Occupants of Green Buildings

An Inside Look at Residential Green Design, Abatement Policies and More

Occupants of Green Buildings

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It's one thing to build or update a residential establishment to comply with green building standards. But what is it like to live in a green building?



occupants of green buildingsWhen renting or buying your home, have you ever considered the impact the design of the building will have on the planet? What about the materials used having an impact on your health and wellness? Residential buildings ranging from single family homes, all the way to high-rise apartment complexes, can be designed to comply or certify with green building standards. Green buildings—either new or renovated—present an opportunity to really consider how design decisions affect not only cost, but also people and the planet. Naturally these all tie together in a residential setting because we want our homes to keep us healthy, to lower our utility costs and in reducing energy and sustainable material selection help improve the environment.

Tax Abatement Policies

Many cities across America have developed green building codes or standards and some tie financial incentives, such as grants or tax abatement, to building performance. In Emerald’s hometown of Cleveland, residential properties are eligible for a 15-year tax abatement on the increased value of a renovation or new build. Tax abatement is a tool that promises to encourage development in target neighborhoods—and to some, that promise comes with concern of displacement and gentrification. Some communities (or states) include requirements beyond “just build” such as energy efficiency or green-building standards to achieve the abatement and to encourage more responsible development. 

4203 FranklinAs you may have seen in our 2021 social media campaign, #365DaysOfSustainability, Emerald has supported many (100+) residential projects in Cleveland to achieve tax abatement. Some of the projects are historic rehabilitations, some are mixed-use high rises and others are moderate rehabs of single-family-homes. Most are market-rate, yet there is a large contingency of affordable housing among our portfolio that also benefits from these incentives. As sustainability consultants, we believe the investments developers make in these properties is worth it—delivering higher-performing homes on metrics such as indoor air quality, energy and water efficiency and material durability. At the end of the day, sustainable design elements are to benefit the occupant—and they care!

An Inside Look from Homeowners

It’s clear that green buildings—but specifically energy efficient ones—are one of the top must-haves home owners look for in today’s market. The National Association of Home Builders confirmed it in their March 2021 study. After surveying over 3,000 home buyers, they discovered customers are looking for energy-efficient windows, lighting and appliances, as well as Energy Star rating for the whole house. 

With this national trend, we were curious to hear what it’s like to live in a green home. What do occupants of green buildings think? We recently chatted with three Clevelanders about their impressions of green homes and abatement policies. One lives in a historic building recently renovated to green standards (Kaitlyn), another owns a home that was built to green standards and achieved Energy Star certification (Anne) and the third lives in a duplex not yet improved (Kate). 

One of the elements of compliance with Cleveland’s tax abatement program is to provide education to building occupants about sustainable features. This was a win for Kaitlyn who lives in the historic May building—going in, she knew there were sustainable elements in her building and was excited about them. The same is true for Anne, who recently purchased a new home that received Energy Star certification—she was briefed on the home’s sustainable aspects during the buying process.

The heating and cooling was designed to be efficient and reduce energy consumption. Is it still comfortable?

Kaitlyn and Anne both mentioned their home’s energy efficiency as a bonus. Anne’s single-family home has provided not only efficiency, but also improved comfort. “You know,” Anne said, “I have been genuinely surprised that we can have the AC in our house set at about 3-5 degrees higher than in our old apartment and still be comfortable. For example, 73 degrees in our old apartment would have me sweating, but in the new house, 73 is borderline chilly.” 

Kaitlyn also agreed and claimed her apartment heats up and cools down rapidly and maintains her comfort. Older homes are less likely to have updated HVAC or when they do, there still may be components not updated. Kate, who lives in the “yet to be improved” duplex wished her home was designed with efficiency and comfort in mind. Her “current rental is notorious for having different parts of the house be different temperatures—no matter what the thermostat is set to.” 

Does it comfort you knowing the air quality is improved from sustainable materials, such as certified flooring, paints and adhesives/sealants used?

When purchasing her home, Anne agreed that “good air quality was definitely reassuring!" She noted, “My partner and I have allergies and a dog, so good air quality helps with that. It was also a bonus during COVID, when we’ve learned about the necessity of good air quality and circulation.” 

Over in the May building, Kaitlyn also found it highly comforting to know sustainable materials were used to improve her air quality, “especially coming from an older building that was not renovated properly, I feel a lot better about living in a safe environment now.” On the flip side, in a non-green building, old home, Kate agreed that air-quality considerations would be a great improvement. Her old home has layers of flooring and layers of caulk in some areas that she now knows could have an impact on her health.

Did you know that your building had to comply with Green Building Standard for the city to achieve a tax abatement? What do you think of properties being able to avoid paying extra taxes on the increase value post construction/renovation?

While Kaitlyn didn’t realize the May specifically had to comply with Enterprise Green Communities to obtain the tax abatement, she is “all for the incentive! I think that would make more buildings willing [to consider building green].” Kate also mirrored this response, agreeing that it is great that residential building owners are incentivized to consider implementing green building standards. 

But it’s not all roses when it comes to incentives. Anne is conscious that the term tax abatement can evoke fear of displacement and gentrification. She noted the plus, which is lower cost to own and operate—she anticipates saving money not only on her tax bill, but also reduced costs to operate and maintain because the homes were recently built or renovated. She said, “I think tax abatements are excellent tools for development, but we still need to be thoughtful in their implementation so everyone can win. Which is why getting the most out of these tools, like energy efficiency, is both reasonable and necessary. It benefits developers in the short term (price to build) and homebuyers in the long term (cost of ownership and utility savings).”

With a sense of urgency, she also drove home a critical point: how can we afford not to build and renovate to green standards? Anne added, “If we are really thinking about both equity and climate change, it is absolutely important. Green construction and efficiency is a very important tool in terms of conscious development/consumption, as well as ensuring people don’t face utility unaffordability. And it should be the bare minimum as we go forward.” We agree. Green homes benefit us both today and tomorrow.

Make a Green Building Your Reality

It’s the times we live in. Designing and building green homes and apartments is the reality of our world. It’s what the market wants and more of what our world needs. Do you need help or have questions about owning or building a green building? The team of experts at Emerald Built Environments will be happy to help!


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