Highlights from Loyola University’s Retreat and Ecology Net Zero Master Plan

Driven by Loyola University Chicago’s (LUC) long-term desire for a net zero ecology campus, Elara Engineering has been collaborating with LUC over the last 12 years to replace the campus HVAC systems with an ultra-low energy geothermal system. After the most recent phase of construction, approximately 50% of the campus has been converted with plans to continue to convert the rest of the campus in the coming years.  

We encourage you to view the attached video to learn more about the planning and design processes undertaken and the leading-edge technologies being implemented.  


The Importance of Thermal Comfort on Education Outcomes in Pre-K12 Facilities, and How Elara is Paving the Way

Indoor thermal comfort in Pre-K12 schools is a crucial aspect of the learning environment that can significantly impact student and faculty performance, learning outcomes, and overall well-being in the built environment. Thermal comfort is comprised of temperature, humidity, air velocity, radiant exchange, and other factors; each of which plays an important role impacting an individual’s comfort and performance within a space.

Many prototypical Pre-K12 schools designed and built in the last 50 years within our geographical area and climate zone were never designed to provide cooling or dehumidification within a classroom. Even when certain air-conditioning systems were installed, a majority of these were simplified systems with relatively poor performance such as unit ventilators and window air conditioner units. This was a decision that was made to reduce the cost and complexity of projects at the time of their original construction. Even in cases where an initially holistic approach to maintaining good thermal comfort was designed and constructed, decades of deferred maintenance and other factors have negatively impacted the performance of the installed systems and therefore, the experience of the students and faculty that still occupy the buildings today. 

Studies Linking Thermal Comfort to Student Performance:

In 2021, a study by the Government Office of Accountability (GAO) found that over half of America’s school districts require major upgrades to their school buildings, with the most common upgrade needs being the HVAC systems followed by interior lighting. Simply put, 14 million students within the US public school system are impacted by poor-performing HVAC systems1. Unfortunately, the troubling state of infrastructure is trending in the wrong direction as evidenced by the growing capital investment needs and infrastructure deficiencies of our public schools.

Source: Filardo, Mary (2021). 2021 State of Our Schools: America’s PK-12 Public School Facilities 2021. Washington DC: 21 Century School Fund

Since 2016, there has been a marked increase in the number of academic studies performed that link thermal conditions to student and faculty performance. In general, the outcomes of these studies show a significant decline in student performance when indoor thermal conditions fall outside of acceptable ranges.2

Several studies provide evidence for the correlation between maintaining acceptable indoor thermal conditions and student and faculty performance and attendance. A study compiled in 2021 showed that optimal cognitive performance of students occurred at classroom conditions of 73°F and 55% relative humidity. Significant decreases in cognitive performance, short-term memory, and verbal ability occurred as temperature increased up to 79°F and above inside the classroom2.

A separate study performed by Harvard University in 2017 quantified the impact of heat exposure on educational performance and test scores in buildings that lacked air-conditioning. In cases where tests were taken on a 90°F day compared to cases where exams were taken on a 72°F day, significant test score reductions were recorded. This study also found a 12.3% higher likelihood of failing a subject in non-airconditioned classrooms when controlling for other factors3.

Design Framework to Maximize Thermal Comfort

These studies provide evidence of the link between student performance and thermal comfort. However, this correlation is complex and can be impacted by many other factors such as the age of children, climate zone, clothing, direct solar radiation, metabolic rates, and individual/cultural differences. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) acknowledges these variabilities and provides a framework that establishes comfort indices as part of ASHRAE Standard 55.

Specifically, Standard 55 takes into account six environmental and personal inputs when defining acceptable thermal comfort: temperature, thermal radiation, humidity, metabolic level (sitting/standing/play), the airspeed of the system, and student clothing levels (uniforms, etc.). These factors and others are used to model the predicted thermal acceptability of occupants within a specific space. These models can help gain insight into how designers can then tweak indoor conditions to cater to the comfort needs of students and faculty in that space.

