Top 5 Sustainable Multifamily Trends

From smart home tech to solar energy, these are the top five trends in sustainable multifamily developments 

By SCOTT LEMOINE

After a highly informative and engaging Urban Land Institute (ULI) Fall Meeting in Boston last week, I have been reflecting on this past year’s multifamily sustainability trends. In many ways, multifamily communities are in a unique position to positively impact the lives of residents and reduce carbon emissions on a large scale. Currently, the top five notable multifamily sustainability trends include smart home technology, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, solar energy, health & wellness and resilience. 

Smart Home Technology and Amenities 

The recent surge of Internet of Things (IoT) tech has brought light to the application of smart home amenities in multifamily buildings. This technology includes the integration of smart home devices, such as Alexa-powered assistants, into new developments and retrofits. Developers and owners alike understand the important role infrastructure plays in supporting the IoT and are wiring properties to support the growing number of Wi-Fi devices within each residence. Smart home amenities are now becoming commonplace, as potential residents seek to control video doorbells, smart locks, window shades and more from their smartphones. Energy efficiency opportunities lie in the use of smart thermostats, such as Nest or Ecobee units, by means of built-in occupancy sensors and machine learning software. 

Electric Vehicle Charging Stations 

Electric vehicles (EV) are gaining increased traction in cities and states as sustainability plans become more stringent and renewable energy targets more aggressive. This past year, California spent $2.5 billion on the deployment of 250,000 vehicle charging stations in hopes of catalyzing the electrification of transport. 

Additionally, the development of EV charging stations is attractive to utility providers and residents alike, with this infrastructure resulting in a reduced energy demand. Competition between charging station providers has also improved economics, further making the case to stay ahead of the curve by embracing this new infrastructure. 

Solar Energy 

While the benefits of renewable energy are well-known, the large-scale implementation of solar has its challenges. Rapid deployment of solar has led to overgeneration of solar energy in Southern California, creating a shift in peak demand and resulting in power management problems for grid operators. Despite the growing pains of solar energy, the installation of arrays is still common amongst multifamily properties due to government subsidies and improved financials. Additionally, the emergence of net-zero buildings will further drive solar deployment in the multifamily sector. 

Health and Wellness 

One of the most relatable advancements in real estate is the integration of health and wellness features into multifamily communities. New developments are trading residential floor area for larger communal lounges, kitchens and coworking spaces to cater to the desire for social interaction. The same is true for transportation, with bike storage facilities and transit information hubs helping residents to drive less and work out more. Developers are also prioritizing walkability by targeting sites in urban areas with high Walk Scores. Additionally, wellness certifications, such as WELL and Fitwel, are becoming more common as building owners see an increased need to meet the market demand for healthy living spaces. 

Resilience 

Without a doubt, resilience is the hottest topic in commercial real estate, especially from a risk perspective. In 2017 alone, the U.S. suffered $353 billion in damages due to climate change, making resilience a top priority for real estate owners and investors. From Hurricanes Michael and Florence, to the California wildfires, 2018 has shaped up to be equally as disastrous. While the industry tends to default to insurance and FEMA to mitigate these risks, we are now seeing property owners play a larger role in preventative action through emergency response planning and natural disaster procedures. Multifamily developers and owners have an opportunity, and fundamental responsibility, to be proactive in safeguarding their residents from harm. 

Conclusion 

As we reflect on both the innovative technology wins and devastating losses of the past year, it is clear that sustainability is gaining traction among multifamily communities. Given the daunting report recently released by the IPCC concluding that significantly greater action is needed to address climate change, we can expect these trends to continue. The building environment is a critical focus area as we work to reduce our carbon footprint and emissions while creating healthier and more resilient living spaces. 

Scott Lemoine, LEED AP, CEM, is a Sustainability Manager at Verdani Partners, a USGBC member, where he leads sustainability programs for GID and The Howard Hughes Corporation, including energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy procurement. To learn more, please visit www.verdani.com