Pick and Choose

Yes, you can build green on a constrained affordable housing budget, but you can't have it all. In fact, some green building strategies may not even work well for your project, such as those that require components that are difficult to service in your area. So how do you choose which green features to make part of your development?

Build well to build green
Design for life...and bottom line
Analysis and teamwork make the best decisions
Spec it out, write it up

Build well to build green

The most important choice you make is to build a high-quality building. Look to save by maximizing performance, not by avoiding costs or adding flashy features. A well-built or well-renovated development is the goal behind the essential, if not required, items in any set of green building standards or guidelines.

  • Insulate, insulate, insulate. Take care to properly install and inspect insulation in floors, walls, and attics. Insulate pipes and ducts to deliver hot and cold water and air and to prevent condensation. This cornerstone of energy efficiency opens the door to other money-saving choices and helps ensure good indoor air quality.
  • Seal tight. Any leak in a duct, any crack under an apartment door is reducing a home's comfort and efficiency. Careful construction and commissioning can make the difference.
  • Invest in the envelope. A durable, high performance building envelope keeps summer heat, winter cold, and moisture at bay. Pay more for energy-efficient windows and high quality roofing and siding (or use brick). Thoughtfully designed awnings, overhangs, and trim will make your building last.
  • Right-size heating, cooling, and ventilation systems and choose efficient equipment and thoughtful locations for it that will deliver life-long savings.

Design for life...and bottom line

Let life-cycle costs be your guide to meeting social, environmental, and financial bottom lines. An efficient, durable, and healthy building costs much less to operate and has a much smaller impact on the environment and residents' health over its lifetime.

  • Efficiency and durability depend more on care in design and construction than on cost. Check out these no or low-cost green building strategies.
  • Innovative design approaches and resource-efficient construction techniques can reduce first costs and long-term operating costs. Read more on the Innovate page.
  • Evaluate all building materials for their life-cycle costs and their environmental and health impacts. Green alternatives are available for everything from concrete to countertops. Work with your contractors to ensure proper installation. Read more on the Materials and Life Cycle Assessment pages.

Analysis and teamwork make the best decisions

By informing your decision-making from the start with building and energy simulations and incorporating your whole team's input in the integrated design process, you are in a good position to make solid green choices.

  • Use computer simulations to direct design decisions from initial goal-setting through to construction modifications. Use an advanced, whole-building model, not software from equipment manufacturers. (Check out our list of suggested energy simulation, moisture modeling, and other software here.)

Schematic design. Run a base-case building analysis for the equivalent conventional project to understand which design strategies will do the most to make your development efficient and healthy.

Design Development and Construction. Re-evaluate suggested design changes using computer simulations for their impacts on building performance.

  • Listen to all of your project team members. Their experience with green practices will help you overcome obstacles and better understand where training or additional information is needed. Involving contractors in the design process gives them added responsibility for getting the job done right and incorporating green requirements and goals in their contracts keeps everyone focused on producing a high performance green project.
  • Keep your project goals in mind. As you make design decisions to achieve green and stay within budget, remember what you prioritized for your development. Consider setting aside a small percentage of your budget to help keep green goals on track if construction costs rise.

Spec it out, write it up

Develop product specifications, contract language, and construction documents that make your green choices clear to contractors and subcontractors. Set expectations by incorporating specifications into bid and contract documents.

Product specifications

  • Do the homework to be sure that products, services, recycling facilities, and other resources are available locally. Provide brand names and contact information if possible.
  • Specify requirements for each product type: performance measures, recycled content levels, waste diversion percentages, toxics and VOC avoidance, and other relevant parameters. Refer to product rating systems like Energy Star.
  • As you gain experience with certain products and methods, create a standard set of specifications for items like interior and exterior finishes, roofing, insulation materials, flooring, appliances, and furnishings. Using these items on every project might let you get a volume discount from the supplier. (See below for example specifications lists.)

Construction documents

  • Because energy efficiency and moisture control depend on careful sealing and proper installation of insulation, provide detailed construction documents to make sure that the job gets done right.
  • Waste reduction strategies also require detailed documentation for cut-offs, storage, and disposal.
  • Precise instructions allow your commissioning agent to hold contractors responsible for their work.

Contract and bid documents

  • Bid documents should make it clear that bidders will be held responsible for their work and for meeting relevant green building standards and waste management, indoor air quality, and other goals. Contract documents should formalize these roles and responsibilities.
  • By including specifications, you set green expectations from day one. One good way to clarify your goals is to include benchmarks, such as "20 percent more efficient than the code requires." It is also helpful to note the need for energy modeling and life-cycle analysis. (See below for example bid and contract language.)



Bid & contract languague:

Writing the Green RFP or AIA_s_Green_RFP_Document.pdf , American Institute of Architects (PDF)

Green RFP Guide , New Ecology, Inc. (PDF)

Innovations in Affordable Housing RFP , City of Portland (PDF)

Evergreen Affordability, Section 1: Getting Started in Affordable Sustainable Housing , National Center for Appropriate Technology

Cost savings & durability:

A Builder's Guide to Marketable, Affordable and Durable Entry-level Homes

TOP 20 No or Low Cost Green Home Building Strategies, Global Green

PATH's Affordable Green Save Later page

Durability By Design: A Guide for Residential Builders and Designers , PATH

Building Green on a Budget, Environmental Building News

Learn more on the Improved Life-cycle Costs and Lower Construction Costs pages.