Pick and Choose

Yes, developers can build green on a constrained affordable housing budget, but they will have to make compromises. Green building policies should set priorities that ensure that developers address key health, economic, and environmental issues. In Washington, DC, asthma and stormwater runoff are at the top of the list. As they support these objectives, government regulations and incentives should push developers to make choices that will improve overall building performance and do so cost-effectively.

Build well to build green
Design for life...and bottom line
Analysis and teamwork make the best decisions
Specs and plans for green

Build well to build green

Emphasize that a developer's most important choice is to build a high-quality building. Savings will come 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. The following best practices should become part of reviews by government agencies (or contracted third-party inspectors). Working with commissioning agents may offer a cost-effective way to ensure quality.

  • Insulation. Highlight proper installation and inspection of insulation in floors, walls, and attics. Check that pipes and ducts are insulated to efficiently 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.
  • Envelope investment. A durable, high performance building envelope keeps summer heat, winter cold, and moisture at bay. The cost of energy-efficient windows and high quality roofing and siding (or brick) is well worth it. Thoughtfully designed awnings, overhangs, and trim will make a building last.
  • Right-sized heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, efficient equipment, and thoughtful locations for it will deliver life-long savings.

Design for life...and bottom line

Governments have significant incentives to support life-cycle cost analysis for materials, assemblies, and buildings themselves. Recycling reduces landfill costs and problems and can create jobs. Inefficient buildings increase the costs of utility operation. Polluted rivers like the Anacostia hamper commercial development.

Help developers make life-cycle costs their 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. Emphasize and consider providing incentives for green design consultants and commissioning agents who can advise development teams, especially those builders who lack green experience. One option may be to allow some project review through third-party commissioning.
  • Encourage innovative design approaches and resource-efficient construction techniques can reduce first costs and long-term operating costs. Read more on the Innovate page.
  • Compile resources on the life-cycle costs and environmental and health impacts of standard building materials. If desirable green alternatives are available, consider starting a bulk purchasing program through the city or county that would reduce prices for developers. You will find excellent green options for everything from concrete to countertops. Invite manufacturers to give onsite product demonstrations to ensure proper installation. Read more on the Materials and Life Cycle Assessment pages.

Analysis and teamwork make the best decisions

Design green building policy to support integrated design. Informing decision-making from the start with building and energy simulations and incorporating the whole development team's input in the integrated design process puts a project in position to make good green choices.

Explore how government can push developers to use computer simulations to advise the building process. Advanced, whole-building models, unlike software from equipment manufacturers, can direct design decisions from initial goal-setting through to construction modifications. Two points in the development process are particularly important:

Schematic design. A base-case building analysis for the equivalent conventional project will illustrate which design strategies will do the most to make the building efficient and healthy.
Design Development and Construction. Re-evaluate suggested design changes to understand their impacts on building performance.

Specs and plans for green

Product specifications, contract language, and construction documents should make designers' green choices clear to contractors and subcontractors. Just as green requirements in government funding RFPs ensure that project planning, design, and budgeting account for green, developers canset expectations by incorporating specifications into bid and contract documents. Remember that these details can be time intensive to hammer out but are important for building performance and resident health. Note the suggestions below on how to share information and reduce costs.

Product specifications

  • When local businesses provide green building products and services, the environment and the economy win. Government assistance in connecting builders to regional businesses and resources like recycling facilities will help develop the Washington, DC green building market. To start, refer developers to Greenspace's regional green building listings.
  • Compile and share product requirements such as those developed by the DC Housing Authority. Small developers will have trouble researching each product type for performance measures, recycled content levels, waste diversion percentages, toxics and VOC avoidance, and other relevant parameters. Refer to product rating systems like Energy Star.
  • Government purchasing of green building products can help open the market by obtaining lower prices through bulk purchasing, bringing in producer representatives for demonstrations, or even attracting manufacturing facilities to the region.

Construction documents

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

Contract and bid documents

  • Guage a developer's commitment to green by asking to see how green building is built into bid documents for contractors. These 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.
  • Encourage developers to include specifications that 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.
  • Materials and assemblies can cause problems if contractors are not familiar with them. It is important for the development team to work together on product choices, yet another reason that the integrated design process is so valuable.



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:

PATH's Affordable Green Save Later page

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