CHICAGO - What do you get when you combine an estimated 9,372 used aluminum cans, seven rolls of worn-out carpet, and 23 trees killed by emerald ash borers - as well as some old furniture and other discarded items?

In the case of the new headquarters of the Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago (MCA Chicago), located in Burr Ridge, Ill., you get a recycled masterpiece of a green building. The association recently held an open house and ribbon-cutting to celebrate the grand opening of the facility.

“For years, we had been based in a downtown Chicago suite,” said Stephen Lamb, executive vice president of MCA Chicago, “but it became clear we needed our own facility to hold educational sessions for our member contractors. And because of our strong commitment to green building, our new headquarters had to be green.”

Steve Stricker, village administrator of Burr Ridge and a speaker at the open house, said, “We welcome MCA Chicago to the village and congratulate them on using green building concepts and pursuing LEED certification. We are very pleased that they are here.”

John Stern, president of the board of MCA Chicago, believes that the association’s new facility is a direct reflection of its leadership role in the green building movement. “This state-of-the-art building represents our commitment to future technologies and the direction our industry is taking,” he said.

“The teaching area in the facility is state-of-the-art and an excellent learning environment,” said Keith Rahn, faculty advisor for MCA Chicago’s Student Chapter at Illinois State University. Rahn is also an instructor with the association who taught the first class in the new headquarters - Understanding Mechanical Systems. “I see the trend in green building continuing to increase,” he said. “A lot of architects and owners are looking to head in the green direction.”

Visitors to the new MCA Chicago headquarters enter through doors made from recycled material and walk over entryway mats designed to attract and hold dust and dirt.

“The carpets, wallpaper, and kitchen floor tiles are all made from recycled material,” said Dan Bulley, senior vice president of MCA Chicago and a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Accredited Professional. “The carpets are composed of many smaller sections, so if a high-traffic area wears out, those individual sections can be removed and replaced.”

The counters in the kitchen area are composed of recycled aluminum. Even the furniture is re-used. The millwork in the main serving area is made from wood salvaged from ash trees that had to be cut down because they were infested with emerald ash borers. “The infestation is in the bark but the trees are typically cut down and burned. We were able to use that wonderful wood,” said Bulley. The building also has its own recycling center.

The building’s HVAC system was designed to optimize indoor air quality. Paints, sealants, and epoxies used throughout the building were selected because they are low-emitting products, which contribute to better indoor air quality by releasing minimal toxins over time.

In the restrooms, lights go on automatically when visitors enter. The low-flush urinals use only one pint instead of one gallon, and the water closets use only 1.28 gallons. Motion-sensitive faucets turn on when visitors are ready to wash their hands, and high-powered dryers eliminate the need for paper towels. The building’s water-conserving plumbing was donated by Sloan Valve.

The building uses high-efficiency light-emitting diode (LED) lighting mixed with new T-5 fluorescent lighting. Room occupancy sensors turn off lights after visitors leave. These measures save 30 percent over traditional lighting.

The permanent walls of the building have been filled with Icynene, an energy-saving foam insulation which was sprayed into place once electrical and plumbing services were installed. The foam then expanded to fill all gaps in the walls, sealing the building envelope and providing a superior level of thermal, draft, moisture, and sound insulation.

In the building’s workspaces, 85 percent of the interior walls are modular. These moveable walls can be produced and installed with less impact on the environment and then either reconfigured or moved with little waste.

What does it take to top off this innovative green building? Nothing less than a white roof, which reflects sunlight so it doesn’t warm the building or the surrounding area and increase the need for air conditioning. Traditional dark surfaces contribute to an unwanted urban heat island effect.

The green headquarters of MCA Chicago is complete - for now. “It would be a mistake to say the building is finished,” Bulley said, “because really, it will never be finished. Sustainability is an ongoing process, and we will continue to improve upon the building as green technology progresses. With each passing year, it will keep on getting better and better.”

To find out more about MCA Chicago, visit To learn more about green building, visit the green contractor Website of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America at

Publication date:12/22/2008