Sustainability or Attainability?

Industry professionals need to create opportunities that address both energy-efficiency and affordability.

By Cassie Cherry

While affordability, “missing middle” housing and the sheer number of housing units needed to keep up with population demands (a-hem… RNHA numbers to anyone in California?) are omnipresent headline topics, I don’t think anyone can argue that these words and phrases have never had a greater heyday than they are experiencing at present. Now add into that mix labor shortages; sharply rising materials costs; increasing governmental, regulatory fees and land costs; and the rapid drive to make our new construction housing more sustainable and you have a fairly complex equation that must pencil at the end of the day and oftentimes, a longer than expected project schedule.    

Sustainability and social impact are homogeneously intertwined with millenials. As the most recent generation to join the ranks of homeownership (watch out – the eldest ‘Geriatric Millenials’ are moving over for Gen Z who are now starting to make their presence felt on the housing scene) they are strong advocates for sustainable housing options with their choices and preferences. However, when forced to make decisions over housing costs vs. sustainability, price wins out 100% of the time. We all want a great home that lives well and reduces our environmental footprint, but if the alternative choice is simply being able to get into a home, the decision becomes very clear.

Sustainability and attainability cannot be mutually exclusive. Design professionals need to roll up their sleeves and work with their builders to create solutions and opportunities that address both while staying mindful of construction costs. 

Having had the opportunity to work with builder clients in addressing this topic, DA’s own Idea Lab Design Studio has become a resource for exploring sustainability solutions while remaining cost sensitive. Passive designs, home orientation and a bit of creativity can all be applied – there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Recently, our team was tasked to design attainable, workforce housing in a tertiary housing market where energy costs and considerations were a big factor in ensuring housing affordability. At the time of design, this community was set to be the largest net-zero community in California (the great news is, there are even bigger communities on the boards now that can make that claim which means our industry is rapidly changing for greater sustainability). With some clever partners on board, this community will employ flywheels with microgrid technologies to create and send electricity to homes within the grid on demand. Many of our fellow architectural design firms in Orange County and throughout the country are also exploring similar solutions, which is very promising and exciting to see. Additionally, we are seeing greater traction outside the ‘Smile States’ for sustainable home solutions thanks in part to NAHB’s outreach and efforts for the National Green Building Standard (NGBS).

Much of the past year has been spent talking about lifestyle shifts and design solutions regarding the pandemic.  While topical, these design solutions are part of a bigger focus on creating timeless home designs that adapt and grow with our living experiences and lifestyles.  Creating multi-purpose, flexible spaces with indoor/outdoor connections, recreation and exercise spaces, safe spaces for entry and package delivery and multigenerational/guest living suites/ADUs allow homes to support changing lifestyle needs over the course of its useful life, effectively creating sustainable homes the gracefully ‘age in place’. Meticulous incorporation of these design elements can be done with minimal impact to budgets. By creating timeless architectural elements at all housing levels and implementing thoughtful sustainable construction practices, one can achieve both an attainable and sustainable home. 

Cassie Cherry, LEED-AP, is the director of Marketing & Client Relations for Danielian Associates Architects + Planners. She may be reached at ccherry@danielian.com or at 949-474-6030.

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