Building green opens the door to innovative design, financing, and construction techniques and to higher building performance through the use of advanced equipment and novel approaches. Policy decisions that work with these methods can realize the social, environmental, and economic benefits of green development while helping developers keep projects within budget .

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 it is performance, for resident and regional health, community, and economic security, that counts.

Integrated design
Innovation in the design process

Integrated design

Integrated design is the biggest innovation of them all. When developers, architects, engineers, contractors, government officials, and community members plan and design a building together, they 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. Government support for an integrative process, especially through the permitting and funding processes, is important to green building's success.


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. It plays an important role in realizing the energy savings that pay back any additional costs of green building. In addition, commissioning may offer governments opportunities to streamline review processes by relying on third-party commissioning agents and a developed reporting process built around integrative design.

Site selection and design

A government strategy to make green affordable housing available throughout the city or county and to prioritize locations with good access to services and transportation will let it contribute to the health of the community and the environment. Once a site is chosen, a complete site analysis will show the developer how to minimize environmental impacts and take advantage of a natural and neighborhood features.

  • Reclaiming a brownfield site may open the door to federal funding and make a project eligible for tax benefits. Government assistance in identifying those opportunities and facilitating additional permitting can help renew these sites as valuable pieces of their neighborhoods.
  • A location with good transit access can ease parking requirements while helping low-income residents. Consider granting exemptions from parking requirements, introducing Zipcar, and extending bus or shuttle service, where appropriate.
  • Encourage developers to turn part of the property into a neighborhood park that absorbs rainfall and provides a community gathering space. A smaller development footprint reduces the need for stormwater management systems and thus may even save money.
  • Adjacent buildings and trees will affect how much sunlight and wind can light, warm, and naturally ventilate a building. Street tree, parks, and stormwater officials can work with developers to take advantage of existing trees, protect then during construction, and plant new ones.
  • City or county efforts to map solar, wind, and geothermal resources can help determine how renewable energy technologies could work at the site. Existing or proposed legislation offers incentives in much of the National Capital Region, and renewables may allow developers to downsize and reduce costs for conventional heating and cooling systems.

Innovation in the design process

Green building policies that guide developers to smart, innovative choices early in the design process will have the biggest impact.

  • In schematic design, consider requirements and incentives for benchmarking and modeling. Both are especially important at this stage. Base-case building analysis, energy modeling, and high performance systems can yield significant energy savings.
  • In design development, let architects and engineers know that green systems like combined heat and power, advanced framing, SIPs, and mechanical ventilation will satisfy code and green building requirements. Help developers and contractors 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 design innovation from the builder's Innovation page.


  • Compile a list of local recycling facilities and then ask developers to meet diversion goals of at least 70 percent of construction and demolition waste. See the Waste page for details.
  • Make indoor air quality a priority with guidelines and inspections 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 using duct blasters, infrared cameras, and other tools. Consider allowing third-party inspection by a government authorized commissioning agent.


Green affordable housing creates new opportunities for financing. At the same time, it is important to work with developers to manage the first costs of green features. Experienced green developers build at no added cost, but others see a green premium, although one with a sensible payback.
Regional governments have recognized that green affordable housing is a good investment.

  • 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.

Invest in high-performance design

  • Review life-cycle cost analysis and projected operating cost savings to understand how the green project will pay for itself over time.
  • Evaluate building performance after occupancy to measure the effectiveness of green design and components. Proof of operations and maintenance savings will advise investments in new projects, and evaluations let developers and builders know that you expect durable, efficient, healthy construction.
  • In addition, you can make products that perform well part of a standard green spec sheet and consider bulk purchasing to help builders negotiate for better prices.

Partners for funding

  • Work with utility officials to ensure the project's eligibility for rebates for energy efficiency, stormwater retention, renewable energy, and more. Renewable energy tax credits can bring in additional investors.
  • If a developer wants to incorporate big-ticket innovative technologies, ensure that they have a proven track record. If the payback is unclear, encourage the developer apply for funding from foundations or government agencies, including research laboratories.