Loyola University Chicago

Loyola Magazine


Lighting the Way

Lighting the Way

The Helenowski residence was designed and built with the goal of modern sustainable living. Carefully calculated window overhangs make efficient use of sunlight. Solar panels further harness the energy of the sun. A geothermal heating system is supplemented by heat from wood pellets.

Owner, Square 1 Precision Lighting, Inc.

Jacek Helenowski (BS ’84) specializes in American-made Large Mass Cold Cathode lighting, an energy-efficient and long-lasting light source. His lighting projects, many of them high-profile, are installed throughout Chicagoland and around the world. Helenowski’s home in Chicago is considered one of the greenest buildings in the world and received one of the highest green ratings by LEED (which has a presence in 120 countries) and a whole-building Energy Star rating.

Walking the walk   “The idea for the house was, ‘Practice what you preach.’ I believe in sustainability and in using locally made, sustainable products. That being said, the greenest building in the world is a mud hut, but do you want to live that way? I wanted a modern, comfortable, sustainable building.” 

Labor of love   The house was a weekend and weeknight project. It took 12 years from start of research to finish. 

To name a few   Among many others, the green features of the Helenowski residence include a green roof, recycled drywall, soy-based insulation, geothermal heating and cooling, a vertical axis wind turbine, solar panels, and LM Cold Cathode lighting.

From the ashes   “Instead of using a wrecking ball, we took down the old home by hand and salvaged all dimensional lumber we could. The rest of the wood came from a loft building that burned down in 1995. Since it was built in the 1880s, it was made from old-growth wood. Even though it burned all night, only about an inch and a half of the wood was ruined. We shaved off that burned wood and salvaged the rest of it, a one-and-a-half year process.”

Friends in the right places   “A friend had a wood pellet plant, so we collected the sawdust from the house construction and made wood pellets that we burn to supplement the geothermal heating.”

The sunny side of the street    “On the south side of the house, where you get the greatest sun exposure, we have deep overhangs. We calculated the shadow, so that in the summer, when the sun is high, you don’t get direct sunlight in the windows, which helps keep temperatures down. In winter, when the sun is lower, 80 percent of the windows’ area gets direct sunlight, which helps heat the house.”

Toward a new day   Helenowski holds several patents in efficient lighting, many of which are in LED (light-emitting diode) lighting products. Since those patents were filed, Helenowski has moved away from LED lighting, which contains arsenic, toward a light source called LM Cold Cathode, which does not. 

Notable projects   Square 1’s lighting has been installed at the Chicago Cultural Center, the Museum of Science and Industry, the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, the chapel on Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus, Water Tower Place, and Michael Jordan’s house, among many other locations.

National pride   Square 1 Precision Lighting created and built a large illuminated United States flag as a 9/11 memorial, which was the official flag for the Salt Lake City Olympics and Paralympics. The Olympic committee estimated that this flag was seen by one-quarter of the people in the world. 

What’s in a name?   “My wife, Marta (a medical doctor), had the idea to name our daughter Luxa. For those who don’t know Latin, lux means ‘light.’” 

Lighting the way   “Sustainability is for our children, grandchildren, and all future generations. We can’t leave them a toxic, depleted world. That’s the reason I do this.”

Read more stories of outstanding Loyola alumni