Potential Design Options and Solutions

Elara’s approach to design incorporates these important factors for optimal thermal comfort in the built environment while also maintaining a high benchmark for energy-efficient and cost-effective design. In many cases, optimizing the decision-making process around maximizing thermal comfort will also maximize the future energy efficiency and performance of a building. As an example, the implementation of radiant slab systems in early childhood education settings can improve the comfort of children who spend more time on the floor. Outside of early childhood education, radiant systems have advantages in creating and maintaining good thermal comfort in classrooms while also operating at high efficiencies. Similarly, systems such as induction displacement are designed to provide levels of thermal comfort and high indoor air quality by supplying low-velocity air directly into the occupied zone of a room. These considerations should be brought to the forefront of a project so that infrastructure can be coordinated with the architectural aspects of the project. The key takeaway is that considerations for providing and maintaining high levels of thermal comfort in a classroom drive the development of the project.

In closing, an approach to design that considers thermal comfort in schools is crucial to optimize student and faculty performance. Ensuring compliance, or at least consideration of the factors that are established in ASHRAE 55 will help realize the full potential of capital investments in our schools that maximize the effectiveness of student learning environments.

We welcome the opportunity to provide more information and discuss how we can help improve thermal comfort in your facilities to positively impact the performance of students and faculty. Please reach out directly to our Pre-K12 Team Leader and author of this article, Jim Gibson or request more information via


  1. Filardo, Mary (2021). 2021 State of Our Schools: America’s PK-12 Public School Facilities 2021. Washington DC: 21 Century School Fund.
  2. Brink, H. W., Loomans, M. G. L. C., Mobach, M. P., & Kort, H. S. M. (2021). Classrooms’ indoor environmental conditions affecting the academic achievement of students and teachers in higher education: A systematic literature review. Indoor air, 31(2), 405–425.
  3. Park, Jisung (2017). Temperature, Test Scores, and Human Capital Production 2017.

Illinois Governor Signs into Law Electric Vehicle Charging Act

On June 9th, Governor JB Pritzker signed into law State Bill 40 (SB40). The effective date of SB40 — better known as the “Electric Vehicle Charging Act” is January 1, 2024.

In summary, the Illinois Electric Vehicle Charging Act (the “Act”) applies to new single-family homes and newly constructed or renovated multi-unit residential buildings that have parking spaces constructed or renovated after the effective date of the Act. It also includes electric vehicle charging station policies for unit owners and for renters.

Single-Family Resident and Small Multi-Family Residence
A new single-family residence or a new small multifamily residence (a single residential building that accommodates 2-4 families) must have at least one electric vehicle capable parking space for each residential unit that has dedicated parking, unless any subsequently adopted building code requires additional electric vehicle capable parking spaces or installed electric vehicle supply equipment.  

Large Multi-Family Residence
All building permits issued 90 days after the effective date of the Act must require that a new, large multi-family residential building (one that accommodates 5 families or more) or a large multi-family residential building being renovated by a developer converting the property to an association have 100% of its total parking spaces EV-capable.    It should be noted however, that “nothing in the Act shall be construed to require that in the case of a developer converting the property to an association, no EV-capable or EV-ready mandate shall apply if it would necessitate the developer having to excavate an existing surface or other parking facility in order to retro-fit the parking lot or facility with the necessary conduit and wiring.”  

Unit and Rental Policies   For condominium unit owners, any deed, contract, security deposit or other instrument that effectively prohibits or unreasonably restricts the installation or use of an EV-charging system within the owner’s unit or a designated parking space is void and unenforceable under this Act.  
Regarding rental tenants, under that Act “a tenant may install, at the tenant’s expense for the tenant’s own use…a receptacle or outlet or a…charging system on or in the leased premises…” for which the landlord cannot assess or charge a tenant any fee for the placement or use of their vehicle charging system. 

A copy of SB40, which includes additional language about unit and rental policies related to EV-charging systems can be found here: Bill Status of SB0040

Also, please feel free to contact Elara’s Commercial / Multifamily Practice Leader, Matt Swanson, at for additional insights about SB40.


The Future of Decarbonization in Chicago

Please find below a video link introducing a recently published article in Chicagoland Buildings + Environment entitled “The Future of Decarbonization in Chicago” authored by Elara’s Senior Energy Engineer Matt Johnson, PE, CEM, CEA, LEED AP.

