once the wind turbines and solar panels are installed on the roof. Set to become a combined living space and label office for Smog Veil Records, which moved to Chicago from Reno, Nev. last year, the building will be an example of how small businesses can utilize sustainable construction. Designed with numerous eco-friendly features, the site will be the centerpiece of the company's efforts to be greener, according to co-owner Frank Mauceri.

"I really want to be an example of sustainability in our business," he said. "I want to prove that you can follow sustainable practices and not only keep your business going but possibly be more profitable than you were last year."

Double duty

When the structure is finished early next summer, the highlight will be the green roof, which will both conserve and generate electricity. According to architect Michael Wilkinson of Wilkinson Blender Architecture, which designed the building, the goal is to integrate the energy-producing elements into the rooftop garden. The plants will share space with a shade-generating trellis of solar panels and a bank of two 10-foot-tall cylindrical wind turbines, the first ever approved by the city for use on a residential building. Combined, the panels and turbine should generate roughly 10,000 kilowatt hours of electricity a year, almost half of the building's needs.

"Their project paved the way for other people to do the same thing," said Green Projects Administrator Erik Olsen, who certified the project through Chicago's Green Permit building program. "We basically went to the Department of Zoning and revised the code."

Between 40 and 45 percent of the building's electrical needs will be generated by the solar and wind power system, according to a conservative estimate by Wilkinson (it could reach as high as 70 percent at certain times in the year). No battery system will be in place to store power, so when the roof generates more electricity than the building needs, the extra juice will flow into the city's power grid and be credited against Mauceri's electric bill. When you include the garden's energy-saving functions -- the soil and plants will insulate in the winter and block sunlight in the summer -- it adds up to huge savings over the building's lifetime.

`10 years to recoup'

"We think the additional expenses of green construction will take 10 years to recoup," Mauceri said. "It might take less, depending on our energy production and how much fuel costs rise. And we're doing this on a small scale. If done on a big scale, just think of all the coal that wouldn't be burned."

Other features will stretch savings further, including energy-efficient appliances and a new, air-tight spray-foam insulation. The layout of the building -- which includes basement storage, first-floor offices and living space on the second floor -- allows for more natural light. In addition, Wilkinson incorporated a geothermal heating and cooling system into the plans. A series of 15 60-foot-deep wells dug into the basement will be naturally heated by the Earth to roughly 55 degrees. The wells allow the heating and cooling systems to work more efficiently, since the base temperature from which they will start operating against will be that of the well, not the outdoors. As a final touch, part of the flooring will consist of old, crushed records.

"It's not really a comment upon the music," Mauceri said. "We have an inventory of old records that don't sell anymore and figured it's a good use for them. Now, they'll definitely live forever."

The green building project is a natural progression of the do-it-yourself ethics that have defined Smog Veil since Frank and wife Lisa started the label in Cleveland in 1991. In his last year of law school, uncomfortable with the idea of doing the "lawyer thing" for the rest of his life, Frank, who was well-connected to the local music scene from stints as a college radio deejay and fanzine writer, decided to start a label focused on local bands. He worked as a lawyer for seven years until the imprint was big enough to support its only two employees, Frank and Lisa.

"I like working with just my wife," Frank said. "Maybe it means we don't take vacations a lot, but it's my lifestyle. I like doing it."

In 1998 the Mauceris relocated to Reno and expanded the label, reissuing an album from the legendary '70s Cleveland punk band Rocket From the Tombs, the forerunner to a recently signed Smog Veil band, seminal art rockers Pere Ubu.

"The day [Rocket From the Tombs] came out in 2002, our entire living room was filled with boxes of records and CDs," Frank said. "I'm talking wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, minus some paths so we could walk through the room. We were pretty much awake for 72 straight hours boxing and shipping albums."

On their minds

The Mauceris came back to the Midwest last year and set up shop in Chicago in an office on Milwaukee Avenue, but they had been considering building a new green home/office for a few years. In addition to its new headquarters, Smog Veil is embracing more eco-friendly packaging for their CDs. The Mauceris plan to replace plastic jewel cases with cardboard and continue utilizing digital distribution. Both options are greener and cheaper than the current alternative, and in this era of declining profits for labels, Frank believes more companies should follow suit. It's another example of his combination of pragmatism and optimism, a trait well-suited for the music industry.

"If one of the bands on our label decided to do an impromptu session in our office, they could plug in and do it powered off wind and sunshine," he said. "That's pretty crazy to think about."

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ctc-tempo@tribune.com

  Caption:
PHOTOS 2

  Caption:
PHOTO (color): When Smog Veil Records finishes its two-story structure next summer, the green roof will conserve and generate electricity. At least 40 percent of the building's electrical needs will be generated by the solar and wind power system. Artist renderings by Wilkinson Blender Architecture.

PHOTO (color): Smog Veil Records' green building project is a natural progression of the do-it-yourself ethics that have defined Smog Veil since Frank Mauceri and his wife Lisa started the label in 1991.

Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune Company. All rights reserved.

Author: Pat Sisson, Special to the Tribune.

Section: Tempo

Page: 7

Copyright (c) 2006, Chicago Tribune Company. All rights reserved.