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Nov 10, 2021

The Link Between Energy Efficiency and Affordable Housing

Affordable housing can be made more sustainable by implementing energy-efficient technologies, reducing utility bills and carbon footprints. This two-pronged approach can also create job opportunities and promote environmental and socioeconomic equality. By enhancing energy efficiency, we can curb emissions, improve local air quality, and reduce energy bills for homeowners.

By: Evelyn Long

Two men shake hands in the background and a hard hit sits on the desk.

Many residents experience the financial challenges associated with rising utility costs. If individuals rely on the conventional energy grid, they will notice price variations in their monthly bills based on environmental and commercial factors. Though many residents can afford minor cost differentiations, others must retreat to less expensive locations to meet their financial needs.

Researchers are exploring the benefits of implementing energy-efficient technologies when building and rehabilitating affordable housing, shrinking both utility bills and carbon footprints. Building performance professionals can respond to the financial demand by strengthening the link between energy efficiency and affordable housing and establishing sustainable change.

The Demand for Low-Emission, Low-Cost Properties

State and federal government efforts are eyeing opportunities to achieve ambitious climate goals while assisting citizens with a significant housing shortage and affordability crisis. Combining these efforts moves us forward in both areas, making localities more attractive, sustainable places to live.

There are also supply-side benefits. Adding energy-efficient technology to existing properties and constructing new low-emission homes can increase employment opportunities and general job security. Investing in a sustainability-conscious skilled workforce can boost economic success for both building performance professionals and the households they serve.

The benefits of taking on affordable housing and environmental improvements as a two-pronged approach are pretty clear. Next, we’ll dive into the goals associated with this connection—exploring why it matters for emissions reduction, environmental health, and household cost-savings.

Goal: Curbing Emissions and Enhancing Conservation Accessibility

Enhancing the energy efficiency of homes significantly improves their sustainability by minimizing pollution. Nearly 20% of America’s carbon emissions derive from residential energy use. Adding efficient appliances, like smart thermostats and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, can help residents shrink their footprints. Furthermore, using available resources to seal older properties against the elements and practice energy-efficient design techniques can passively reduce energy bills over time.

The majority of electricity and power in the U.S. comes from fossil fuels, which create greenhouse gas emissions during combustion. Air pollution alters the atmosphere, changing Earth’s temperature control process. The planet relies on a specific balance of elements, maintaining life-sufficient surface temperatures.

Over time, air pollution raises Earth’s temperature, powering a ripple effect of environmental degradation. Professionals can minimize the enhanced greenhouse effect by reducing residential emissions. Adding energy-efficient technology in affordable housing can increase equitable access to carbon reduction efforts.

Many emission reduction technologies are costly, decreasing low-income individuals’ ability to shrink their carbon footprints. Home rehabilitation programs can help offset the costs of energy efficient improvements. In the meantime, building performance professionals can recommend energy-efficient appliances in affordable houses to minimize residential pollution and utility costs. Focusing on efforts to seal the building envelope of an older, inefficient home can also make a marked difference on environmental impact.

Goal: Greater Environmental and Socioeconomic Equality

Nearly 300,000 affordable housing projects will expire in the next five years, leaving various families without access to shelter. Low-income individuals already struggle to find affordable properties in America, and declining subsidized housing exacerbates environmental inequality.

Housing-related financial limitations can harm individuals in less carefully regulated communities. The most famous modern example of this impact is Flint, Michigan. Environmental inequality put Flint residents at risk during the 2014 water crisis, creating a nationwide warning about the intersecting relationship between environmental efforts, housing, and public health.

Energy efficiency and water quality are distinct concerns, but they break down for similar reasons: lack of funds and lack of community support. Contractors, city planners, and public advocates can reduce the health-related effects of environmental inequality by preserving the affordability of homes and taking full advantage of low-cost or subsidized techniques to preserve energy efficiency.

Goal: Improving Local Air Quality

Enhancing the energy efficiency of affordable houses can also improve local air quality and help individual buildings withstand air leaks, preserving air quality for households and communities alike.

Emission reduction efforts begin in the construction phase as professionals build and renovate residential communities. Building professionals, especially those working on internal improvements, can take advantage of electric-powered equipment to reduce the risk of emissions-based health risks over the course of a project. The electrification of the industry can help professionals maintain construction safety while also reducing the carbon footprint of improvement projects.

Another air quality issue comes from the need for greener neighborhood design. Low-income urban communities with fewer green areas and standard roofing can experience the urban heat island effect. Surface-level emissions may produce ground-level ozone over time, increasing regional temperatures. Some urban regions experience up to 7° Fahrenheit higher daytime temperatures compared to surrounding areas.

The urban heat island effect increases the risk of heatstroke and other temperature-related illnesses. How can building performance combat these effects? One method is considering how energy-efficient improvements can have both an individual and community-wide impact.

One of the most popular techniques for reducing the urban heat island effect is cool roofing. Cool roofs incorporate a high solar reflectance to reflect sunlight away from a building, keeping the inside cooler and also contributing to neighborhood-wide relief against hotter weather. Homeowners can be sold on the energy savings, while community initiatives can be sold on the wider environmental impact.

Goal: Reducing Energy Bills for Homeowners

Last but not least, there’s the reality that can motivate any homeowner, regardless of income, to pursue energy efficiency improvements: energy-efficient techniques can reduce the cost burden of utilities over time. Homes can only remain affordable for decades to come if they are built or rehabilitated to heat, cool, and manage power for households sustainably.

All of the above points lead into potential energy savings. A few more techniques or services that make a difference:

  • Professionals can install smart thermostats in affordable houses to minimize adverse health effects and utility costs. The device connects to one’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system, maintaining energy-efficient indoor temperatures.
  • Professionals can recommend ENERGY STAR certified appliances to reduce operating costs over time. While more advanced appliances hit the market every year, sustainably-operating appliance also become more affordable as the market expands to reach a lower-income market over time.

Linking Energy Efficiency and Affordable Housing

Energy efficiency and affordability go hand-in-hand. Building professionals can take advantage of both proposed government programs to promote improved energy efficiency in the housing stock and increased demand from cost-conscious consumers to make a strong impact on both issues.

There’s no doubt that the building performance industry plays a critical role in easing the way for the country’s carbon reduction goals and homeowners’ desire for greater economic success. Identifying the way these goals intersect can help experts promote a future that benefits everyone involved.

Evelyn Long
Writer and Editor

Evelyn Long is a writer and editor focused on home building and construction. She is the co-founder of Renovated, a web magazine for the home industry.

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