If, after reading the article, you have any questions or would like to discuss elements of it, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d be happy to have the conversation.

City of Chicago and City of Evanston Energy Benchmarking Verification Due In June

Elara Engineering would like to remind our clients that Energy Benchmarking for the City of Chicago and the City of Evanston are due this June. For more information about the ordinance and required compliance actions please see below and click here. Additionally, Kelsey Dale would be happy to answer any of your questions and assist in verification of your building’s data. She can be reached at 708.236.0300 x147 or


City of Chicago Benchmarking Verification Due June 1st

The City of Chicago requires owners of commercial, residential, and municipal buildings over 50,000 SF to track and verify (every third year by a professional) their building’s energy consumption using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool. The deadline to update and verify your building’s data is June 1, 2021.


City of Evanston Benchmarking Verification Due June 30th

The City of Evanston requires owners of commercial, residential, and municipal buildings over 20,000 SF to track and verify (every third year by a professional) their building’s energy and water consumption using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool. This includes apartment buildings, strip malls, schools, churches, hospitals, and condominium buildings. In addition, city-owned buildings, 10,000 SF or greater in size are required to comply. It should be noted that condominium buildings 20,000 SF to 50,000 SF are exempt from the ordinance. The deadline to update and verify your building’s data is June 30, 2021.


2020 – A Different Year, but with Continued Success for Elara Engineering

We are pleased to announce that 2020 was another successful year for Elara Engineering as we quickly modified the way we do our work to keep our employees, clients, and vendors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Continuing to build from our increase in staff, project locations in more states, greater involvement in K-12 schools, and philanthropic involvement from our dedicated employees, we eagerly look forward to providing our clients in 2021 with constructible, energy efficient designs that help the environment, save money, and increase asset value.


Evanston Energy Use Benchmarking Verification Due June 30th

Elara Engineering would like to remind our clients that the City of Evanston requires owners of commercial, residential and municipal buildings over 20,000 SF to track and verify (every third year by a professional) their building’s energy and water consumption using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool. This includes apartment buildings, strip malls, schools, churches, hospitals, and  condominium buildings.  In addition, city-owned buildings, 10,000 SF or greater in size are required to comply.  It should be noted that condominium buildings 20,000 SF to 50,000 SF are exempt from the ordinance. The deadline to update and verify your building’s data is June 30, 2020. At this time, the deadline for compliance with the city has not been extended, however there is still time to complete benchmarking for this year.

More information about this city ordinance and required compliance actions can be found here. Additionally, Kelsey Dale from our Hillside office would be happy to answer any of your questions and assist in verification of your building’s data. She can be reached at 708.236.0300 x147 or


City of Chicago Benchmarking Verification Due June 1st

Elara Engineering would like to remind our clients that the City of Chicago requires owners of commercial, residential and municipal buildings over 50,000 SF to track and verify (every third year by a professional) their building’s energy consumption using the Energy Star Portfolio Manager Tool. The deadline to update and verify your building’s data is June 1, 2020. At this time, the deadline for compliance with the city has not been extended, however there is still time to complete benchmarking for this year.


More information about this city ordinance and required compliance actions can be found here. Additionally, Kelsey Dale from our Hillside office would be happy to answer any of your questions and assist in verification of your building’s data. She can be reached at 708.236.0300 x147 or

City of Chicago Implements Energy Rating System

In 2017, the City of Chicago created the Chicago Energy Rating System to improve the visibility and transparency of information required to be reported by building owners under the City’s 2013 Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.  As most of Elara’s clients already know, the Energy Benchmarking Ordinance requires large buildings located in Chicago (≥50,000 SF) to report energy use once per year, with additional data verification required every 3 years.

Under the new Chicago Energy Rating System, the first ratings were assigned between late August and mid-September 2019 for energy benchmarking reports that were due on June 1, 2019.  Now that the first ratings have been assigned, building owners will receive an initial six-month period within which they are required to post their Chicago Energy Rating Placard on site in a prominent location and begin sharing the rating at the time of listing for sale or lease.

