Establishing Green Management Practices at Existing Sites
There is a growing consciousness among low-income housing developers, site owners, and managers of the health, environmental, and cost advantages associated with green building practices. Owners and developers are increasingly employing green strategies to ensure that newly constructed and renovated housing projects are designed and built using green systems and materials.
Management and residents of low-income housing projects also can benefit from establishing green management practices in existing units and buildings. In many cases, the costs of employing green strategies are minimal and generate a relatively quick payback from lower operating and maintenance costs, as well as longer-term return in better health, comfort, and satisfaction for residents.
So what types of improvements can you make at an existing site? We recently spoke with green strategies' experts Dana Bourland, vice president of Green Initiatives for Enterprise Community Partners, and Joanne Quinn, asset management sustainability specialist with the City of Seattle Office of Housing, and who leads its Green Unit Turn Initiative. They offer the following suggestions for greening your buildings.
Start with Simple Improvements at Turnover
Green management practices are easier to achieve than you might think. Three areas to start with that are fairly easy to implement during unit turnover are water, energy, and paint, says Quinn.
Water. Install water-efficient toilets and faucets. Quinn recommends 1.6 GPF (gallons per flush) or better toilets and 2.0 GPM (gallons per minute) or better showerheads. “Projects that have gone with the super-conserving plumbing fixtures—those that perform better than code—are seeing savings of 40 percent to 60 percent. Our stakeholders who replaced existing toilets with the 1.6 GPF models saw a payback in under three months.”
Adjusting the inlet valve float in the toilet tank will turn off the valve sooner and use less water every time you flush, says Bourland. That costs nothing.
Energy. Upgrading refrigerators, dishwashers, and laundry equipment to Energy Star appliances can cut energy usage and water consumption between 10 and 50 percent, according to Bourland. There also may be rebates available for owners from your local utility, or state and local government participating in the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, she says.
Changing out incandescent light bulbs for fluorescent lights with motion sensors will also reduce energy use for a very small cost, she adds.
Be sure to consider the type and placement of lighting and residents' preferences when comparing efficient-lighting options, Quinn points out. Depending on its intended use, it may not be a good choice for a particular room. For instance, residents typically prefer stronger lighting in the bathroom. “Putting in energy-efficient lighting that isn't bright enough will draw a lot of complaints from residents,” she says. “So don't only consider whether it is energy-efficient; it has to work for the residents, as well.”
Paint. Use low- or no-VOC paint. (Volatile organic compound is a class of chemical compounds that can cause short- and long-term health problems.) Management can step up unit turnover time if the site is using no-VOC paint. “The toxic smell associated with conventional paint can delay a new household's move-in,” Quinn says. No-VOC paint is also better for your maintenance staff, who won't be exposed to the eye, nose, and throat irritation and potential longer-term health effects of conventional paint.
A no-smoking policy can save owners the cost of repainting units—not to mention costs to replace counters or carpets after a smoking resident has moved out. Many site owners and managers who were initially hesitant to establish a no-smoking policy for their buildings, in fact, have found it to be easy to enforce, Quinn says. “You have to proceed in a very informed way, over time, with existing buildings.”
Practical Pointer: To help identify the best return on potential improvements, Bourland recommends benchmarking your building's current performance as a first step. Tracking the gallons of water or kilowatts of energy being used can help to identify those areas with high energy or resource consumption. Once you pinpoint the systems that create the most demand on those resources, you can begin to make changes, she says.
Resident Education Is Key to Success
Most people don't give much thought to the energy that is being consumed when they flip the light switch, or the amount of water wasted when a faucet is left running.
“I think we all struggle with our own behavior,” says Bourland. “While we need to get our buildings to perform as well as they possibly can, regardless of the end user, resident buy-in is critical to the success of a green strategy. There are ongoing educational activities you can create to reinforce the message to residents.”
The main “hooks” for residents are health and savings, says Quinn. Focus your communication on those two elements to get their attention, and then provide specific practices that residents can put in place in their own homes (see Green Management Resources for more).
While getting residents onboard with green practices is key, changing management behaviors is also important. It's just a matter of maintaining a green focus, says Quinn. “While you are overseeing your site's operations and maintenance, factor in your green guiding principles. Ask yourself: What choice would I make if I want to ensure that we're using durable materials; what are my choices for making sure that the project is healthy for my staff and residents; what are my options for reducing operating costs; which products and decisions will protect the environment? With those guiding principles always in the back of your mind, you can make good green choices in all areas of your business.”
Dana Bourland: Vice President of Green Initiatives, Enterprise Community Partners; (410) 772-2516; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joanne Quinn: Asset Management Sustainability Specialist, City of Seattle Office of Housing; (206) 684-0304; Joanne.Quinn@seattle.gov.
Green Management Resources
Green Unit Turn Initiative—developed by the Affordable Housing Management Association (AHMA) and City of Seattle Office of Housing (http://www.seattle.gov/housing/GreenUnitTurn)—it offers the following resources:
Resident Guide for Living Well, a resident information brochure template that can be customized for your site.
Green Unit Turn poster (PDF), which offers guidelines for staff to follow whenever there is a unit turnover. The poster can be printed and posted in your site office.
Brief instructional video on how to put together a green operations and management plan.
Enterprise Green Communities—part of Enterprise Community Partners' Green Initiatives (http://www.greencommunitiesonline.org)—it offers downloadable and online resources, including:
Green Communities Criteria—the only national framework for greening affordable housing; full criteria and requirements for green classification and Green Communities grants and funding.
Green Communities Criteria Checklist.
Green Communities Asset Management Toolkit—ideas and resources for saving money, energy, and water now.
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