The Green Report: Off-Grid Apartments, Urban Chickens, & Eco-Smarthomes

Seattle Rentals presents The Green Report: Sustainable apartment livingFrom London, Ontario: Apartment dwellers go off the grid

Usually, when you hear of someone living off the grid, it’s a homeowner in a cabin in the woods. But two renters in Ontario are decided to try an experiment–going off the grid in their apartment for three summer months. So just what does “going off the grid” in an apartment even entail? The roommates canceled their electricity and turned off their hot water heater, and are relying on portable solar panels to charge cell phones and a few lights. In addition, they’ve put a solar oven into work on the balcony, and do laundry in the tub with a bar of soap. Looks like going off the grid still isn’t for the faint of heart–but there are things to be learned from their experiment.  Read more.

From Davis, CA: Solar energy included in affordable housing developments

Solar panels are usually spotted on public projects (like schools) and upscale houses, due to the investment required at the outset–but in Davis, CA, a program is putting solar onto affordable housing, in light of the money it will save tenants over time. The entire complex, dubbed New Harmony, will utilize green building techniques and materials, including a sustainable water filtration system–but the big news are the solar arrays that will cover the building rooftops. The installation will allow residents to have a fixed-rate utility bill for the next thirty years, instead of an expensive, unpredictable one–and that will help these tenants immensely. Read more.

From England: “Eco-overhaul” turns ordinary apartment building into paragon of sustainability

Sometimes we forget the sustainable options for apartment buildings that have already been built, focusing on the development of green building practices for new construction. But one apartment building in England has just undergone a major sustainability overhaul–so drastic that the building is now being hailed as “one of the most environmentally friendly high-rise blocks in the UK.” The building was overhauled as part of a government program, and the renovations included a solar-powered heating system, more efficient insulation, brand-new kitchens and bathrooms, and double-paned windows. As a result of the upgrades, residents have found themselves saving over $700 each month on utilities. Read more.

From Seattle: The urban chicken-raising trend comes home to roost

The past few years have seen urban chicken raising go from an unknown to a practically mainstream hobby, especially among homeowners. The chickens–a great source of fresh, local eggs–have caught on in a such a big way that Redfin recently released a list of the top chicken-raising cities in the United States. Seattle ranked fifth, behind Portland, Ventura CA, San Diego and Sacramento. According to Seattle laws, residents can keep up to eight chickens on their property. No word yet on rentals with chicken coop availability, although we have a hunch this trend will mostly stick with the single-family homes. Read more

From GreenerIdeal.com: “Eco smarthomes” are the next big thing

It’s been decades since the “home of the future” first entered our cultural lexicon via Worlds Fairs, Disneyland, and other sources–and while a few technological advancements took place over the 90s and early 2000s, most of the true “smart home” developments have happened over just the past few years. And while homes of the future back in the 1950s mostly had to do with convenience, many of the advancements we have recently made–products like smart thermostats and lighting that can be controlled from elsewhere–have the added bonus of conserving energy and being more sustainable than their earlier counterparts. With that in mind, Greener Ideal thinks ecologically friendly smarthomes could “replace smartphones” as the consumer fad of the future. We won’t hold our breath for smartphones to fall out of favor with the public any time soon; but there’s no question that Nest thermometers are only the beginning, and houses will get “smarter” from here on out. Read more.

The Green Report: “Cargotecture,” Efficiency Investors, & Solar-Powered Apartments

It may not officially be summer yet, but it’s definitely getting warm and gorgeous outside–and that always inspires us to think green. Let’s check back in with the world of eco-friendly rental housing. And two out of three stories this week are from here in Seattle, which can’t help but make us smile. Enjoy!

The Green Report

Cargotecture comes to Seattle: Could you live in a shipping container?

Okay, so Seattle architect Kai Schwarz’s newly-built single-family homes inside shipping containers are only available for sale–currently. But it’s only a matter of time before one of these stylish dwellings ends up on the rental market. Schwarz and partner Ann Corning co-founded ShelterKraft Werks, and the company has already completed one cargo-contained home, with two more on the way.

Inspired by the containers in the Port of Seattle, the completed model “cargo haus” is a 160 square foot studio selling for $35,000. Transformed with round windows, stainless appliances and a tiled bathroom, the home look stylish and cozy–at least for those of us without claustrophobia. Next up to be built is the two-bedroom, 640 square-foot house, which will utilize two shipping containers and sell for $72,000. Where to plant your cargo home once you buy it is another story–unless you want to try parking it in the Port and see if anyone notices. Read more.

