Feature Article

Energy-Efficient Multifamily Housing

Now you can get LEED, Energy Star, and other labels for designing or retrofitting high-performance multifamily buildings.

Step Up on Fifth in Santa Monica, California relies on passive heating and ventilation strategies to minimize dependence on energy-intensive systems for its single-room occupancy units.

Photo: John Linden

Multifamily buildings are inherently green, thanks to the way they support denser, transit-friendly communities. No one makes that point more strongly than developer Jonathan Rose, who refuses to build anything on a site that wasn’t previously developed. But, Rose argues, that’s not enough. “Climate issues, biodiversity issues, energy security issues—all point to a dramatic need to reduce energy consumption. Anywhere we can find cost-effective savings, we should be doing that.”

Multifamily projects are full of those opportunities. Uninsulated masonry buildings; antiquated heating systems; inefficient, ad hoc cooling—many aspects of typical multifamily construction and oper­ation evolved in an era when energy was cheap. Today, solutions like using windows as thermostats in New York City apartment buildings no longer make environmental or economic sense.

Seizing the opportunity, rating systems and labeling programs, including LEED for Homes and Energy Star, are expanding to better address mid-rise multifamily buildings, joining other excellent resources. Good public policy, market incentives, basic bioclimatic design, and new technologies all have a place in making our multifamily buildings greener.

Published June 29, 2011