15 Strategies for Sustainable Affordable Housing

Event: 2011 AIA Tri-State Design Conference
Location: Atlantic City, NJ, 09.21-23.11
Organizers: AIA New Jersey; AIA New York State; AIA Pennsylvania

(L-R): The Eltona, Melrose section of the Bronx, by Danois Architects; Hopewell Manor, Elverson, PA, by Barton Partners Architects & Planners; Grand Central, Orange, NJ, by Inglese Architecture & Engineering.

(L-R): Equus Design Group; Don Pearse Photographers, Inc.; Andy Foster

Funding constraints and the fiscal atmosphere in Congress threaten current affordable housing programs. Various initial low-cost measures can help achieve and maintain sustainability. Terrence E. O’Neal, AIA, LEED AP, principal of NY-based TONA (Terrence O’Neal Architect, LLC), moderated and spoke at the “Sustainable Affordable Housing” seminar at the recent AIA Tri-state Convention (NY State, NJ, and PA) in Atlantic City.

O’Neal encouraged architects to strive to minimize the first cost outlay and maximize the return in energy savings. He noted that since LEED certification is often not a feasible goal as many funding sources fail to support its high consulting fees, projects can enlist alternative rating systems, such as Enterprise Green Communities. O’Neal suggested that architects refer to online resources including the Affordable Housing Design Advisor, the Affordable Green Academy, and the NAHB National Green Building Program. The International Green Construction Code (IgCC), which is scheduled to be adopted in 2012, may eventually eliminate the need for rating systems altogether.

Panelists Thomas Barton (Barton Partners, Norristown, PA); Erick Ascencio (Danois Architects, NY); and Edward Martoglio (RPM Development, Montclair, NJ) discussed, respectively, three case studies of sustainable affordable developments: Hopewell Manor, a senior development in Elverson, PA; the Eltona in the Melrose redevelopment area of the Bronx, the first LEED Platinum, mixed-use, multifamily affordable project in the state; and Grand Central in Orange, NJ, the first multi-family building in NJ under the Climate Choice Program.

O’Neal identified 15 budget-minded sustainable items from the case study projects:

  1. Light-colored roof — White roofs reflect heat and reduce the heat island effect, a critical feature in dense urban areas.
  2. Low-flow toilets — Extra low-flow and dual flush toilets conserve water and should be considered despite the greater first cost.
  3. Flow restrictors on all fittings — The cost differential between good flow restrictors and great ones is negligible: Specify a great one.
  4. 90% efficient hot water heaters, condensing boilers — Potential energy savings makes up for the slightly more expensive first cost.
  5. Enhanced ventilation — Trickle vents and continuous direct venting are recommended.
  6. A well insulated envelope — This includes walls and roof. R values of the case study projects exceeded code requirements.
  7. Energy Star appliances — More appliances meet this standard each year.
  8. Fly ash — Important to use in concrete, for increased recycled content.
  9. FSC-certified wood floors and cabinets.
  10. Recycled wood kitchen cabinets.
  11. Urea formaldehyde-free adhesives in all laminate and veneers.
  12. Low-volatile organic compound (VOC) paints — available from every manufacturer.
  13. Vinyl tile with recycled content.
  14. Recycled steel studs.
  15. Resident Orientation — Providing orientation for residents and maintenance personnel on sustainable features ensures proper maintenance and increases efficiency.