Landlord? No, I’m just the Efficiency Investor.

investorWhen considering upgrades or a major overhaul to your building to make it eco-friendly, the cost can be daunting–even when you factor in the future efficiency and increased marketability. But what if there was a way to green your building without covering the whole cost yourself? If a pilot program launched by Seattle City Light and the Bulitt Foundation is successful, we may see investors helping to pay for eco-friendly improvements–with landlords, investors, and tenants reaping the rewards.

So just what does this pilot program mean for the environment? According to Denis hayes of the Bulitt Foundation, “by separating the efficiency investor from the building owner, just as we separate the wind farm developer from the rancher whose property the turbines are on, we can reduce the energy use in most existing buildings by more than 40%.” All of that, and also making investors money? Apparently so, according to the DJC. The pilot program  will involve just the Bulitt Building, to begin with–but could expand after that. Read more.

Apartments powered by 100% solar energy lure tenants–in sunny San Diego.

photovoltaic panelsUntil now, if you wanted to live your life in a home powered by the sun, chances are you’d have to buy a single-family home and cover it in solar panels–a costly proposition for any homeowner. But now, residents of San Diego can choose to rent their homes, and still enjoy solar power, in a multifamily complex “designed to be fully powered by the sun.

H.G. Fenton has finished building the first of Solterra’s four apartment buildings, which will house 114 units. Currently 80% leased, the apartments will feature other eco-friendly perks, including Nest thermostats and energy monitoring by smartphone for tenants–a feature which was only legalized in California last year. And these apartments don’t come cheap; prices start at $1,495/month for 741 square feet. It looks like tenants may be willing to pay a premium for the novelty of an “ecoluxury” unit. Read more.

The Green Report: Glimpses of the Future

The Green Report

As we look to the future of sustainable apartment living, there’s certainly no dearth of new ideas–and many of them are being implemented in small scale now, a kind of conceptual test kitchen of ideas for clean rental living. Let’s check out the ideas that have made the news lately, and see how we could be living in just a few years.

From Australia: A vegetable garden with every unit

A new 123-unit apartment building down under is catching attention with a rather unusual amenity–every one of the units in the five-story building will come with it’s very own vegetable plot. Developer Robert DiCintio hopes that the plots, which will each be about two square meters, will “engender a community spirit…and allow people to meet their neighbors.” So how will the story end–with delicious vegetables, or sad neglected patches of dirt? The building will be completed in December 2014; we’ll have to wait until then to find out. Read more.

From Germany: An apartment building covered in algae

Ah, the almighty algae–although it looks very nice on the walls of a fish tank (I really should clean that), there’s one use that we hadn’t thought of, until this report came out of Germany, where a five-story apartment building has been engineered with algae in the walls. More specifically, the algae is sandwiched between glass panels that function as solar hot water collectors. The algae will be working hard, shading the building, muffling street noise, and creating biofuels that will heat the building as well. Who knew one little plant could do so much? Read more.

From Seattle: A carbon-neutral city?

Determined to make the city carbon neutral by 2050, Seattle officials have released an “ambitious, expensive” action plan, with many of the steps to be taken within the next fifteen years. So how does a city become carbon neutral? According to the Seattle Times, the plan calls for increased bike access and walkability and increased light rail infrastructure to reduce “approximately 40% of greenhouse gases that come from cars and trucks.” In addition, smart meters and energy audits could assist residents and businesses with conserving energy. So is it feasible? Check out the full report and decide for yourself. Read more.

…And from Spain (and Jane Fonda): A people-powered apartment

When we read this was a Jane Fonda project, we thought they were joking–but indeed, the queen of the leotard exercise empire is back in the fitness game with this new sustainable apartment prototype from Spanish design firm Elli Studio. Christened the Jane Fonda Kit House, the apartment (which is currently a little too bare-bones for our liking–hopefully in the finished product, walls would replace plastic sheeting) utilizes many of the kinetic elements you would find in a gym to power its appliances. Want to heat some water in that electric kettle? Better spend a few minutes on the exercise bike. We love this idea, but we wonder about its ability to be mainstreamed–how many people would be willing to do a hundred sit-ups just so they can watch The Office? Read more.

The Green Report: No-Car Buildings, Green Standards, and the Smallest Apartments You’ll See Today

Happy March! It always seems like things start to speed by this time of year; February’s already gone and spring is on its way. Warmer weather always makes us think of renewal, and of greenery–so what better time to check in with the world of eco-friendly living? That’s right, it’s time again for the Green Report. Enjoy!

