Apartments: The Low-Impact Green Investment

Regardless of the age of the property, apartment life offers many advantages for individuals and for the greater community, especially for those seeking a greener, healthier and more responsible lifestyle. Living in an apartment leaves a smaller carbon footprint than single family homes. Why? How? Lower energy and water use, more efficient use of city infrastructure, and less material demand are just a few reasons.


Apartments are built with efficiency in mind and use fewer square feet than a single family home. Multifamily residents don’t waste energy by heating or cooling spare rooms, empty spaces and storage areas. Many single-family homes have excessive space for occupant needs so substantial square footage is devoted to underutilized space and storage. Further, the design of an apartment building creates fewer walls exposed to exterior conditions. This helps prevent heating and cooling loss, which further lowers demand for heating and cooling. The lower energy use shrinks the carbon footprint of renters and saves them money on utility bills.  Shared walls and apartment sizing also create efficiencies in material use, as fewer materials are required to construct a home and less carbon emissions are created during manufacturing and delivery. Even water usage, particularly exterior use, is more efficient due to the shared outdoor spaces in apartment communities.


Apartment dwellers drive fewer miles and have greater transit usage than many single family homeowners. In many cases, this is due to the location of urban and suburban apartment buildings which have easy access to mass transit and walkable employment and entertainment. Shorter commutes, public transportation access and walkability provide options for residents to significantly decrease their carbon footprint and avoid adding to traffic woes. It’s also an easy way to get some exercise.


Most apartments are in medium to large cities that require new multifamily buildings to receive a green building certification or comply with other sustainability requirements, such as covered bike storage, EV stations and green or white roofs. These regulations ensure that apartments are not just green today, but will continue to embrace green practices in the future. For existing multifamily buildings, many cities require energy benchmarking and mandate energy audits to improve performance. Some cities are taking this a step further and implementing carbon emission limits that include hefty fines for noncompliance.


Dedicated apartment developers and management companies have opportunities to make small decisions with big impacts. For example, instituting indoor air quality policies requiring the use of low/no VOC paints and flooring and using green cleaning products can all help avoid contaminants that can harm or disrupt resident health. Further, instituting recycling in apartment communities and making spaces for specialty recycling facilities encourage a high rate of participation by making it easy for any resident to participate.

Apartment buildings have the basic building blocks to be top sustainability performers in the housing industry. Sustainable practices in design, construction and operations create value for owners and residents and will continue to expand through resident demand, investor reporting and government mandates. Understanding and implementing best practices will help residents live a lower impact lifestyle and provide long term benefits for building owners.