I came across this article about affordable ‘green’ housing developments in Oregon and Arizona. This is positive news in a time of economic recession, but I’m not sure what the builders of these homes (or author) considers “affordable” – the Oregon housing development has housing units starting at $257,900 while the Arizona development begins at $174,900 – is this at least 80% MFI? I doubt it. The Alley Flat Initiative case study in Austin Texas, which I discuss in Chapter 4 of my thesis, has been able to achieve 60% MFI at $100,000 for a one-bedroom house.
The energy bills are estimated at $734 annually for the 1,640 square foot (smallest) Arizona development home. This might sound impressive, until you look at the Passive House standards, which would cut utility costs down significantly (<$100 annually). But the increase in design/construction quality would undoubtedly increase the upfront housing costs. I believe the way to get around this dilemma is for builders/architects to work directly with local city governments and utility companies to help subsidize the cost of housing developments if they can be proven to achieve an energy efficiency target (net-zero for example). This would enable housing to be more affordable without sacrificing quality and it would be a direct benefit to all stakeholders involved – the builder/architect can charge more for providing ‘green’ housing and the city and utility companies can reduce peak energy demand. In addition, if builders, city governments and utility companies utilized the capacity of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for the design, construction and data collection for these housing developments – thinking about housing units as part of a greater interdependent ecosystem, rather than as individual and isolated buildings – it would assist in quantifying and tracking actual energy usage while provide a baseline for improvement.