Building green opens the door to inventive design, financing, and construction techniques and to higher performance for your project through the use of advanced equipment and novel approaches. Your project can break the mold and stay within budget as you can gain experience with these methods.

Green approaches offer opportunities for innovation at every step of the building process. A green affordable housing project might look like a conventional building on the outside, but your building team and the residents who move in will know that it is not just about looks; it's how it performs that counts.

Integrated design
Site selection and design
Schematic design
Design development

Integrated design

Integrated design is the biggest innovation of them all. When you get developers, architects, engineers, contractors, and community members to plan and design a building together, you create opportunities for valuable collaboration and critical communication from the beginning. The full team's combined experience and knowledge can create a truly high-performance building, one where all of the building components work in concert. Because everyone is working together from the start, the design and construction process will be smooth, balancing out increases in time spent up front with fewer call-backs and change orders along the way.


Commissioning of new construction and existing buildings ensures that systems are properly installed and performing to meet the design intent and the owner's needs

Site selection and design

Site selection and design is your first opportunity to have your affordable housing development contribute to the health of your community and the environment. Performing a complete site analysis will show you how to minimize environmental impacts and take advantage of a site's features.

  • Reclaiming a brownfield site may make your project eligible for tax benefits and reduce the cost of utility hookups.
  • A location with good transit access can ease parking requirements as well as help low-income residents and may open the door to an exemption from density restrictions.
  • Turning part of the property into a neighborhood park that absorbs rainfall will win favor with the community and local environmental officials. You may even save money due to the smaller development footprint and reduced need for stormwater management systems.
  • Adjacent buildings and trees will affect how much sunlight and wind can light, warm, and naturally ventilate your building. Use modeling tools to simulate weather patterns and best take advantage of these site characteristics.
  • Consider how renewable energy technologies, from solar photovoltaic (PV) panels to a geothermal heat pump, could work at the site. Funding is often available, and renewables may allow you to downsize and reduce costs for conventional heating and cooling systems.

Schematic design holds the greatest potential for green innovation.

  • Run a base-case building analysis to compare your green building to a standard at-code design. This will help you understand which design approaches can do the most for your project.
  • Integrate the architectural design with the energy design. Make your building's form improve its performance.
    • Design to maximize daylighting, passive solar heating, and natural ventilation. Use advanced energy modeling software to position windows where they will best capture sunlight and breezes. Natural heating, lighting, and ventilation could allow you to downsize mechanical and electrical systems.
    • A compact building footprint will increase energy efficiency and reduce materials use while potentially reducing site impacts.
    • Use whole-building energy modeling software to simulate design alternatives and to review decisions and changes.
  • Incorporate high-performance heating and cooling system designs that increase efficiency and comfort.
    • Maximize passive solar opportunities by installing flooring that absorbs and slowly releases heat from sunlight and landscaping with deciduous trees that shade in summer and let light in during the winter.
    • Use high-efficiency heating and cooling systems to significantly reduce energy costs for residents.
    • Consider radiant hydronic heating systems. These are even more efficient because they heat the air indirectly with water from the hot water heater.
    • Cogeneration, combined heat and power supply, results in a highly energy efficient system. Combining high-efficiency natural gas engine can generate electricity and provide waste heat for hot water supply, for example.

Design Development

  • Use advanced structural techniques
    • Advanced framing--increasing stud spacing, using header hangers instead of jack studs, among other framing techniques--saves wood and drywall while leaving more room for insulation to boost energy efficiency.
    • Structurally insulated panels (SIPs)--styrofoam sandwiches with strand board bread--can replace wood frame construction in exterior walls, roofs, and floors. SIPs improve energy and structural performance and soundproofing and reduce air infiltration. They are more expensive in terms of material costs but greatly speed up construction and save on labor costs. .
    • Modular construction takes the advantages of SIPs to the next level by using factory-finished, high-quality, and low-waste building blocks in place of labor intensive, on-site methods that greatly increase the chances of construction errors in sealing, insulation installation, and other areas.
  • Provide a constant supply of fresh air with a mechanical ventilation system. This ensures high quality indoor air and lets you seal each unit for efficient heating and cooling. Add a heat exchanger or desiccant wheel to further improve energy performance.
  • Choose materials with a life-cycle approach that looks at operating, maintenance, and replacement costs as well as environmental and health impacts. Read more about options like engineered lumber, concrete fiber siding, and salvaged wood on the Materials page.


  • Aim to divert at least 70 percent of construction and demolition waste with a waste management plan and job site recycling. See the Waste page
  • Make indoor air quality a priority with guidelines for ductwork installation, specifications for non-toxic and low VOC finishes and furnishings, and a pre-occupancy airing out period. See the Indoor Air Quality page for details.
  • Evaluate building performance during construction with inspections and systems testing. Make sure that everything is sealed properly as it is installed by bringing in a third-party commissioning agent and using duct blasters, infrared cameras, and other tools. Incorporate performance evaluation into the contract documents and work with contractors to make sure they can do the job right. Offer training if necessary.


Building affordable housing green also creates new opportunities for financing. At the same time, you may need to creatively manage your budget to minimize any first costs of green features. Experienced green developers build at no added cost, but others see a green premium of one to four percent.

Make the case for investment in high-performance design

  • Present your life-cycle cost analysis and projected operating cost savings to investors and insurers. Demonstrating that the building will cost less over time can attract financing and lower premiums.
  • Washington, DC now requires that affordable housing developments meet the Green Communities criteria in order to receive public financing. Montgomery County and the State of Maryland also require certain energy efficiency, health, and sustainability features. Maryland also offers tax credits for green buildings. Virginia awards points for green development features in the competition for low-income housing tax credits. Aim to win these valuable points and to make the case that your green homes are high quality homes when you apply for the credits.
  • Evaluate building performance after occupancy to measure the effectiveness of green design and components. Proof of operations and maintenance savings is a strong statement to investors for your next project. In addition, you can make products that perform well part of a standard green spec sheet and start negotiating for better prices.

A truly innovative project can attract financing

  • Take your innovative green development proposal to foundations, corporations, and government agencies. Show them how the project will benefit residents, the broader community, and the environment. Then ask for their help in making it happen.
  • Don't write off more expensive alternatives from the start. Look at their life-cycle cost savings and their potential to reduce other costs or to attract financing from unconventional sources. And remember that the prices for many newer or high quality technologies often fall over time.
  • Demonstration projects may be eligible for special funding from local, state, or even federal coffers. If you want to experiment with a new building design or technique, consider working with a U.S. Department of Energy research laboratory.

Create partners for funding

  • Bring on a general contractor early in the design process and designate a portion of the base construction budget for green. This gives the contractor money to spend on green, but a strong incentive to manage overall costs.
  • Work with government and utility officials to ensure your project's eligibility for rebates for energy efficiency, stormwater retention, renewable energy, and more. Renewable energy tax credits can bring in additional investors.
  • Look to partner with community groups, community developers, and regional nonprofits. They can provide the credibility and connections you need to tap government and foundation funding.