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Living lightly: Condos go ecofriendly

Solar roof: Photovoltaic film atop condo units in Sebastopol, Calif., should provide all electricity needs.

Douglas Johnson, courtesy of Ibis Builds

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Q: I’ve followed the trends in “eco-homes” now for many years. Are there equally encouraging things happening in the world of condos?
Charlie Anderson, Seattle

A: Believe it or not, condominiums may be some of the most environmentally responsible housing out there today, especially since more and more developers are paying attention to sustainability.

By their very nature, many condo complexes adhere to some of the most basic tenets of green housing: density, to maximize surrounding open space and minimize buildings’ physical and operational footprints; proximity to mass transit, given their typical location in urban areas; and reduced resource use per unit, thanks to shared systems, walls, and common spaces.

Builders can elect to layer on other green elements, such as high-efficiency appliances and HVAC systems, green roofs, and organic landscaping.

“Projects are embracing green [to] be more responsive to what the buying public is looking for,” says Gail Vittori, chairwoman of the US Green Building Council, which produced and manages the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. “They also want to have the built environment become much more in line with environmental and health considerations,” she says.

One example is Florence Lofts, a new development of 12 townhouses and a 4,200 square foot commercial building in Sebastopol, Calif. The LEED-certified project features roofs covered with a photovoltaic film that’s expected to produce most of the electricity needs. A commercial-scale “gray water” system diverts sink and shower water for irrigation purposes, and a tank collects storm water from roofs to prevent excessive runoff.


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