The Green Report

From Boston, an apartment building so eco-friendly that it bans cars

11971486861879163928ryanlerch_no_cars_sign.svg.medWe all want to do our part for the environment–and for many tenants in urban neighborhoods, that means walking, biking, and using public transportation whenever possible. But one proposed apartment project in Boston would go so far as to ban tenants from owning cars. Yup, you heard us right; according to the Globe, “tenants will have to sign an addendum to their lease that requires them to be car-less.”

The 44-unit building would include private gardens and an open greenway in some of the space that might otherwise have been devoted to parking. Transportation will be provided by Boston’s bus lines, and bikes and mopeds will be encouraged. According to the project’s architect, Sebastien Mariscal, “it just takes one building to change things.” But will tenants go for it? Only time will tell. Read more from the Boston Globe.

Speaking of cars…is the Washington gas tax about to rise?

Gas-CanCould the Washington gas tax soon go up by ten cents per gallon? It will if House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn has her way. Clibborn has proposed the tax hike as part of a transportation revenue package introduced last week. In order to pass, the increase would of course require a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, or be voted into law by the people. Read more in the Seattle Times.

New green building standard approved by the ANSI

NAHB Logo 2010Here’s a mouthful for all of the multifamily builders out there: The 2012 ICC 700 National Green Building Standard (NGBS) has been approved by the American National Standards Institute. So just what does that mean? According to the news release from the NAHB, the updated standard “provides practices for the design and construction of all types of green residential buildings, renovations, and land developments,” and is the only nationwide standard approved by the ANSI.

Builders interested in incorporating the standards into their practices can purchase a copy of the NGBS through BuilderBooks.com, and in a further nod to sustainability, it’s now available in an e-book edition. So just what has changed since the last edition? According to NAHB Chairman Rick Judson, the new standard “raises the bar on energy efficiency,” and includes and expanded section on renovations. Read more from the NAHB.

“RecycleMania” in Texas dorms train students for a greener life

Recycle_Logo_by_Har1We’re honest, we’ll say it: not all of our recyclables always end up in the green bin at the end of the day. We might work harder to recycle if it were incentivized with a friendly competition like the one currently happening at the Arlington campus of the University of Texas. RecycleMania has residence halls competing to be the most recycling-friendly dorm; the winner holds on to the (recycled) trophy for a year. Ideally, the competition will ingrain habits that will stick with students when they graduate and become renters. Read more in UTA’s Shorthorn.com

When it comes to micro-housing, how small is too small?

From New York to San Francisco, micro-apartments have been hailed as the solution to high rents and low vacancies. In art exhibits and design contests, we’ve seen apartments that use small spaces to their advantage, making a comfortable living space for the tenant who appreciates efficiency. But how small is too small? Could you live, for instance, in an apartment that was only 5.6 square feet?

Image from Kotaku.com

Image from Kotaku.com

These “share houses,” which from outside look very much like lockers, come to us from–you guessed it–Tokyo. The compartments, which were recently showcased on a Japanese television show, have a bit of space to sleep, and to hang some clothes…and that’s it. Amazingly, tenants pay up to $600/month for the nicest compartments. Read more from OpposingViews.com.

The Green Report: Population, Population, Population!

Welcome to another issue of the Green Report. This week, there’s a common theme among the stories coming to us about eco smarts and the future of rental housing: population growth.

The Green Report

Population growth is a concern all over the country as we look forward through the next few decades–remember the book we reported on last year that equated Seattle 2040 with modern-day Japan? We’re not there yet, of course…but a smooth transition into a future with a lot more people in it will require plenty of forethought (and housing!). Read on for this week’s stories on eco-friendly rentals and urban planning for a very urban future.

NewGeography.com: Washington State a “center of substantial Western growth.”

Image courtesy of NewGeography.com

Image courtesy of NewGeography.com

This week’s article from Richard Morrill looks at changes in population over the past two years, 2010-2012–years which have afforded us a mild recovery from the recession. There are many factors that contribute to these population changes; while immigration from other countries is not insignificant on the west coast, it is internal (or interstate) migration that more strongly affects the population of states like Washington. In fact, Washington is the second-most preferred destination for those moving to the west coast–after Colorado. When all is said and done, California still leads the pack in absolute growth, although our neighbor to the south also saw the highest rate of out-migration in the west during those two years. Click here for the full report, with plenty of helpful charts.

The ideal micro-apartment: Is it a work of art?

