The Ralph J. Pomery Apartments underwent a $21 million renovation to become LEED Platinum certified. The senior community's green roof serves as both a community garden and a water conservation system.

Larry Kraemer and his team at Harkins Builders often build eco-friendly senior communities, but you wouldn’t know it. There's no plaque or suitable-for-framing certificate prominently displayed when the development opens its doors.

“Generally, we don’t see too many get the certification” he says. “They just are willing to offer it but not get it certified and normally commissioning costs are the reason they don’t get it certified. They’re designing to the level just not taking it that final step.”

Kraemer, senior vice president of preconstruction services, feels a lot of the reason is because certifications are often used as marketing tools and seniors aren’t concerned or drawn to green certifications.

Many market-rate communities try to use the green certifications to appeal to young professionals or Gen-Y renters who want to lead a very eco-friendly lifestyle.

“The seniors don’t seem to have that concern,” he says. “They’re concerned more about availability and price.”

However, Carl Seville believes the aging population of renters should be concerned about green living because green certified buildings offer a cleaner and healthier environment for them to live in.

Seville, a principle at SK Collaborative, says green buildings will have fewer drafts, fewer cold spots and healthier air which can all benefit senior residents who may be sensitive to temperature changes.

“Avoiding things that are going to make people unhealthy is the key to green building,” he says.

Green on a Budget
High-end amenities are considered luxuries for senior housing, Kraemer says. His company develops many communities in Maryland where energy efficiency codes are enforced.

“A lot of Maryland work has some sort of energy efficiency,” he says “But above and beyond the standard? It’s hard to do in the senior world because they’re trying to make budgets work.”

Harkins Builders often build with more standard green features in mind, such as water conservation systems, low-VOC materials and proper eco-friendly insulation, Kraemer says.

Both Seville and Kraemer agree that many of the green senior developments being finished in recent years are the direct result of affordable housing programs offering money or incentives to build eco-friendly.

The Chicago Housing Authority recently achieved LEED Platinum certification on the Ralph J. Pomery Apartments, a senior living rehab developed as part of the city's Plan for Transformation. The building underwent a $21 million renovation in 2010 and 2011. About $18 million of the renovation money came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Maya Hodari, the development manager for Pomeroy, says.

The 105-unit building was updated to include geothermal walls, solar panels, storm water control and high-performance windows.

One feature that could chew up a developer’s wallet is a green roof, but the Pomeroy staff feels their green space was worth every penny. Hodari says many of the residents enjoy the rooftop and a green space that was developed in the middle of the building’s courtyard.

“We have a gardening opportunity for the seniors on the rooftop and that was one of the very popular items,” she says.

And while spaces like green roofs or inset courtyards may cost more to develop, a green certified building should save money over the long term, Seville says.

“In terms of affordability the green building is going to have less maintenance and lower utility bills,” he says. “And it’s going to be more comfortable.”

Lindsay Machak is an Associate Editor for Multifamily Executive. Connect with her on Twitter @LMachak.