Jun 19, 2017
From helping my dad by sweeping floors as a kid to developing energy efficient projects today, I have been in the business of building my entire life. Knowing that my work will likely be around in 50 to 100 years, I enjoy taking care in designing and building high-quality buildings that will contribute to the community for generations.
Few developers are doing the kinds of clean, energy efficient building my company does. From simple fixes, like adding more insulation and choosing finishes that are designed to last, to big choices like orienting a building to take advantage of the light, we consider energy efficiency at every stage. It’s a risk to make these investments, as it’s hard to know whether a buyer of an investment property will pay more for these features.
Buildings that utilize energy efficient designs and include on-site solar energy cost less than other buildings over the long term because they save owners and renters money in heating, cooling, and lighting. They create more jobs due to the additional elements, but that also means they are more expensive to build, which creates a challenge.
People like me, who develop buildings, aren’t typically the same people who own them in the long term. Buyers won’t always pay more for efficient buildings, which creates a disconnect that can lead to choices focused on maximizing short-term gains. In addition, banks’ failure to consider building efficiency in determining financing can further increase the cost to deliver efficient buildings.
I see incentives like solar tax credits as important tools because they help address the disconnect between people who build and people who operate buildings. Incentives encourage developers to include energy measures that they might not otherwise pay for. There are many energy efficiency measures that are environmentally responsible and lower operating expenses for both owners and renters, but they aren’t all currently incentivized.
My most recent project, The Bridgetown, was designed by Siteworks Design Build and energy efficiency and durability are central to the design. It is a mixed-use building in Northeast Portland with commercial space on the first floor and 50 apartments above. The building employs some basic concepts such as efficient windows and additional insulation and more elaborate measures such as 21 kilowatts of on-site solar to entirely offset the common area energy use.
We started with a manual deconstruction of the existing building which reduces waste, provides jobs and helps neighbors integrate the changes they’re seeing. Each unit has an efficient heating system that includes heat pumps, convection heaters, and ceiling fans. The corridors between apartments are part of an exterior atrium, which means that these common areas won’t need to be heated or cooled. The open corridors also provide enough ventilation that the apartments should rarely require air conditioning.
On another project, designed for people earning middle incomes, we’re incorporating some elements that provide efficiency at lower cost, like insulation, high-performance windows, and solar powered site lighting. Employing more elaborate measures would create an additional expense that would make it difficult to keep rents accessible to people who can’t afford the top of the market.
One way I have been able to bring energy efficient apartments to fruition is by working with values-based investors who care about sustainability as well as the bottom line. I trust that I will find buyers who understand the long-term benefits of energy efficiency, so I can keep creating spaces for that are beautiful, functional, and environmentally responsible.