Hailed as the next big thing in high-rent cities like New York and San Francisco, micro-apartments have been rediscovered in a big way. Recall that at the turn of the century, and again around the 1950s, urban housing was very dense, with average square foot counts that rival those found in today’s micro-apartment developments–but those old apartments probably didn’t have murphy bed/sofa combinations quite this seamless. They also don’t have the place of honor that New York’s newest micro-apartment design is currently enjoying–an exhibit in the Museum of the City of New York.

The apartment displayed in the exhibit is just 325 square feet–that’s only a little larger than a one-car garage. It features space-saving features like an ottoman that houses stacking chairs and a tv that slides away to reveal a bar; there’s even room in the kitchenette for a dishwasher. But just how livable is a space that small, especially for couples? Renter Jack Sproule, quoted in the article, points out that the only place to escape to if he argues with his wife…is the restroom. Read more in the New York Times.

ULI and Great City ask: What will denser single-family neighborhoods look like?

As much as we love multifamily housing–and we do love it–not every family prefers to live in an apartment or multifamily building. Single-family housing, both owner- and tenant-occupied, is an important part of Seattle’s many neighborhoods. And as the city population increases, those single-family neighborhoods will have to become somewhat denser to compensate. So just what will that growth look like, and how should it be regulated? ULI and Great City both recently held panels to begin to answer that question. Among the attendees at the ULI panel was City Council member Richard Conlin, who advised that growth in single-family neighborhoods should be “slow and deliberate.” Meanwhile, Smart Growth Seattle, who also attended the panels, is a proponent of the 80 percent rule. Check out their take on the discussion here.

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…And finally, just for fun: Tampa takes on eco-friendly urban housing

This image of the future comes to us from 83degreesmedia.com and Tampa, FL, where a new 28-acre environmentally-friendly housing project is on its way. Could it bring a slightly more…dare we say…Seattle vibe to the state of Florida? As columnist Alexis Quinn Chamberlain describes, the project will bring people together like never before (at least in Tampa):

Think people with tattoos and earrings, dreadlocks and purple mohawks next to the well-coifed fresh off their latest botox injection — all coming together in a popular urban setting.

Check out the full article here.

The Green Report: the Costs of LEED, Living Walls & Net Zero Homes

Happy Friday! We were just checking out the new LEED-certified eco-friendly Starbucks in Colorado and realized it was time for another installment of The Green Report. Check out the latest from the world of eco-friendly multifamily below.

UNITS Magazine: “Going green has shifted from an idea…to an ideal”

This month’s issue of UNITS caught our eye with their article on going green in new multifamily construction. There has long been consensus that “both community and company value” increase when energy-efficient designs are implemented, and both companies and property managers have seen real savings (between 15 and 50%) in costs and energy usage just by implementing minor changes in their buildings: lightbulbs, insulation, water-flow regulators, etc.. But when designing or renovating a building, there are more drastic decisions that have to be made: will you truly go green? What does that really mean, and what will it cost?

UNITS explains the two major certifications: LEED, which originated in 1993 for industrial buildings and affordable housing but has recently jumped exponentially in popularity for standard multifamily housing; and NGBS, which was created exclusively for single- and multifamily housing. Susan Maxwell of Zocalo Community Development explains that LEED-certified construction has run about 2% over standard costs for their company; still, she says “we find that in development, ignorance is defined as not knowing the real costs,” and notes that the extra 2% spent upfront is generally made back in rent. Check out the full article–with plenty more info–here.

Lux Research: Living roofs and walls will be a $7.7 billion market by 2017

While they may look like a bit of an engineering nightmare to the untrained eye, vegetated roofs like the one shown here (on the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park) can do wonders for the environment, as well as the building they shelter. They reduce air pollutants and “sequester” carbon dioxide, as well as reducing stormwater volume and summer heat transference. But they’re not exactly mainstream…yet. Are they ever likely to be?

According to a new report from Lux Research as reported in Eco Home magazine, green roofs and walls can’t come soon enough–and they “will balloon into a $7.7 billion market in 2017, driven by mandates and incentives by cities across the globe.” According to the article, environmental problems stemming from urbanization is currently fueling initiatives in Singapore, Copenhagen, London and Chicago, among other cities–and as our population swells, the need can only increase. Read more here.

