Sustainability has come to command the attention of individuals, businesses, and governments working to take more socially conscious actions that are supportive of the environment and their communities.
Where sustainability matters for homeowner associations
Like most organizations, homeowner associations need to balance the desire for positive impact with the economics of reality. As they mirror the values of their communities, homeowner associations can find opportunities for sustainability measures that can have a positive effect on operating costs, energy usage, and property values.
Environmentally driven improvements often lower operating expenses by reducing the amount your homeowner association spends on energy, water, and maintenance. Green buildings and communities appeal to many homeowners as well and can often raise property values—51% of real estate agents say sustainability is somewhat/very interesting to house or condominium buyers.1
Prioritizing environmental improvements can align your homeowner association with governmental policies and regulations. There are also federal, state, and municipal tax benefits and awards that may enhance the economics of some improvements.
Adhering to sustainable policies can even affect your homeowner association’s access to funding for improvements. Government agencies and certain organizations sometimes provide grants for environmental upgrades. Taking advantage of those opportunities can lower the initial cost of becoming a greener community while allowing your homeowner association to reap the long-term financial and quality-of-life benefits.
Lenders will sometimes consider a project’s environmental impact when making funding decisions, and government agencies such as Freddie Mac2 and Fannie Mae3offer ESG-focused programs that help communities achieve positive outcomes at a lower cost.
Green choices for homeowner associations
Homeowner associations have numerous ways to express their commitment to responsible environmental stewardship, from routine maintenance choices to major infrastructure projects. Find opportunities by thinking about what is used, how much is used, and the interface between your homeowner association and the natural world.
Basics like recycling office paper and buying environmentally safe cleaning products are easy enough, but what does a more meaningful green approach look like in practical terms?
Improving energy efficiency with upgrades to lighting fixtures in communal spaces and reducing water usage are natural places to start. You can also explore using greener energy sources and products, including those employed in maintenance and construction. When you’re looking at projects that may draw on homeowner association reserves, require an assessment, or need financing, you should consider sustainable infrastructure projects that may require more investment, but can pay back over the long term in reduced costs for the homeowner association or reduced impact on the environment.
Homeowner associations that are serious about sustainability have a variety of infrastructure upgrades to consider as they build their plans:
- HVAC – The efficiency of heating and air conditioning systems has an outsized effect on energy demands. Newer, high-efficiency systems save energy (and lower energy bills) during the summer and winter, year after year. Not only do many localities and utilities offer rebates and incentives for purchasing more efficient HVAC equipment, but the reduction in energy costs can accelerate pay back as well. Getting the correct size is important—a system that’s too large or too small for the space won’t work as efficiently as it should—as is finding the balance between the need for increased air flow to improve air quality and the goal of decreasing airflow for HVAC equipment efficiency.
- Insulation – Older buildings and those with inadequate insulation waste energy and aren’t as comfortable for residents. Consider an energy audit to find out where conditioned air is being lost, then add insulation and replace older doors and windows as needed. Residents will appreciate the difference and won’t miss the drafts.
- Renewables – Homeowner associations can be candidates for renewable energy sources like wind or solar. These projects require careful study and implementation, but if your community is positioned well, they can pay for themselves in terms of both energy use, property value, and attractiveness to homeowners who appreciate your environmental stewardship.
- Landscaping – Strategies like rainwater recapture, irrigation improvements, and smart sprinkler systems can lower your homeowner association’s water bill and conserve natural resources. Using native plants to replace non-natives often reduces water needs and maintenance requirements. It can also create a landscape that’s more comfortable for users and fits well into the surrounding natural world. Native plants typically demand fewer chemical fertilizers, and careful choice of plants that grow well together can sometimes reduce the need for pesticides.
- Landscape architecture – The design of your community and its built environment influences flooding risk and controls the amount of water that is lost to runoff, along with topsoil and potentially hazardous chemicals. Reducing impervious surface area and optimizing water retention on the homeowner association’s property can help the environment while making a pleasant outdoor space that’s easier to maintain over the long term.
Your homeowner association can save money, become more appealing to homeowners, and take the right steps for the planet all at the same time, and that makes exploring sustainable investments worthwhile.