Green building in the residential sector has reached its tipping point.
Homebuyers, who once were solely concerned with price and location, are now adding green features into their buying decision as they realize that better insulation, lighting, and HVAC systems not only create a healthy and comfortable living environment, but can save them money on their energy bills, say industry developers, designers, and brokers.
As a result, new residential development (and redevelopment) is very green indeed.
Jacqueline Urgo, president of The Marketing Directors, Inc., which markets the Visionaire as well as Liberty Luxe and Liberty Green (developed by Milstein Properties) developments in Battery Park City, says buyers are increasingly adding a green tint to their buying decision. “Also, there are many buyers who may not be looking to buy green, but once they see the cost benefits of a green home, see how a highly-insulted building is so much more quiet than traditional buildings, and also realize how [a green home or building] provides a healthy living environment, the selection becomes easy because of that appeal,” she explains. “So yes, it becomes the tipping point of a sale.”
As a result, the number of green residential projects in the region is expected to grow and build upon an already large inventory of green developments. A compilation of data from the U.S. Green Building Council as well as from published reports reveals that there are more than 100 residential projects—multi-family and single family—in the New York City and Hudson Valley regions. These residential projects and developments (which include several that are near completion or are set to break ground soon) include LEED-certified, LEED-pending and high-performance green homes, apartments, mixed-used buildings, co-ops, and condos.
Industry observers expect residential developments and projects to follow LEED standards from now on, simply because it makes sense from a sustainability perspective—especially as the “new urbanism” movement continues to influence planning. Urgo and other industry insiders also say green construction adds to the resale value of a home or condo. Consumers are learning the benefits of the new urbanism model, which centers on open space, walkability, and public transportation, among other criteria.
Many of these green projects, which include luxury high rises, residential green retrofits, and housing for low-income families, are stunning in design—inside and out. Light harvesting designs create well-lit interiors and striking exteriors. Under the hood, sustainable materials such as plant-based insulation are being widely used in addition to other innovative products such as recycled steel and low-VOC emission building materials. Simultaneously, interior designers and architects are working from a design palette that includes low-VOC paints, Energy Star appliances, and CFL (and increasingly, LED) lighting fixtures.
Meanwhile, recycling construction waste is deepening the shade of green residential developments. During the construction of the Visionaire, a 36-story, 251-unit green condo building, for example, more than 85 percent of the site construction waste material was recycled. In addition, the construction material for the building is composed of at least 20 percent recycled content. But for the homebuyer, the focus tends to shift to other green benefits.
Richard Weinstock, president of construction at L+M Development Partners, which developed the Kalahari, a luxury green condo in Central Harlem, says it’s important to note that although many of today’s homebuyers might not care if a building is made from recycled materials, “they do care about indoor air quality and whether or not they can see reduced energy costs, which is a benefit of LEED-certified building.”
Weinstock adds that a 25 percent reduction of energy costs is a tangible and practical benefit to a homebuyer, and this is now emerging as an important part of the purchase equation. Weinstock notes that the Kalahari is a high-performance, LEED-stamped development. The building, for example, harvests energy in a sustainable way via on-site wind and solar. The units feature Energy Star appliances as well as energy efficient lighting fixtures and low-flow water fixtures. The building also has a green roof.
Other notable examples reflecting the state of green residential development is Third + Bond, a 44-unit luxury condo in the running for LEED Gold certification. The project is designed by Rogers Marvel Architects, with interior design work by students and faculty from Pratt Institute. The development is being touted as “a showcase for green building and green furnishing, as well as Brooklyn’s design talent.” Eva Zeisel, Bruce Hannah, Bill Katavolos, Harry Allen, and Giovanni Pellone are some of the faculty, alumni, and design professionals involved with the project. Of particular interest is the installation of “an ivy-like” solar and wind energy system designed by Pratt alumni.
On the legislative front, New York City continues to push a “green buildings package,” a set of laws aimed at improving energy use. City-owned buildings, for example, are required to conduct green retrofits of HVAC systems. And this past December, the city passed a law requiring owners of larger-sized properties to maintain their buildings in a green way while conducting energy-efficiency audits once every 10 years.
Indeed, existing buildings represent the next green frontier.
Of course, the Hudson Valley is experiencing its own brand of cutting edge green design and innovation, which includes green retrofits and zero-net-energy homes by green developers such as Anthony Aebi, who created Green Acres in New Paltz. Another innovator of the net-zero-carbon home is Chris Colby of Spire Architecture and Design. Colby’s “Zummer Home” features an eight- to 10-kilowatt solar panel system that generates surplus energy, which can be sold back to the local utility company. In addition, the design offers high-efficiency fixtures and appliances as well as a geothermal system.
Colby is focused on making the Zummer Home an affordable option for Hudson Valley residents. The cost of the house, not including land, ranges from $99,000 to $350,000—depending on the design. Colby says one of the key trends he’s seeing in the green residential space is homebuyers who want a home that has a smaller footprint, is reasonably priced, and has low maintenance costs. “We’re seeing baby boomers who face retirement on a fixed income and are attracted to a smaller house,” he says, adding that he expects the sustainability of a net-zero-carbon design to become a strong attraction for today’s buyer. Colby has a model house in Hyde Park, and is looking to break ground on a 20-unit development in Ramapo.
For his part, Joshua Radoff, a principal and co-founder of YRG Sustainability Consultants, says the residential market seems to be picking up. Demand for sustainable projects continues to experience momentum. Radoff, echoing other industry experts and observers, says location, price, size, and amenities continue to be important elements of the buying decision while the green component is gaining traction on a mass scale.
“We’re seeing a lot more people identifying with green building,” Radoff says, adding that consumers are becoming more savvy in regard to knowing the benefits of energy efficiency (and generation) as well as the technologies involved, such as geothermal and real-time energy monitoring. “We are seeing green [aspects] of building taking on a primary role in the purchase decision,” he says, adding that the homebuyer discussion includes concerns over air quality and VOCs.
Given the twin impact of the recession and the notion that green redevelopment projects are critical to sustainable planning models for communities, several industry experts see growth in green retrofitting in the residential sector—for the Hudson Valley and in the New York metro area.
Emma Hamilton, a certified EcoBroker and senior associate broker at Corcoran Group Real Estate, says one of the more significant market trends right now includes “green de-construction (for re-use)” as well as “using salvaged materials” in new construction. She cites Robert Politzer, president at New York-based Greenstreet Construction Inc., and Brooklyn-based Ellen Honigstock, a green architect, as two innovators in this area.
“Aside from new developments, there seems to be a real upward trend in re-greening—that is to say people are forgoing the rather anonymous option of large-scale new developments and are embarking on apartment or whole-house green renovations,” Hamilton adds.