Archstone buys green in Venice, California

Eco-conscious Southern California employees at Hulu, Viddy, Yahoo and Google will soon have a new LEED-platinum Archstone building among their choices of where to live. The apartment giant just purchased the upscale 70-unit apartment complex in Venice, Calif., formerly called The Frank, for $56.2 million. The building was completed earlier this year and boasts a number of eco-friendly implementations, including high-efficiency heat pumps, boilers and light fixtures; a solar hot water system; an energy-efficient façade; local and recycled materials; nontoxic finishes; and drought-tolerant landscaping. It is estimated that the building consumes 1/3 less energy than a typical building of its size. The purchase reinforces the market trend among larger companies like Archstone to think, build, and buy green. Read more here.

Net zero homes on Bainbridge Island now open for tours

Have you checked out the net zero model homes on Bainbridge Island yet? No, we’re not referring to the internet provider–net zero in this case refers to energy consumption. The homes are located in Grow Community, eight acres that have been planned to be a “pedestrian-oriented, energy-efficient, multigenerational neighborhood.” Eventually, Grow Community plans to situate 50 single-family homes and 81 rental apartments in the development, all clustered around green spaces in “micro-neighborhoods.” Check out more about what net zero looks like here.

…And those are our stories for today. Enjoy your weekend, stay dry…and we’ll see you next week!

The Green Report: ‘Passive’ Housing, Amenity Rooftops, & Eco-Friendly Moving Services

Welcome to the debut of The Green Report. We’ve got news about eco-friendly projects and concepts clear from Seattle to New York today. Let’s dive in!

Local contractor builds “Seattle’s first passive house” in Ranier Valley.

Just what, you might ask, is a passive house? Local contractor Hammer & Hand, who has just finished building Courtland Place in Seattle, explains: “The beauty of passive house is its simplicity. We’re able to eliminate big mechanical systems and gadgetry and instead use modern building science to design and construct super-efficient buildings.”

The result is a dwelling that achieves up to 80% gains in efficiency when compared to its more traditional counterparts. So is there a secret to building passively? According to Hammer & Hand, the magic words can be summed up thusly: insulation, insulation, insulation. Check out the full article in the Seattle PI.

Eco-friendly moving services: do they actually save renters money?

When it comes right down to it, there are probably few domestic enterprises that  utilize as many quickly disposed-of materials as moving. Traditionally, in order to move, one needs boxes, tape, and packing materials (styrofoam “peanuts” have, thank goodness, given way to crumpled paper)–and all of that often had to be purchased, all to be discarded once the move was over. But no longer.

The very best green enterprises are win-win, helping the environment and saving consumers money at the same time; and it turns out, eco-friendly moving solutions fit that mold. These days, green moving companies are cropping up all over the country, providing reusable packing containers and materials to their customers. The bonus? Sturdy plastic bins that companies provide protect keepsakes better than boxes, and pack more compactly into moving vans. Check out the Reuters story at MSNBC.com.

Looking for a single-family home to invest in? Green model homes are demonstrating how you can save yourself–and your renters–money.

Is green going mainstream in the single-family housing industry? It just may be–according to the National Association of Homebuilders, 17% of new and remodeled houses in 2011 were classified as green. That’s up 2% from 2005, signifying a slow-but-steady shift towards housing that saves energy–and plenty of money as well. Now KB Homes is showcasing new “net-zero” model homes.

Net Zero homes have Energy Star appliances, sure, but they go beyond that old standard to provide solar panels, water-smart irrigation, and charging stations for electric cars in every garage. What does this mean for landlords? So many of us pay for our tenants’ water service–and dramatic savings on their monthly energy bill means tenants have more money available for upgrades. Finally, there’s no denying the novelty of having a green house on the rental market. Check out the full story from the Seattle Times.

Apartment rooftop parks can seal the deal for families transitioning out of single-family housing.

The country-wide shift from buying to renting has been great for efficiency–multifamily housing is almost always more energy efficient than a single-family home–but there has been a casualty that some transitioning families find difficult: the loss of a backyard. While suburban multifamily buildings often have landscaped grounds, playgrounds and pools, urban buildings can sometimes pose a challenge when it comes to designing outdoor space with true appeal. Enter the reappearance of the rooftop garden, as heralded in the New York Times this week.

“Suburban rooftop parks; lounges; terraces with hot tubs and outdoor kitchens; and eco-friendly gardens are being planned for new multifamily developments from Great Neck to Sag Harbor,” the Times writes of the Manhattan resurgence of these green rooftop amenities. More exclusive than a public park–you’ll only run into your neighbors–and well planned for families, with features such as splash fountains for children, these rooftop gardens are marketed as major amenities, pleasing multifamily management, and ease the transition into multifamily housing for those who love their outdoor recreation. Check out the article in the NYTimes.com.

Ahhh.