Sustainability in Affordable Housing
by 
Brandon Schultz
August 16, 2019

I attended the New Gravity Conference in Philadelphia earlier this month, and it was an energizing experience. The conference, which focused on the impact climate change will have on affordable housing, provided a chance to reflect on the importance and pressing relevance of sustainability in our affordable housing work.

Sustainability is particularly important in affordable housing because of the stability that is created by building healthy, safe, and accessible places to live. And sustainability helps improve resilience to the volatility of climate change and increases in utility costs. It also enables our cities to preserve access to affordable and equitable housing that doesn’t displace people or disrupt communities.

Regardless of the size or scope of the project, we incorporate sustainable building strategies throughout all of our projects and track energy performance as part of our AIA 2030 Commitment. These strategies help reduce energy and water use and make healthy homes with good air quality. Using principles from the Passive House building standards, we are constantly looking at ways to construct our buildings with better/tighter envelopes that require less energy to provide comfortable and healthy environments. Simple revisions to construction details can tighten up the building envelope considerably and improve the overall building performance without adding cost to the project. For example, making sure that the insulation is installed properly and that all floor and wall assemblies are properly draft-stopped and sealed create a better-performing and healthier building.  

QEA has been putting this approach into practice, and the results are clear. At Restoration Gardens II, a 42-studio unit project that provides housing and services for homeless teenagers and young adults ages 18-24 and was completed in August of 2018, led to a 25% total energy reduction per unit compared to Restoration Gardens I completed eight years prior. This saves the owner, Empire Homes of Maryland, more than $12k annually in utility costs, which they are able to turn directly into programs to support the teenage residents.

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