Andrea Sassenrath Photography

Sustainable design doesn't have to be expensive.

A new, 60-unit, 50,000-square-foot mixed-used residential building in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood, Cove is designed to a LEED Platinum standard and incorporates features that translate to a 30% energy savings. While there may be a perception that a green building will cost developers much more than a traditional one, developer James Wong, co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Vibrant Cities, disagrees.

"A lot of developers shy away from sustainability and green building because they think it's an additional cost that doesn’t have benefit," he says. "I would say that it doesn’t necessarily have to cost more if you put sustainability into the design from the beginning. Also, often, if the building meets code, you may qualify for a LEED certification already."

Here, Wong and Michelle Kinsch, associate principal of Seattle architecture firm Tiscareno Associates, discuss how this green project came to life without breaking the bank.

Andrea Sassenrath Photography

What are the specific green features of Cove?

Kinsch: The windows are triple glazed, which makes a big difference in energy performance. They also have the added benefit of sound attenuation, so residents don't hear the traffic noises from the busy neighborhood inside their unit. Heat and air-conditioning are provided by high-efficiency mini-split heat pumps, and the units have efficient plumbing fixtures and Energy Star–rated appliances.

Wong: There are also a wide variety of solar panels on the south side of the building that serve as awnings and generate more than 14.3 kilowatts of electricity—enough to power the common areas. If there's additional electricity the common areas didn’t use, it goes back into the grid and we get a credit against our power bill, which gets translated to savings for the tenant.

Kinsch: Residents also have access to a 3,000-square-foot green roof, complete with seating and lush vegetation. The plants allow natural filtration of stormwater, prolonging the roof’s lifetime and flushing cleaner water into the city’s waterways. Additionally, the upper level uses sustainable materials like bamboo and prefinished cement boards to create an undulating, wavelike pattern that contrasts with the ground floor’s design.

Andrea Sassenrath Photography

How did you keep the project affordable?

Kinsch: Design-wise, the exterior and the shape of the building are very simple. That saves on construction costs. We also speced a fiber-cement panel for the exterior that's cost effective.

Wong: Cove sits on a 9,000-square-foot lot. To achieve maximum net-rentable square footage, the design has units that interlock efficiently like a jigsaw puzzle. On the ground floor, the combination of micro-retail and a larger retail space, along with the residential lobby and mezzanine, makes for one large efficient space.

Andrea Sassenrath Photography

Why do renters want to live at a green property?

Wong: Our target market is young urban professionals, and for millennials and young professionals, green is cool. They care about location and price, of course, but when they walk into a building and they see a LEED-certified sign, they can feel good about living in a green building. We see it as a benefit to what this demographic cares about.

What are the benefits to an owner of developing a green property?

Wong: In addition to saving cost on energy performance, we're attracting a crowd of potential tenants who care about the environment and care about sustainability. The project opened in the middle of July, and in less than 90 days, we were 90% occupied. Certainly, there’s healthy demand for good apartments in Seattle, [and] our lease-up rate speaks to the importance of a great location right in the heart of downtown, but also [to] attracting tenants who value a sustainable community.

Rents at Cove start at about $1,800 for a studio and $3,000 for a two-bedroom.