Housing ‘Upsells’ with Eco Features

By Nathan Owens
The Razorback Reporter

Click to enlarge. Nathan Owens / Razorback Reporter

Click to enlarge. Nathan Owens / Razorback Reporter

Smart houses and environmentally friendly apartments are becoming more prevalent, and though they’re not cheap, they’re in demand because they are built for a generation that is OK with spending a little extra to support sustainability, a University of Arkansas visiting professor said.

Alison Turner, a visiting architecture professor, said eco-friendly apartments and townhouses appeal to the younger generation because they’re more aware of sustainable options, more educated on living sustainable lifestyles and more committed to reducing their carbon footprint.

“I would say the younger consumer is more intelligent about their decisions, and the fact that they’re asking for these things — that’s part of how things move forward,” she said.

UA students who want a similar living option can look at the Eco Modern Flats on Duncan Avenue. Eco Modern Flats were built to emphasize reducing energy use.

Eco Modern holds Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design platinum certification, which means the apartments are at the forefront of sustainable design and function. The residences are equipped with solar-heated water and Energy Star-certified appliances. The buildings also have containers that collect storm water, which is reused for gardening during dry spells.

Julia Holliday, who works for University Recreation, lived there last spring in a one-bedroom apartment and said she loved the emphasis the complex had on sustainable living. In the long run, she thought that living sustainably would lower the cost of living, not make it higher than a traditional apartment, she said. The cheapest option there is $850 a month, according to the website.

“I definitely thought that since I was living at a place that was more conscious about the amount of resources we were using and trying to advocate a lifestyle of using less, that the bills would reflect on how much we were saving, but it didn’t,” she said.

Rent Increases Similar

A one-bedroom residence in Fayetteville rents for about $532 a month, according to a website that calculates living costs. That’s about $300 less than the least expensive rental in Eco Modern Flats, and a cost difference in line with energy-saving residences in other housing markets.

Holliday now lives with two other people in a house across the street from Eco Modern Flats. The house doesn’t have the same sustainable features, but she said she recycles the same amount and is just as considerate about lighting and heating in her house.

“My bills are a lot less,” she said. “Looking back, I do question exactly what I was paying for.”

Jon Carlsmith, a UA graduate who lives in Cupertino, California, is a program manager for the Apple online store. Finding an apartment in the heart of Silicon Valley was very competitive, he said, but he found a luxury suite with high-tech features in his price range.

Carlsmith pays $2,690 in rent monthly for a newly renovated one-bedroom apartment with a Nest thermostat, solar-heated hot water and LED lighting.

Nest thermostats reduce heating and cooling bills by 20 percent, according to the company website. It does so by adapting to residents’ living patterns and adjusts the temperature when they are inside or outside the building. It also can be controlled by a smartphone or tablet, so it can be a comfort to people who forget to adjust the thermostat before leaving home.

Energy Savings Significant

These appliances might cost more for the builder and in return for the occupant, but they do lower the energy bill.

“My first full month electric bill was $31,” Carlsmith said. “It’s a mild climate, but my co-workers who live nearby were shocked. My rent definitely accounts for these features, but the rent is just a couple hundred more than what I would be paying in a few other places in the area that haven’t been updated in 10 to 15 years, if ever.”

Silicon Valley apartment developers don’t have to worry about placing an excess of high-tech features in their properties, because most workers in the tech field can afford these perks, Carlsmith said.

“Perks like a Nest, super-efficient lighting, and solar water heating draw tech workers with great salaries who are willing to pay a little more for those things,” Carlsmith said. “The developers charge a little more, keep their units full, and turn a profit sooner.”

Turner teaches architecture students to think of each room in a house or apartment as having purpose, she said, and replacing the idea that bigger houses are better.

For instance, the Eco Modern Flats monthly rent for their cheapest room costs roughly the same as most newly built single-bedroom apartments. Residents, however, get more square footage for their buck in apartments that are not built specifically to be energy efficient.

Guest bedrooms, formal dining rooms and master bedrooms “are a complete waste of space in a modern house,” Turner said. “We don’t spend that much time in bedrooms so why do we need these palatial suites when we really need just a space for our bed and for our clothes.”

This type of living is more modern and the younger generation is more aware of being environmentally responsible, she said. “It’s sort of cool.”