Green Building Reduces Costs on Affordable Housing Projects

Implementing green concepts on affordable housing projects can reduce costs


Integration of green building concepts into affordable housing projects has long-term benefits to developers and is becoming more prevalent in the design and construction process. Affordable housing projects deal with limited resources, so building with sustainable design concepts and using durable materials and recycled products lower energy bills, require less l

Today there are greater resources and green building applications that can be used to lower future O&M costs. Incorporating concepts such as these emphasizes the need for innovative design: optimizing site potential, minimizing non-renewable energy consumption, using environmentally preferable products, protecting and conserving water, and enhancing indoor environmental maintenance, and add to an overall healthier building environment for residents. All of this can significantly improve the economics of managing the lifecycle costs of an affordable multifamily housing facility, allowing Operating and Maintenance (O&M) budgets to be better met, and help building managers maintain facilities at a higher quality level, enhancing the living and work environment.


The award-winning Step Up on Vine project, one of the first LEED Platinum affordable housing projects in the US, applied emerging sustainable features. It provides 34 affordable units for previously homeless individuals with severe, persistent mental health issues.

To provide the best return on investment for the developer and facility service provider on all building O&M costs, sustainable features were used to improve the existing building’s energy efficiency by a minimum of 20 percent. The design team incorporated ENERGY STAR rated appliances and fixtures, high-efficiency variable refrigerant flow system for heating and cooling, and the addition of a cool roof. Renewable energy systems included a solar thermal hot water system used to preheat water and significantly reduce the use of natural gas for water heating, and a photovoltaic panel array on the roof.

Additionally, a green screen covering the front fac?ade helps reduce the heat island effect while lessening heat gain by shading the structure. Shadow boxes provide screening
of the apartment units from the morning and afternoon daylight.

Because of the building’s innovative sustainable features, the project was recognized by the Clinton Foundation, which focuses on improving global health and wellness.

Another LEED Platinum affordable housing project is the new Beverly Terrace apartments, which include 40 one and two-bedroom apartment units of supportive family housing.

The design team commenced the process by conducting studies to evaluate size and orientation of building apertures (windows) to evaluate solar heat gain. This was key in determining the ultimate site positioning of the building and allowed for a reduced air conditioning (cooling) load for the building.

Selecting efficient building systems was the next step in reducing overall operating costs. A VRF air conditioning system was selected to allow for heat exchange between residential users. Highly efficient water heaters were selected and operate on a demand basis with a solar hot water preheating system. Increased R Value insulation was selected for rooftop and exterior walls. A high reflectivity Solar Reflectance Index (SRI) roofing material was selected. Rooftop gardens incorporating xeriscaping with drought tolerant plants was designed with grey water irrigation.

VRF air conditioning systems control the refrigerant flow through multiple evaporator coils to provide individual temperature control in multiple apartment units while only using a single condenser. This provides a significant O&M cost reduction, having to only replace one condenser for every 15 units in the future rather than a single condenser per unit.

Selecting a Ketone Ethylene Ester (KEE) roofing system not only lowers the SRI to meet LEED, but also provides a 20-year roof lifespan with welded seams and flashing connections to resist water infiltration.

The rooftop xeriscaping uses drought- tolerant plants providing an aesthetic environment that requires less maintenance time and limits the need for irrigation.

The rooftop design also included a significant area for photovoltaic panels, thinking ahead for energy-reducing measures.

In addition, the building incorporates sustainable features throughout the interior such as recycled countertops, low flow fixtures, low VOC paints, and more – all to reduce future maintenance and replacement issues.

Developers of affordable housing projects are seeing the value of building with sustainable features to help extend the facility’s longevity and reduce O&M costs. Reducing resource consumption, lowering utility bills, and incorporating highly durable materials also supports the overall mission of the affordable housing service provider – to provide a high- quality living environment for residents to move forward with their lives.

John S. Egan is a Principal of Egan | Simon architecture, one of the leading affordable housing design firms in Southern California. John can be reached at