Natural Partners: Pairing Affordable Housing with Renewable Energy

Going hand in hand with its mission to provide safe, attractive and affordable homes in good neighborhoods, Mountain Housing Opportunities (MHO) is committed to building energy-efficient and environmentally sustainable buildings. 

The Asheville Housing Authority (AHA) has invested more than $10 million in energy efficiency improvements in MHO’s communities over the last 15 years. 

So when the two organizations partnered to develop Maple Crest at Lee Walker Heights, an affordable-housing apartment complex in downtown Asheville, there was no doubt that energy efficiency would play a large role in its design and construction. MHO and AHA worked to make Maple Crest Apartments as energy efficient as possible through the implementation of energy efficient HVAC systems, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and white TPO (Thermoplastic Polyolefin) cool roofs. 

While the development was under construction, Rich Olejniczak, senior real estate developer at MHO, identified a new funding source from the North Carolina Housing Finance Agency which allowed the development team to consider adding rooftop solar. 

Both AHA and MHO knew that solar energy would provide environmental and economic benefits for many years to come, but anyone who has ever built an apartment building knows that rooftop solar can be difficult to pair with multifamily construction due to the large number of rooftop plumbing penetrations and mechanical equipment. 

All solar systems are go at Maple Crest Apartments at Lee Walker Heights. Photo courtesy of Michael Churchman.

With these concerns about rooftop solar in mind, AHA and MHO brought our team on board to conduct full feasibility studies, through which four buildings were selected to house the solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays. During design and engineering, we carefully planned the layout of the arrays to address clients’ concerns and ensure efficient use was made of the apartment buildings’ large roof areas.

However, maximizing roof space wasn’t the only challenge. We also had to consider an allowance of only 8 pounds per square foot of additional loading capacity, as well as the relatively high winds that frequent the apartment complex. As our clients and the residents of Maple Crest Apartments can attest, it can get windy on top of a four-story building on top of the site. We ultimately designed the PV systems to withstand 115 mph winds. 

In the fall of 2021, the project was ready to go out to bid and another North Carolina solar company with an Asheville presence was selected to install the solar arrays. Our team continued to work on the project as construction administrator, providing inspections at key milestones and serving as the liaison between our clients, the installer, and the utility. Working within the aforementioned design constraints, the construction team was able to install the solar panels using a flat roof racking system and a combination of ballast blocks and mechanical attachments to make for a safe and sound installation. 

“We were very pleased to work with the Asheville Housing Authority and two local solar companies to create one of the largest rooftop solar arrays (if not the largest) in downtown Asheville,” MHO Executive Director Scott Dedman said. “Affordable housing and renewable energy are such natural partners because lower utility bills help us to keep our housing affordable for the next generation. These systems will also help meet Asheville and Buncombe County’s ambitious goals for renewable energy.” 

The combined efforts of all these organizations resulted in 176 kWdc of solar capacity generating more than 243,000 kWh of renewable energy across four separate PV systems, making Maple Crest Apartments home to one of the largest solar arrays in downtown Asheville.  

But our clients are not resting on these sunny laurels.  MHO has recently ramped up implementation of solar PV systems with the generous philanthropic support from Mrs. Erna Earle in memory of her late husband Mr. Norman Earle, one of the founders of MHO.  Through the support of a legacy gift from the Earle family, MHO installed a 47 kW PV system at Eagle Market Place in downtown Asheville and a 17 kW PV system at East Haven Apartments in Swannanoa and plans to install another significant PV system in the coming year. 

We applaud their dedication to creating affordable, environmentally sustainable housing and continued efforts to support Asheville and Buncombe County’s ambitious goals for renewable energy.

Rebecca Morris is the director of marketing for Pisgah Energy. Pisgah Energy provides comprehensive solar and energy storage design and development services for commercial, institutional and municipal clients throughout the Southeast. Connect with Rebecca at

Project Team:

Development TeamAsheville Housing Authority and Mountain Housing Opportunities

BuilderWeaver Cooke Construction

Architectural TeamMcMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture and David Baker Architects

Civil EngineeringCivil Design Concepts

Solar Designer and Construction AdministratorPisgah Energy

Solar ContractorEagle Solar & Light

Solar Panel Equipment(415) Q-Cell 425W Modules

Solar Racking EquipmentPanelClaw’s claw FR10⁰

Solar Inverter Equipment(10) SolarEdge Three Phase Inverters

You can also view this article as it was originally published on page 24 of the 2022-23 edition of the directory.