Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of America’s climate-warming carbon emissions. The materials and appliances inside them also affect indoor air quality, which is a major health factor — particularly since we spend the vast majority of our time inside. These significant impacts are not lost upon today’s environmentally aware renters, who are concerned about climate change and want to live in “green” buildings that will reduce their carbon footprint, not add to it.
This is especially true among millennials, who say they are willing to pay more for green features according to the annual 2019 Sustainable Living Index compiled by AMLI Residential. A separate report by RENTCafé found that 69 percent of respondents were interested in living in an energy-efficient or green building.
There are a number of ways to define a “green” building. Some apartment buildings may earn an organization’s green certification, which generally means the building has met criteria related to energy use and sustainable features.
At the highest level, a green building is one that avoids negative impacts on people’s health, the natural world, and our climate–and may even have positive effects. Green apartment building features might include energy efficient appliances or use of renewable energy, healthy indoor air quality, and measures that reduce pollution and waste such as recycling.
Making small changes
Efficient energy and water use is one of the cheapest and most important ways to reduce energy and water use and pollution in all buildings. It can cut waste with measures like better insulation, LED lighting, low-flow toilets and faucets, and tighter and better-designed windows.
Even small efficiency improvements add up, cutting energy bills, improving indoor and outdoor air quality, and avoiding climate pollution because there is less need to generate energy from fossil fuel power generation to keep the lights and heat on.
Energy-saving improvements in insulation, air sealing, heating equipment, and ventilation also improve indoor air quality by reducing contaminants, which have been linked to chronic respiratory illnesses.
Recent studies have found that making energy and water efficiency improvements can generate potential economic savings between 28 to 38 percent, energy savings between 22 to 31 percent, and tenant utility cost reductions of as much as 40 percent, according to Freddie Mac’s Peter Giles.
Buildings in the United States are responsible for 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, half of which reflect heat-related applications like space heating, hot water, cooking, and clothes drying. Energy use for heating, hot water, and other equipment can also generate pollution indoors from the burning of fossil fuels in household appliances (such as in a gas furnace, water heater or a gas stove). If they are not vented properly, they may produce indoor air pollution levels higher than allowed outdoors.
Advanced electric appliances, like heat pumps and induction cooktops, are three to five times more efficient than conventional fossil-powered alternatives. With electricity increasingly generated from pollution-free resources like wind and solar, this technology could eventually lead to slashing climate and air pollution from energy use in buildings to zero.
Improving the energy efficiency of the nation’s apartment buildings can put “green” back in the pockets of apartment owners and residents alike. With more renters seeking eco-friendly apartment living, and more buildings pursuing green certification, these trends bode well for a more climate-friendly and healthier future.