Green Is Affordable
The affordable housing movement has not only accepted green building, but is making it integral to its work.
For a long time, green building was seen as a luxury. However, over the past 5 to 10 years affordable housing advocates have steadily figured out that a great majority of “green building” is in fact common sense that supports quality affordable housing: better windows, more insulation, construction materials that don’t make residents sick, improved ventilation, better lighting, and greater access to the surrounding community and transportation. Green and affordable pioneers have been steadily bringing these standards into all corners of the industry.
Evolution of Green Building
Green building originated out of energy conservation efforts of the 1970s. While many of those initial efforts fell to the wayside once energy costs became cheaper and more stable, cities such as Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo., continued to focus on ways to increase the energy efficiency of the homes and buildings in their community. In 1985, Austin adopted its first energy code and began rating single-family homes on their energy performance; within five years, the program had expanded to include water conservation, efficient materials use, and solid waste handling.
Austin Energy Green Building is now celebrating 20 years in the market. Since its inception, it has certified 10,000 green homes, saved over 53.6 million kilowatt hours of electricity and 65.8 million gallons of water, and diverted 120,698 tons of construction waste from local landfills.
Boulder launched its GreenPoints Program in 1994 and in 1996 became the first municipality in the country to mandate green building codes for residential construction. These programs are the pioneers of today’s green building movement.
Throughout the 1990s, other energy efficiency and green building efforts emerged. At the federal level, the Environmental Protection Agency launched the Energy Star label for homes in 1995. Energy Star focuses on energy improvements in several key areas: high-performance windows, tight construction and ducts, and efficient cooling and heating systems, and involves third-party verification. In 1999, Southface Energy and the Greater Atlanta Home Building Association launched the EarthCraft House Program. EarthCraft is now offered throughout the southeast and a good portion of the mid-Atlantic region (see p. 36). Green building programs also began popping up in Wisconsin, California, Washington, and numerous other states throughout the 1990s and early 2000s.
While none of these sets of standards specifically targeted affordable housing, some affordable developers took note and started incorporating green building practices into their projects.
Noreen Beatley is a consultant on green building, affordable housing, and sustainable communities. She was formerly the director of state and local policy for Enterprise Community Partners. As a consultant, she has worked with the National Center for Healthy Housing and the National Housing Conference, and is currently working with the U.S. Green Building Council on their Affordable Housing Initiative.