How Chicago Energy Ratings are Assigned

Under the four-star rating system, four stars will indicate the highest energy performance while a one-star rating will indicate a poor energy performer.  Properties that have not submitted energy benchmarking information will receive zero stars.

Approximately 85% of buildings that report their data receive a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score from the Portfolio Manager energy benchmarking software.  These buildings will, based on their 1-100 ENERGY STAR score, receive between one and four stars on the four-star Chicago Energy Rating System.  Buildings with one, two, or three stars will be able to earn an additional star if they have improved by at least 10 points in the past two reporting years.

Approximately 15% of the reporting properties that are not eligible to receive a 1-100 ENERGY STAR score.  These properties will receive an energy rating based on the building’s source energy use intensity (EUI), which is energy use per square foot, in comparison to national medians for properties of similar size and type. The lower the percentile for Source EUI, the better, as a lower EUI indicates less energy use per square foot.  In these cases, the Chicago Energy Rating will be based on the following scale:

  • 1st to 25th percentile for Source EUI: 4 Stars
  • 25th to 50th percentile for Source EUI: 3 Stars
  • 50th to 75th percentile for Source EUI: 2 Stars
  • Above the 75th percentile for Source EUI: 1 Star
  • Any building with one, two, or three stars with a 10% improvement in the past 2 years earns an extra star

What Building Owners Need to Do

  • Ensure compliance with the reporting requirements under the City of Chicago Energy Benchmarking Ordinance.
  • Make sure you have received your Chicago Energy Rating Placard which were to be mailed by mid-September 2019.
  • Post your Chicago Energy Rating Placard and begin sharing – on an ongoing basis — your rating at the time of listing for sale or lease within the initial six-month grace period.

Additional information about the Chicago Energy Rating System can be found here.


R-22 2020 Phase-Out Deadline Fast Approaching

The Montreal Protocol is a global agreement with the goal of phasing out the use and production of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS), which include hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). To meet the goals established by the Montreal Protocol, HCFCs must be phased out by January 1, 2020; and will therefore, no longer be produced or imported into the U.S. after that date.

Although other HCFCs can be sometimes be found in currently used refrigeration equipment, the most common HCFC by far is HCFC-22 or R-22.  This refrigerant is used in existing air conditioners and refrigeration equipment including unitary air conditioners, cold storage, retail food refrigeration equipment, chillers, and industrial process refrigeration.

Many recall the first step of the HCFC phase out, which occurred on January 1, 2010 and resulted in the production of R-22 to be significantly reduced. Since the initial phase out, the cost of R-22, and therefore the cost of maintaining equipment using R-22, has become increasingly expensive. After the upcoming phase out, only reclaimed or stockpiled R-22 can be used for maintenance of R-22 refrigeration equipment. It is expected that the cost of R-22 will significantly increase with the latest phase due to limited and dwindling supplies.

Options for Building Owners and Managers
With potentially many pieces of air conditioning equipment under their care and responsibility, the upcoming R-22 phase-out deadline means that building owners and managers need to establish a viable, common-sense course of action to pursue.  Several options are available.

  • DO NOTHING NOW AND WAIT. If a unit breaks after January 2020, the repair may be cost prohibitive due to the cost of R-22. If it happens in 2019, a decision will have to be made to replace it or to invest in a repair.
  • RETROFIT OLDER SYSTEMS TO USE A NEW REFRIGERANT. In some cases, equipment owners can invest in a retrofit that allows existing equipment to use certain newer refrigerants. Because this option will not be possible for all systems, an analysis will be needed to determine its technical and financial viability.
  • REPLACE PROACTIVELY. Although the upfront cost/investment can be a hurdle, especially if multiple systems need to be replaced prior to the R-22 phase-out deadline; proactive replacement could be the most cost-effective alternative in the long run. Equipment owners can take advantage of current tax breaks and utility-sponsored incentive programs to potentially reduce HVAC equipment and installation costs.

