Senior housing, like the rest of the world, is going green. Or, at least, it’s starting down that path. Increasingly, new senior housing complexes are being built with green features.
Recently, for instance, Cypresswood Estates opened in Houston, Tex., billing itself as an “affordable Active Adult green community.”
The facility includes solar panels, low-flow toilets, trails made with recycled materials, and cabinets constructed from sustainable wood products. Due to its design, Cypresswood says on its website that its residents use 80 percent less water and 35 percent less energy than they would in an average community.
SummerGlen in Ocala, Fla. is another retirement community that markets its environmental features, emphasizing that it meets the green home building standards of the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB). All of the community’s homesites use water conservation methods and make use of energy-efficient and recycled building materials.
Many other facilities exist across the country or are in the works. Some are new buildings, and others are being renovated. Often, these green facilities seek Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification, which designates that they have the highest possible standards when it comes to their green efforts.
The Color of Money
There are a number of programs that provide financial incentives for builders going green. For instance, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Green Refinance Plus, which grows out of the Fannie Mae/FHA Risk-Share program, funds projects that refinance, preserve, and retrofit older multifamily housing to make it more energy-efficient.
HUD also recently offered $25 million to help the make multifamily residential properties more green, and much of that money is going to senior housing projects around the country.
Often, the financial and ethical incentives of building green are there even without any federal help, however. A case in point: The Knoll at Tigard Apartments, a green senior apartment building in a suburb of Portland, Ore. that was built within a tight $10.8 million budget, with the goal of providing green, affordable housing for seniors.
The builders used locally-sourced materials, built energy-efficient walls, included in the design a 15,000-gallon cistern for collecting rainwater, and planted drought-resistant plants in the landscaping.
The complex opened in early 2011 and meets the criteria of Enterprise Green Communities — a national green building program that emphasizes affordable housing.
Greening senior housing need not mean elaborate retrofitting or building green from scratch. With older facilities, particularly assisted living and nursing facilities, sometimes the best ways of going green are a collection of relatively simple steps, such as changing to compact florescent light (CFL) bulbs, putting in energy-efficient windows, upgrading appliances, recycling, composting, and using green cleaning methods and products.It’s not always easy being green, but the greening of senior housing is likely to continue, with builders looking for new and creative ways of saving energy, providing affordable housing, and just doing the right thing.
When the economy was better, green building could be a marketing ploy as much as anything, letting facilities market themselves as environmentally-friendly for consumers who liked the sound of that.
“Over the last ten years, companies wanted to be good corporate citizens,” explained Joe Langworthy, president and economist with the Langworthy Company, which offers consulting in the senior housing industry. “They felt that going green would help them be better corporate citizens.
Now, however, he says that dynamic has changed, and building green has a primarily financial incentive, since the less energy a facility uses, the less it costs to maintain.
“Often they’re only interested in designing green living when it is economically feasible to do,” said Langworthy. “The only green efforts I see are when it’s economically-efficient.”
Written by Vivian Wagner