Sigma Chi windows go green

Since 1928, the Sigma Chi fraternity has resided in the striking red brick house at 3809 Locust Walk, the home originally built for the Drexel family in 1892.

But the years have taken a toll on the building. Single-pane windows that were sufficient when the house was constructed, today allow cold winter air to seep inside. Layers of paint added over decades are chipping from the window sashes.

In 2001, the fraternity decided to embark on an ambitious restoration project, beginning with the windows and the bedrooms on the second and third floors, according to Mark Kocent, principal planner in Penn’s Division of Facilities and Real Estate Services and the alumni house corporation president.

This spring, an important component of the project will get underway. The 70 to 80 windows in the house will be replaced with custom-made energy-efficient insulated panes, or will be enhanced with additional panes—a process that preserves the original wood and glass.

The entire project is estimated to cost $295,000, most of which is being funded through alumni donations, but one-sixth of the project is also being supported by a grant from Penn’s Green Fund. This Fund is designed to support environmental project ideas generated by the Penn community with one-time grants. These projects support the goals and objectives outlined in Penn’s Climate Action Plan, which strives to reduce the University’s carbon footprint and enhance its overall sustainability. Penn is accepting a second round of Green Fund applications now through March 15. The awards will be announced in April.

Specifically, with the Sigma Chi project, the Green Fund grant will support the process of making the first-floor windows energy-efficient. As Kocent explains, a local company will remove the existing sash from the window frames, make a small cut and then insert a second piece of glass. The process retains about 90 percent of the original wood, as well as the original look of the windows. This is key, because the fraternity house is on the Philadelphia Historical Commission’s registry, and must retain its historic integrity.

Work will begin this spring on the first-floor windows; the second- and third-floor windows will be removed this summer.

Estimates project the renovation will reduce the house’s gas bill by 20 to 50 percent, though specific amounts are not set in stone. Kocent says the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, the campus resource center for Greek life, has tabulated the house’s heating costs over the past three years, and will compare the numbers after the new windows are installed.

Green Fund projects that generate financial savings are expected to replenish the fund, which Kocent says they plan to do.

Sigma Chi residents will likely see their rent drop, too. “Students are interested in saving energy,” says Kocent, “but they’re also anxious to have the windows more efficient for their own comfort.”

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Originally published Feb. 4, 2010

Originally published on February 4, 2010