Options Guidance and Cost Reduction Opportunities 

With expertise in energy audits and studies, master planning, engineering design, equipment identification and selection; Elara Engineering is well-positioned to identify, evaluate, and pursue a technically and financially sound R-22 phase-out option.  In addition, having procured a cumulative total of over $5MM in incentives from ComEd, Peoples Gas, and Nicor to help offset costs associated with the installation of energy efficient improvements, Elara can assist clients, when combined with applicable tax breaks, minimize R-22 phase-out costs as much as possible.


Elara Principal Don McLauchlan Delivers Presentation on the Economic Benefits of Sustainability at Marist College

As part of Marist College’s 12th Annual Sustainability Week held from October 22-25, 2018, Elara Principal Don McLauchlan was invited to present the Economic Benefits of Sustainability in support of the week’s theme: “Marist Sustainability:  From Strategic Goals to Sustainable Action.”

Marist College, located on the Hudson River in Poughkeepsie, New York, has – according to a message from its President, David Yellen – “been a longtime leader in preserving and protecting the Hudson River valley” and believes that “colleges and universities must take the lead in educating people about the issues related to sustainability, as well as setting an example of environmental stewardship.”  Don McLauchlan, with his career-long passion for energy efficiency, continues to be — along with the entire Elara Engineering team – a strong catalyst for innovative engineering solutions that deliver sustainable energy efficiencies that minimize environmental impacts and save money.

Don’s presentation and subsequent Q&A session covered a wide range of topics.  To view some of what he said, just click on the following video clips:

Reduce Energy for No Increase in Cost

1 Watt Saving at the Room Level Saves 4 Watts at the Source

Net Zero Energy Buildings

Radiant Heating and Cooling

Reuse of Piping for Retrofits


Elara Guides Design of USGBC Certified Passive House (PHIUS+) and LEED Platinum Multifamily Midrise Supportive Building

To support the initiatives of Heartland Housing, Inc — a division of the Heartland Alliance (Chicago, IL) and a developer/manager of sustainable, innovative and high-quality affordable housing for at-risk populations — Elara provided advice, planning, and direction to the entire project team regarding MEPFP and sustainable features, including solar domestic hot water and geothermal heating and cooling.

Rethke Terrace in Madison, WI is a 36,000 ft², 4-story, newly constructed supportive housing facility with 60 studio, single-occupant units serving the formerly homeless or those at risk of homelessness. The property has 5,000 ft² of common area and office space for property management and four case workers, assembly space, a computer room, a library/quiet room, a fitness room, and a commercial kitchen for residents and the neighborhood.

With Elara’s efforts, Rethke Terrace achieved Passive House certification and a LEED Platinum designation for Homes (Midrise). Contributing design elements include wall assembly features with advanced framing details and an air-tight envelope, window heights and placement that maximize natural day-lighting, energy efficient lighting design, energy recovery ventilators, Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) heating and cooling systems to provide individual comfort control in units, occupancy sensors, window switches, kWh tracking, and remote building management.

Elara provided conceptual/pre-schematic design, schematic design, design development, bidding, and construction observation services. To support the project’s early planning phases, Elara performed energy modeling and building optimization based on numerous interacting effects; evaluated the most cost-effective building design; explored net-zero energy opportunities; and optimized lighting design and controls, including a detailed light level analysis, daylighting, occupancy control, and layouts to minimize energy while maximizing occupant satisfaction. A renewable energy analysis was also completed that evaluated multiple options, including geothermal, and their performance. Elara also evaluated plumbing heat recovery and rain water retention/reuse.

The HVAC system ultimately selected due to Elara’s work maximized energy efficiency and savings and minimized cost with respect to building envelope design.


Elara Reduces Utility Costs by $116,000 for New Orleans Hotel

Based on a recommendation from Elara Engineering’s Energy Audit and HVAC/Mechanical Systems Assessment of the Renaissance Pere Marquette Hotel, Elara recently completed a chiller plant replacement and chiller heat recovery implementation project that reduced utility costs by $94,000 within the first 10 months of operation (projected at $116,000 annually).  Elara’s assessment identified additional improvement opportunities with a potential to reduce the hotel’s operating costs up to an additional estimated $125,000 per year.

