Green Builder Media – "Study Shows Big Energy Savings for Affordable Rental Housing"

Study Shows Big Energy Savings for Affordable Rental Housing
Posted by Lisa Iannucci
Feb 12, 2015 7:38:00 PM

Virginia Tech and Housing Virginia demonstrate that energy efficient affordable rental housing saves hundreds per year on electric bills.

RENTING AN ENERGY-EFFICIENT APARTMENT CAN SAVE residents more than $600 per year, according to the findings of a year-long study released by Housing Virginia. The study, which was conducted by Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research, found that apartments that were built to higher energy efficient standards also outperformed standard housing construction in energy consumption by more than 40%.

Although the study was limited to Virginia housing, Andrew McCoy, director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research says that parts of the study consider areas in the state that are comparable, in terms of median income, to other high-income locations of the country, such as New York and California.


“We did not study the cost of living (for example, energy costs) in other locations, so we cannot assume those costs are the same,” says McCoy. “However, what should be applicable to all markets is using energy efficiency standards in construction will save cost, plain and simple. The difference for our work was too high to not apply in almost any market, I would think.”

Low income impact

He says that behavior is going to be variable in any market, so, “we need to build more with more efficient technologies and study the effect this process is having on our buildings, through behavior and climate.”

VHDA made changes to its tax credit program to encourage green building construction techniques. The target communities of the study were affordable rental housing that is developed through the Virginia Housing Development Authority’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit program. The study included senior housing and family housing. It also looked at the differences between new construction, rehabilitated housing and adaptive re-use.

Researchers visited 15 affordable apartment complexes across the state and met with residents to conduct energy usage surveys. Tenants provided access to utility consumption for the previous 24 months. These findings are especially important for lower income residents. “The energy efficient design and standards add to the economic benefit that these lower income families and seniors receive,” says Robert Adams, Executive Director of Housing Virginia. “Every dollar not paid for utilities can go to other important family budget items, including food, transportation, and healthcare.”

Another key finding is that construction standards have a significant impact on the affordability of apartments for lower income families and seniors. For example, at 30% of median income, the average tenant will see their ability to afford housing increase by nearly 10%. In Virginia, 30% of area median income is an income of $23,250 per year for a family of four.

Education needed

The study also found that with additional resident education, more savings could be achieved. Residents indicated they raised thermostats above necessary levels which, of course, impacted utility costs. The energy use behavior survey revealed a number of findings that point to opportunities to achieve even greater savings. “With better data come better ways to educate, which is one of our next frontiers,” says McCoy.

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