13 Sustainable Affordable Housing Ideas
December 15, 2020 AD&V
Exterior view of AD&v's Bayshore Villas affordable housing project.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR |  AD&V® is dedicated to advanced and energy-efficient sustainable architecture & interior design that enhances people’s experience of the world and improves their lives.

Affordable housing should not ignore its environment, it should always have a sense of place.

Well-designed affordable housing should do more than provide adequate, accessible and inexpensive shelter to lower-income households. A successful affordable housing project should contribute to the resilience of its community and city while taking the environment into consideration. Take a look at 13 sustainable ideas to implement in your next affordable housing project.

1. PRACTICE DAYLIGHTING

Daylighting is the controlled admission of natural light into a building with the purpose to reduce electricity and save energy. Daylighting lowers carbon emissions, increases the quality of the visual environment, improves user satisfaction and reduces operating expenses, all crucial to a successful affordable housing project. Effective daylighting and daylight harvesting practices in affordable housing development should result in significant energy savings and satisfied residents.

2. DESIGN FOR CROSS VENTILATION

Another way to you can help make affordable housing sustainable, is through cross ventilation. Cross ventilation is a natural cooling technique that eliminates the need for energy-intensive rooftop air conditioning. Is a technique that relies on the wind to force cool exterior air into the building, while it forces warm interior air to the outside. Building affordable housing that has living spaces that are organized in a linear fashion can facilitate cross ventilation.

3. INSTALL ENERGY EFFICIENT APPLIANCES

Install energy efficient appliances to lower the building’s energy use. When purchasing an energy efficient appliance, you should look for appliances with the ENERGY STAR label, which is a federal guarantee that the appliance will consume less energy than standard non-energy efficient models. Although energy efficient appliances usually have higher purchase prices, their operating costs are much lower than conventional models.

4. AIM FOR SOLAR ENERGY 

Use solar energy to give power to your affordable housing project. You can use solar energy by placing photovoltaic solar panels on the building’s rooftop to produce electricity from the sunlight. You can also use window films to lower heating and cooling expenses by reducing solar heat from the outside, reducing hot and cold spots inside, and helping to prohibit energy from escaping. Solar energy offsets traditional electricity costs while minimizing the community’s environmental footprint.

5. REUSE MATERIALS

Reuse building materials for the affordable housing construction. Reusing and extending the lifecycle of building materials can be used as a blueprint for deconstruction. Salvaging as much of the raw material during the demolition phase of a building through the on-site material segregation of metals, cardboard, bricks etc., cuts down the need to purchase building materials that can end up in landfills. Reusing building materials is a win-win!

6. GET LEED CERTIFIED

Green-building rating systems such as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is a certification that must meet strict environmental standards established by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED is for all building types and all building phases including new construction, interior fit outs, operations and maintenance, and core and shell. Getting LEED certified lets people know that your affordable housing project is environmentally responsible.

7. MAKE COMPACT STRUCTURES

Build affordable housing units set within a compact structure. Compact structures maintain the human scale of low-density projects that avoids cutting down more trees. For our Renaissance Square affordable housing project for example, we replaced the exiting high rise structures and designed the new affordable housing buildings to human scale. The project was in keeping with the surrounding environment and all buildings were grouped around a central, European-style plaza.

8. INVEST IN SOUND ABSORPTION PANELS

Place sound absorbing panels in your affordable housing walls or ceilings. Reducing the noise levels creates a more welcoming environment, reduces stress, and boosts productivity since it limits distracting noises. Adding sound absorbing panels to affordable housing, significantly reduces outdoor noise pollution while helping lower your environmental footprint.

9. INCLUDE ENERGY EFFICIENT AIR SYSTEMS

While installing air systems into your affordable housing project make sure that the system has an energy-saving setting. The energy-saving setting means that the air unit will turn off not only the compressor, but also the fan once your space has cooled off. Having this setting on conserves energy and cuts down on electricity costs.

10. USE NON-VOC PAINT

Use non-VOC paint to avoid harmful toxic chemicals and maintain good air quality in the building. Non-VOC paints help reduce the concentration of contaminants in the ozone layer, groundwater and landfills. Not to mention that non-VOC paints are also quick drying and don’t yellow. Paints with non-VOC not only benefit the environment, but your resident’s health too.

11. IMPLEMENT WATER USE REDUCTION METHODS

Reduce water consumption by installing water efficient appliances and equipment. Adding water efficient sinks, toilets, and fountains into your affordable housing project can save you money and divert less water from rivers, bays, and estuaries, which helps keep the environment healthy. It can also reduce water and wastewater treatment costs and the amount of energy used to treat, pump, and heat water.

12. BUY FORMALDEHYDE-FREE FURNITURE

According to the American Cancer Society, formaldehyde is a colorless, strong-smelling gas used in making building materials and many household furniture and products. It is used in pressed-wood products, glues and adhesives, permanent-press fabrics, paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. That’s why you should install for formaldehyde-free furniture in your affordable housing project in order to minimize the risk of formaldehyde exposure.

13. BUILD IN A SUSTAINABLE SITE

Build affordable housing in a sustainable site. A sustainable site is one that provides a wide variety of services at walking distance such as restaurants, fitness center, shops, and entertainment areas. The more walkable places residents have near, the less they have to travel by cars, buses, or other types of vehicles and prevent more carbon emissions from entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The goal of a sustainable site is to help protect our planet and create a safe and inviting social atmosphere that will attract residents and visitors from all walks of life.

As you can see, well-designed affordable housing developments can have a substantial positive impact on the surrounding communities, particularly in urban environments. Designers have the ability to design projects that support the physical, mental and social well-being of the people who live and work in those spaces while providing innovative solutions to existing and potential environmental problems.

FURTHER READING: WHY SUSTAINABLE ARCHITECTURE MATTERS

2 Comments

  1. Fernando Abruña, FAIA 11 months ago

    Excelente resumen de las estrategias principales de sostenibilidad.
    Saludos Sostenibles

    • AD&V
      AD&V 11 months ago

      ¡Muchas gracias Fernando!

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