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32 Ways to Make Your Real Estate Better for the Planet

By Trevor T. Calton, MBA

President of Evergreen Capital




Do you care about the impact your properties have on the environment? If not, you should. Studies have shown that environmentally-friendly upgrades can return over ten-fold the investment. Below are 32 ways to make your existing apartment property more ‘green’.


Identify Your Property's Needs

What are the priorities? Consider pressing issues, long-term impact, resident comfort, amenities, and owner liability.


Look For The Low-Hanging Fruit

Few owners have unlimited resources. Evaluate your needs and priorities, then examine your available capital. See where you get the most bang for your buck and start there. Use an integrated approach and look for synergies:

  • Low-cost

  • Short payback periods

  • Increase the attractiveness of the asset to potential tenants.

  • Easy

Start there, and work your way down the list.


Make a plan

Owners should include the entire asset management team when undertaking sustainability projects. Invite maintenance personnel, property managers, site managers, contractors, and architects where applicable. It’s also not a bad idea to inform your tenants of your plans. They are more likely to be accommodating of any inconveniences when they have the opportunity to ‘buy in’ from the beginning.


Install Energy-Efficient Lighting

Replace incandescent lights with LED bulbs. LED bulbs and ballasts can last over 10 years, use hardly any power, are safer, and increase efficiency. Start with common area lights and upgrade residents’ units on turnover. Install motion sensors in laundry rooms, community areas, and parking lots to further reduce costs.


Upgrade Appliances

By now, everyone should know about Energy Star appliances. If your appliances are still avocado-green and look like a 1980’s-era cable box, it’s time to upgrade. Energy Star appliances use significantly less resources and are often eligible for rebates. For example, many newer clothes washers use less water, and dryers have moisture sensors that turn the machine off when clothes are dry.


Insulate Hot Water Heaters

Insulate water heaters to prevent heat loss and increase their performance. This will increase hot-water life and reduce utility bills. If possible, insulate pipes to reduce the amount of energy needed to keep hot water flowing throughout the building.


Install Controls On Central Boilers

Anyone who has ever lived in a building with an old boiler knows how inefficient and wasteful they can be. Units are either too hot or too cold, and resident complaints can be rampant. Install reset/cutout controls so that the boiler operates as needed. Your utility costs will drop, and your tenants will thank you.


Weatherize The Building

Keep your building envelope tight and reduce energy loss by utilizing or updating:

  • Insulation

  • Caulking

  • Weather-stripping

  • Window seals

  • Door-sweeps


Upgrade Windows

New, energy-efficient, double-paned windows reduce heating and cooling costs significantly. They work by mitigating the temperature difference between the indoors and outside. New windows also better protect the structure from leaks, pests, and other harmful elements.


Create Window Shade

For southern-facing windows, provide some form of awning, overhang, or landscaping for shade. This can reduce cooling needs, save energy, and increase interior comfort during summer.


Install Solar Power

If you’re not already thinking about solar energy, you should be. Solar is getting cheaper and more accessible to everyone. Costs associated with solar panels, installation, battery storage, and financing continue to fall. Savings on electricity for both you and your tenants can be significant. Residents will love saving money on their utility bills, increasing your property's value. Combine that with available tax credits, and you have a win-win for everyone.


Install Solar Water Heaters

Solar water heaters reduce the energy costs for swimming pools, water heaters, and laundry facilities. They also extend the length of the swimming season, adding value to the property. Solar water heaters don’t use photovoltaics like solar panels. Instead, they use the sun’s energy to preheat the water. This reduces the amount of energy needed to bring the water up to the desired temperature.


Install Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans contribute to resident comfort and reduce energy costs year-round. During the winter, operate the ceiling fan clockwise at low speed to produce an updraft of warm air. This results in less heat needed to maintain the same comfort level. In the summer, switch the fan counter-clockwise. It will produce a downward draft, creating a wind-chill effect without air conditioning. Be sure to find Energy-Star ceiling fans for optimal efficiency.


Install Bathroom Fans And Timers

To reduce mold and rot, bathroom fans should vent outside and control the exhaust automatically. Install fans with timers connected to the light switch that run for a pre-set time after being turned on. Or use humidistat sensors that automatically run when moisture is present.


Install Low Water-Use Fixtures

Low-flow shower heads, sink aerators, and high-efficiency toilets save water, energy, and money. They usually pay for themselves in less than one year.


Test Drainage And Storm Water Retention

When water flows over pavement to storm drains and into the watershed, it carries with it harmful elements such as oil, pesticides, fertilizers, pet waste, and other chemicals. Ground soil acts as nature’s water filter, using microbial life and earth to break down these chemicals and clean the water. Disconnect downspouts and redirect water runoff to stay on the property and out of the watershed.


Improve Irrigation Systems And Controllers

High-efficiency irrigation systems can reduce water usage, evaporation, and runoff by a lot. Smart controllers sense weather, rain, and soil moisture levels. These systems also help prevent plant disease and weed growth.


Optimize Swimming Pool Pumps and Heaters

Be sure to replace pumps and motors with energy-efficient models that use no more than 3/4 horsepower. Slower pumps are as effective as higher powered pumps, and this can reduce costs while extending the life of the motor.


Use Recycled Paint

For exterior repainting, specify at least 50% post-industrial or post-consumer recycled-content paint. Using recycled paint reduces the amount of paint that ends up in landfills. Recycled paint isn’t recommended for interior use.


Siding

Explore environmentally friendly exterior siding options such as fiber cement, stucco, metal, brick or stone. These products tend to be durable and easy to maintain. FSC-certified wood siding is made with sustainably harvested wood.


Insulation

If a renovation or rehab project has you taking down drywall, this is a good time to take a look at your insulation. But even if you’re not going ‘down to the studs’ you can still opt for blown-in insulation. Cellulose insulation works well to reduce noise between units and improve thermal performance. It's mostly made from recycled newspaper.


Roofing Materials

The roof is the most important aspect of a building’s envelope. Invest in durable roofing materials, as failure can cause serious damage to the rest of the structure. Look for sustainable options such as solar, tile, slate, or sheet metal. Install with a radiant barrier for best performance. I predict solar panel roof shingles will be ubiquitous someday.


Build A Green Roof

For flat roofs, green roofs are a great use of the space. These rooftop gardens combine vegetation and soil, planted on a waterproof membrane. They reduce roof temperature, cooling costs, storm water runoff, and outdoor noise transfer. They also reduce sewage system loads, protect roofing material from UV rays, and absorb carbon dioxide. A green roof can also provide a space for a community garden, a popular amenity among residents.


The options for making your apartment property more sustainable are virtually unlimited. For more information and extra resources, including a building walk-through checklist, visit www.bayarealisc.org.

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