Passive design and affordable housing

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“Passive design” refers to technologies and construction methods that increase a building’s energy efficiency and reduce its operating costs without using complex systems.

Examples of passive design techniques include relatively inexpensive improvements like increasing a building’s insulation or creating air-tight building envelopes. Such improvements can help to maintain occupant comfort, provide good indoor air quality and control moisture.

For affordable housing providers, passive design techniques can be an attractive way to increase the affordability of their housing units. Because passive measures improve building performance, they can also help lower the cost of housing and of utilities. This is especially important for affordable housing tenants, since the rising cost of utilities can make even the lowest-cost housing unaffordable for many.

What about the cost of using passive design features? Well, the cost of including such features in a construction project do vary from one project to the next. When they do generate additional costs, it is important to remember that passive design features can result in considerable savings over a building’s life cycle. In addition to reduced energy consumption and lower utility bills, other non-energy-related benefits for affordable housing providers include:

  • the avoidance of rate subsidies;
  • lower bad-debt write-offs;
  • reduced carrying costs for arrears;
  • fewer notices and customer calls;
  • fewer shut-offs and reconnections due to delinquencies; and
  • an increase in overall property values.

Passive design features are therefore worth being considered by affordable housing providers as a way to lower costs. Providers, tenants and the environment all have something to gain from passive design.

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