With temperatures setting record highs around the world, consumers are determined to decrease the energy usage in their homes. LED bulbs, energy-efficient appliances, and building-envelope upgrades all have gained popularity in the pursuit of energy efficiency.

However, what gets discussed less often is the importance of home type in the energy equation. Several studies have shown that residents in multifamily buildings have a much smaller environmental footprint and a more active lifestyle than those in single-family housing.

AMLI’s Green Manifesto summarizes the ways that housing type can impact a resident’s environmental footprint through resources such as infrastructure, water, and energy use. As we at AMLI and SOM continue the conceptual design of a sustainable multifamily high-rise for the 2018 Multifamily Executive Concept Community, "Building Positive + Living Well," the team has become even more convinced that multifamily properties excel at maximizing energy savings while improving resident well-being.

US Census Bureau

Home Size—How Big Is Too Big?
Not surprisingly, a small home is better for energy usage than a large home. However, perhaps more surprisingly, it can also be better for happiness.

The average American household is in more debt than ever, in part because home prices continue to outpace inflation. Part of the household debt problem is due to the fact the average house size keeps trending upward.

Ironically, people have increasingly chosen larger homes despite a continued decline in household size, as the above chart from the Census Bureau shows. But does the extra square footage lead to a better quality of life? For most households, the answer is no.

According to Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, by journalist Charles Montgomery, while people experience an initial charge of happiness when moving into a large home, our brains are hardwired to return to our prior stage of relative happiness, and the initial surge of joy quickly dissipates.

What is left are larger mortgage payments and often longer commutes in exchange for the extra square footage. Designing homes that are appropriately sized for the average family’s needs could be better for their long-term happiness and well-being. The accompanying energy savings creates an additional benefit.

Preventing Heat Loss—and Social Isolation
Another large obstacle for energy efficiency is heat loss. In a typical home, 70% of heat loss occurs through the roof, walls, and floor. Designing homes with shared walls can prevent this. Multifamily buildings and, to a lesser extent, townhomes have a vastly more-efficient natural structure than a single-family home, due to shared walls, floors, and ceilings.

Avoiding heat loss also helps residents feel more comfortable, since the temperature throughout the home will be more consistent and the building less likely to have drafts. The close proximity among residents in multifamily housing also creates opportunities to improve overall well-being with community spaces that decrease social isolation.

Building on an Energy-Efficient Foundation
The 2018 MFE Concept Community provides an opportunity for AMLI and SOM to build on the natural efficiencies inherent in apartment homes and look ahead to the game-changing energy features of the future to cut energy use even further.

Learn more about the innovative ways to build on the energy efficiency and health benefits apartments offer at the MFE Conference in September and by tracking the project at www.multifamilyexecutive.com/mfe-concept-community.