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The average household in the United States consumes 10,500 kilowatt-hours annually. However, that varies depending on the type of residence and what region the home is in. Attached apartment units have the lowest average energy consumption per unit, due to the fact that the residences don’t have all exterior walls. Apartment buildings with five or more units tend to be more energy efficient than those with fewer units for that reason.  

Commercial developers, designers, and builders can create even more energy-efficient apartments by considering specific factors that contribute to energy-efficient building designs.  

Benefits of Energy-Efficient Design 

Energy-efficient building design has potential benefits for developers, property owners, and residents in apartment complexes. Some of the most common benefits of energy-efficient apartments are:  

  • Cost savings: Creating apartment buildings with energy efficiency in mind may mean higher costs during the construction phase. For instance, you may install solar panels or select higher-quality insulation. However, these upgrades recoup those expenses later in the form of lower energy costs.  
  • Enhanced return on investment: Cost savings, appealing to more potential tenants, and other energy-efficient design choices can improve the long-term return on your investment. That’s especially true as governments increasingly implement ESG programs — buildings that are already energy-efficient may not need to be converted as regulations change in various locales.  
  • Ability to qualify for programs and rebates: Energy-efficient development projects may qualify for tax rebates and other programs that can help reduce costs. 
  • Increased reach: Almost 80% of consumers feel that sustainability is an important consideration, and more than 60% say they try to make sustainable choices often or always. If your apartment building is eco-friendly, it can be an important selling point when seeking tenants.  
  • Reduced impact of harmful emissions: An eco-friendly building reduces the overall impact your project or living space has on the environment.  

8 Features of Energy-Efficient Building Design for Apartments 

Understanding how to build apartments that support the benefits above is important for those who are interested in sustainable apartment buildings and commercial real estate investments. Eco-friendly apartments rely on innovations in energy and home design in many ways, but common-sense choices can also play a role in their design and construction. Here are eight apartment features that take overall energy consumption into account.  

1. The Design Takes Nature Into Account 

Sometimes, it’s not about technology but about using the existing resources of the landscape to support energy-efficient apartment exterior design. A tree line that provides shade and screening from the late afternoon sun keeps exterior patios and adjacent interior rooms cooler in warm weather. An embankment, hill, or small mountain blocking winds keeps an entire complex warmer during brisk, cold winter months. These are just a few of the ways natural elements can play a role in eco-friendly apartment design.  

2. Eco-friendly Transportation Is Supported and Encouraged 

Development that supports eco-friendly lifestyles outside the residences enhances the environmental benefits. Considering where a building is located and whether public transportation options are easily accessible cut down on how many residents use individual vehicles. The inclusion of EV charging stations on the property also helps support tenants who want to purchase more sustainable vehicles. EV charging stations provide on-site efficient charging. This reduces residents from practicing less effective methods, such as using extension cords and interior outlets.  

3. Solar Panels Are Installed 

Solar panels can be a major benefit when you want to add eco-friendly features to an apartment building. They help reduce how much power households need to draw from the grid and reduce overall energy costs. 

Solar panel savings vary depending on the amount of sunshine an area gets. To understand how much savings a single residential unit might experience from solar panels, consider these figures from MarketWatch research, which provide average annual savings related to residential solar panels in each state: 

  • Hawaii: $4,302 
  • California: $2,841 
  • New York: $2,001 
  • Texas: $1,498 
  • Kentucky: $1,064 
  • Washington: $865 

4. Insulation Is Well Chosen and Installed Properly 

Effective insulation and air sealing can reduce cooling and heating costs by around 20%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Taking time to make effective insulation choices when building apartments positively impacts how buildings affect the environment. An added benefit is that you can upgrade existing buildings with better insulation, providing an advantageous upgrade for properties you purchase. 

5. Appliances Are Selected With Efficiency in Mind 

From the kitchen to the water heaters and HVAC units installed in apartment complexes, appliances play a huge role in how much energy households may use on average.   

When designing apartments with an eye toward energy efficiency, HVAC units should be a first concern. According to the Residential Energy Consumption Survey, around a fifth of energy consumed in residences in the United States is associated with air conditioning. When you make choices that reduce how much energy is required to heat or cool a space, you can cut down on energy consumption by a large percentage. Some options for doing this include: 

  • Installing ENERGY STAR-rated HVAC units that are designed to work more efficiently than historical models 
  • Including programmable or smart thermostats in each unit to make it easier for residents or the property owner to manage cooling and heating in a way that minimizes energy consumption 
  • Investing in maintenance and service for HVAC units regularly to ensure they are operating at peak efficiency 

Take this same approach with other appliances included in apartments, such as refrigerators, water heaters, ranges and ovens, and dishwashers. 

6. Vent Placements Are Logical and Efficient 

Consider seemingly small details, such as where vents are placed within each unit, to maximize airflow and efficiency. The layout of floor plans can also help create efficiencies. Designers and builders should consider where heat-producing appliances might go and how multi-level structures can impact the efficiency of heating and cooling.  

7. LED Lighting Is Prioritized 

Consider prioritizing LED lighting throughout apartment buildings. This includes built-in interior lighting as well as exterior lighting. Designs that integrate motion-sensor lights that ensure paths and other areas are lit when residents are present but not at all times can help reduce energy consumption. Solar-powered path, garden, and patio lighting can also reduce the costs to illuminate exterior and common spaces.  

8. Energy-Efficient or Smart Glass Windows 

Smart glass windows adapt to environmental elements like sunshine or external temperatures. The tint adjusts to create climate control, reducing sunlight to cool a space or allowing sunlight to warm a space. Efficient windows can substantially reduce costs associated with heating and cooling and, to a lesser degree, negate some of the energy costs associated with lighting.  

Understand Your Options for Energy Costs 

While you can impact the cost of energy in commercial residential buildings with design and construction elements, at some point, you may find that you’ve leveraged all the savings you can in this manner. However, you may still be able to find lower energy costs. Request a quote and find low electricity and natural gas rates available for your location. 

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