Energy Efficient Homes for All: Affordable Housing and Energy Efficiency Are Perfect Pair
At one point in time, only wealthy folks could afford cell phones. The same has happened with electric cars, computers, television sets and many other feats of technology. Over time, more and more people have access to these commodities because prices fall as supply grows and the cost of production gets reduced by economies of scale.
Though one could argue that most people can lead a safe and healthy life without many of the products mentioned, the same cannot be said of housing. Everyone needs a home in order to lead a life with dignity, health and safety, regardless of income.
While populations in cities are growing, housing permits and unit production are not keeping up with the demand. This makes access to housing very expensive, if not unaffordable, for families perceived to be middle class, let alone for folks in the lower socioeconomic levels of society.
Dollars and sense
Besides the monthly cost of mortgage or rent payments, there are many other costs calculated into the housing cost such as electricity, water, natural gas, taxes, insurance, associations, maintenance, transportation, cable, internet, sewer, garbage pickup, and the list goes on and on.
While it’s true that some energy-efficient features in a home result in added expense to construction, the truth is that the vast majority of green features are standard fixtures which simply have improved their efficiency with time and technology. Just like cell phones and smart TVs, the prices of many green technologies have dropped to the point of being as affordable as non-efficient competition and in some cases even less expensive.
Moreover, some of these efficient fixtures are now required by the building code. Some examples include low-flow plumbing faucets and shower heads; LED and CFL high-efficiency light fixtures; wall, roof and flooring insulation; energy-efficient appliances; and many others.
Additionally, these energy-efficient features result in a home that improves health for its occupants, contributes to the environment by using less energy, and lowers building operational costs.
All this is to say that by integrating relatively basic practices and materials by today’s standards in the dwellings we build, we can provide healthier homes to the users, reduce energy and water consumption, and save money while we’re at it. Who doesn’t like that idea?
That is exactly what we at Homeward Bound intend to do. As we enter into the development of one-bedroom, one-bath dwelling units throughout Asheville and Buncombe County, it is our intention to apply most of these green features on rehabilitations and go for certification with new ones.
To that end, Homeward Bound acquired Key Commons, an 11-unit apartment complex at 296 Short Michigan Avenue in Asheville, in October 2019. After Homeward Bound’s extensive renovations, there will be 11 of the one-bedroom, one-bathroom, 400-square-foot units, and two of the two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 700-square-foot units.
Among the energy-efficient features being installed, the units will be getting cool roofs, R-30 attic insulation, R-19 floor insulation, beefed up wall insulation, new Low-E windows, low-flow plumbing fixtures, LED light fixtures, building-envelope sealant, as well as energy-efficient appliances and mechanical systems. All units are expected to be completed by the beginning of 2021.
Homeward Bound uses the Housing First approach to get people experiencing homelessness into housing. Referrals for housing services happen when people who are experiencing homelessness visit our AHOPE Day Center or through referrals from our community partners. Since 2006, Homeward Bound has moved more than 2,050 people off the streets and out of cars, camps and shelters into permanent homes.
For us, it is not really a question of whether we should go for these green practices; it is a must.
Most, if not all, of our clients rely on very low incomes to afford housing along with all their other expenses of life. By going green, we are ensuring that their utility and building-operation expenses are kept at a minimum. It also gives us peace of mind that our buildings will last longer and their systems will run more efficiently. More often than not, the savings realized through the use of green features mean the difference between our clients being able to access a safe, high-performing and healthier home versus a dwelling that is not.
Affordable housing should be synonymous with sustainable housing, and there’s no better way of making a building sustainable than by implementing energy-efficient features.
As if all of this wasn’t enough incentive, builders, developers, home buyers, owner builders, and pretty much anyone building or renovating a home can access discounted financing solutions as a result of including these green-building practices into their projects from federal institutions such as Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration. These discounts can come in the form of interest-rate reductions, increased loan proceeds, rebates and more.
Both building users and building managers have a large responsibility to the greater community. By ensuring that the buildings and their systems are used in the way they are intended, we are further advancing the idea of affordable and sustainable living.
Don’t forget to turn off the light when you leave the room!
Project Team breakout box:
Developer — Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina
General Contractor — Corner Rock Construction
Green Savings table:
Here is a list of potential savings that green features can bring into a building’s operational costs in one year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy:
|Recommended Action||Potential Savings
(as percentage of utility bills)
|Average Annual Savings in Dollars (actual savings vary)|
|Install exterior Low-E windows||12 to 33 percent annually on heating and cooling bills||$100 to $274|
|Seal uncontrolled leaks||10 to 20 percent on annual heating and cooling bills||$83 to $166|
|Plant shade trees||15 to 50 percent of annual air-conditioning costs||$35 to $119|
|Use a power strip for electronic equipment and turn it off when not in use||Up to 12 percent of electric bill per year||$100|
|Replace an older toilet that uses six gallons per flush with a WaterSense-labeled model||$100|
|Turn back your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees for eight hours a day||Up to 10 percent annually on heating and cooling bills||$42 to $83|
|Weatherstrip double hung windows||5 to 10 percent annually on heating and cooling bills||$83|
|Replace your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with models certified by ENERGY STAR®||9 percent on electricity bill annually||$75|
|Lower water-heating temperature||4 to 22 percent annually on water-heating bill||$12 to $60|
|Insulate water heating tank||7 to 16 percent annually on water-heating bill||$20 to $45|
|Insulate hot water pipes||3 to 4 percent annually on water-heating bill||$8 to $12|
|Fix leaky faucets; one drip per second wastes 1,661 gallons of water per year||$35|
|Use sleep mode and power-management features on your computer||Up to 4 percent of annual electric bill||$30|
|Total Potential Savings*||$723 to $1,182|
* All actual savings will vary depending on home, climate, products and use.
Santiago Cely is the facilities and housing development director at Homeward Bound of Western North Carolina. Santiago is a strong advocate of affordable housing and has been developing it in South Florida for the past decade. He recently moved to North Carolina and joined Homeward Bound to help in the fight to end homelessness in the community. Connect with Santiago at homewardboundwnc.org.
You can also view this article as it was originally published on pages 18-19 of the 2020-2021 edition of the directory.