With climate change impacting the Earth now more than ever, people are increasingly looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Recycling and being a more conscious consumer are good places to start, but a Chicagoland startup is betting that living in a sustainable home is beneficial, too.
BrightLeaf Homes, based in the Chicago suburb of La Grange, builds and sells sustainable single-family homes in the Chicagoland area. Homebuyers can buy BrightLeaf houses already on the market, or work with architects at the company to build their “forever home.” Homes come in a variety of sizes and models, and on average, take only about four months to build.
Scott Sanders, a Chicago native, launched BrightLeaf in 2008, right in the middle of the country’s devastating housing collapse.
“It was a terrible time to start a home-building company, so that didn’t go so hot,” Sanders said.
But in 2012, BrightLeaf took off, and Sanders built his first house. Now the company is on track to sell 12 houses this year, and already has plans to close deals on 11 in the first four months of next year. And by the end of 2018, Sanders said he plans to sell 30 homes. BrightLeaf is also a finalist for Chicago Inno’s 50 on Fire awards.
BrightLeaf’s homes, which are mainly located in the western suburbs, are designed to use less heating and cooling energy than others. Sanders said that because many homes in Chicagoland sit on an east/west axis, putting windows on the south-facing sides of homes allows for natural sun heating in the winter. Not to mention, more windows mean more light and less of a need for electric lights, resulting in cheaper utility bills down the line.
BrightLeaf homes are also installed with dual-flush toilets and water-conserving faucets. Additionally, most of the materials used to build the homes are locally sourced, reclaimed if possible, and are made with organic compounds, which can have health benefits, Sanders said.
“Within the energy efficient building community, there are multiple stories of homeowners moving into homes and getting rid of inhalers and allergies, and having just better lives in general,” Sanders said. “If people can step back enough, and if we can help them understand the numbers enough, it really doesn’t make any sense to do anything other than to build or buy a BrightLeaf home.”
Though some may hear “sustainable home” and begin to see dollar signs, Sanders said BrightLeaf aims to keep their home prices comparable to others in the markets they’re building in.
To put this into context, a four-bedroom and three-bath home in Downers Grove listed on BrightLeaf’s website asks for $650,000. Another home in Brookfield, with the same number of bedrooms and bathrooms is listed for $500,000.
“We have always tried to make our homes attainable for people,” Sanders said. “We’re finding the balance of building high-performance [homes], and making sure that they’re not financially impossible for the average person.”
Ironically, though, Sanders can’t afford to live in one of his homes at the moment. But next year, BrightLeaf is building several townhomes in La Grange, which are estimated to cost about $350,000-400,000. Sanders said he plans to move into one of those.
“It can sort of be a living laboratory for some of the cool technologies and features we hope to put into our homes in the future that we don’t want to try out on consumers,” Sanders said. “But we can certainly try them out on me because I’m probably willing to put up with it if it doesn’t work as advertised.”
Sanders said that within the next decade, he wants BrightLeaf to expand beyond Chicago, launch in another major metro market and build 500 homes every year in each. Grand Rapids, Mich., Northwest Indiana and Milwaukee are ideal choices. The company, which employs eight people in its La Grange offices, has raised $1.3 million in funding from friends and family. Sanders said he has plans to launch an official funding round in the future.