The Pere Marquette Hotel, an 18-story luxury hotel located in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter was originally constructed in 1925, renovated in 2001, and underwent repairs to the base building after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  The property has 275 guest rooms, restaurant, café, fitness center, banquet and conference facilities, offices, and a parking garage.

Due to costly, repeated issues with compressor failures, an upgrade of the hotel’s existing chilled water plant was identified as a priority project within Elara’s assessment report.  Upon approval from the owner to implement the first of its recommendations, Elara;

  • Designed and replaced three existing air-cooled rooftop chillers with two cooling-only chillers and one heat recovery chiller to preheat the domestic hot water using waste heat while improving the chiller’s efficiency,
  • Designed the replacement in phases to minimize building systems downtime and allow the hotel to remain operational,
  • Converted one of the building’s existing three domestic hot water storage tanks to a preheat tank associated with the new heat recovery chiller, and
  • Installed a new heat exchanger and pump along with associated controls.

Elara Designs Geothermal Heating & Cooling System for Eastland Elementary School

As part of its heating and ventilation system evaluation for Eastland Elementary School for Community Unified School District (CUSD) 308 in Lanark, Illinois, together with Richard L. Johnson Associates Architects, Elara recommended improvements to the school’s existing HVAC system to address aging equipment, increase energy efficiency, and enhance occupant comfort.  One improvement strategy included the design and installation of a Geothermal Heat Pump System for centralized space heating and cooling for the building.

The geothermal system designed by Elara was installed for an incremental cost of less than 10% of that to install a conventional heating and cooling system. Additionally, this environmentally-friendly approach is more energy efficient and eliminates future costs to replace central boiler and chiller plants approximately every 20 years.  The system’s geothermal field, with its 36, 450-foot deep vertical wells is anticipated to last at least 50 years, with heat pump equipment replaced according to a traditional schedule.

For the system installation, a single pipe geothermal condenser water loop was utilized to serve the classroom heat pumps and to save material and labor costs of pipes routed through an existing utility tunnel.  Elara also re-used two existing mezzanines above the gymnasium’s stage area to house new heat pump air handling equipment.  Once Elara unified the HVAC systems for the building (which were previously disjointed due to numerous renovations and additions), a new direct digital control system was installed to maximize controllability and energy savings associated with the operation of the new equipment.


Elara’s Enhanced Commissioning Supports LEED Gold Designation of State-of-the-Art Research Facility

With LEED Enhanced Commissioning services and expertise, Elara successfully secured valuable points to ensure a highly desired LEED Gold designation for Loyola University’s newly constructed Center for Transitional Research and Education facility (CTRE).  The highly specialized, highly complex 5-story state-of-the-art research facility required an extreme level of systems redundancy and continuous mechanical system service to ensure uninterrupted medical research.  To serve a wide range of space uses, the building included multiple sophisticated mechanical systems; including, emergency chilled water fed from the University’s Health Science Campus and over 650 air terminal units.

Through coordinated commissioning activities that included comprehensive functional testing, the identification of control sequencing modifications and reliability enhancements — considered to be of critical importance for lab space performance, and black out testing to verify emergency power functionality and emergency sequences for MEP systems throughout the building, Elara delivered a highly efficient building system with complete functionality.


Renovated Building and New Addition Uses 40-50% Less Energy

Elara Engineering recently completed a mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection design for the renovation and expansion of Indian Trails Public Library in Wheeling, Illinois that is projected to result in a 40-50% reduction in energy use relative to other, typical library buildings.  This sustained benefit was primarily derived from the innovative use of a geothermal heat pump heating and cooling system combined with energy efficient building materials and features.

The design team’s work addressed several issues impacting the original two-story building, including; substantial energy costs, poor indoor air quality, and outdated mechanical equipment.  To correct this, the design team:



  • Designed a new energy efficient mechanical system (geothermal heating/cooling heat pumps that generate hot and chilled water to serve fan coil units and VAV boxes within the occupied spaces) and digital controls for the new and renovated spaces
  • Developed new power, lighting and emergency/egress lighting systems to support the new and renovated spaces
  • Modified and expanded the existing fire alarm, plumbing and fire protection systems for the new and renovated spaces.