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Ecoluxury: From Trend to Industry Design Standard

Eco-Luxury apartment design
September 2017

“Ecoluxury” is not a term for opulence, rather, it is a phrase that denotes something that is precious and of optimal caliber.

Today’s apartment residents are gravitating toward housing that allows them to do their part to protect precious natural resources without sacrificing the conveniences to which they have become accustomed. In line with this trend, developers and operators are creating apartment communities that cater to this “ecoluxury”-driven crowd.

Joyce Mihalik, Vice President, Integrative Design, Forest City Realty Trust in Cleveland, defines ecoluxury as “seamless elegance embedded with sustainable design that gives the resident a luxurious experience.” Sustainable features must blend with convenience, functionality and style. The ecoluxury ideals appeal across demographic boundaries.

“If you can afford it, you will want it,” Mihalik says.

Ecoluxury is not a term for opulence in this case. Rather, the phrase reflects the Latin luxus, which denotes something that is precious and of optimal caliber. The ecoluxury lifestyle signifies the value residents place on the environment and the high quality of the products they use to protect it.

The following products are commonly considered as part of ecoluxury communities throughout the United States. As demand rises and pricing becomes more competitive, these across diverse portfolios, moving this trend to an industry standard.

Home Automation Devices
Home automation is no longer a feature reserved for elite residences. It is successfully transitioning into a popular amenity for Earth-conscious and tech-savvy renters. A survey, “Americans Ready for the Smart Home,” issued by Coldwell Banker Real Estate LLC and CNET, found that 47 percent of people ages 18 to 34 own connected home technology.

Home automation devices allow residents to remotely control thermostats, fixtures, appliances and even outlets through a mobile device. Matthew Bernstein, Asset Manager, GID Investment Advisers, notes the growing popularity of smart-home devices, saying, “Home automation will continue to grow, offering new opportunities for residents to enjoy smart homes.”

GID Investment Advisers and its property management arm, Windsor Property Management Company, is a national leader in green apartment housing properties. With 11 green-certified buildings and nine additional properties in the certification process, the Boston-based company takes pride in its ecoluxury residences.

GID’s Los Angeles property, Hanover Olympic, offers 20 eco-green apartment homes. Each apartment is equipped with a programmable smart thermostat. The device automatically adjusts interior temperatures to account for factors such as occupancy, season and time of day. For occupied units, the device learns the preferences of Hanover’s residents after just a week of use. Residents may use the device’s app via their phone to control the device, overriding the automated settings. The app also offers reports on energy used and costs saved.

LED lighting presents an additional application for home automation at the property.

“We’ve installed occupancy sensors for lighting,” says Bernstein. “The lighting, often LEDs, activates when sensors detect movement in the room. After several moments without movement, the lights turn off automatically.”

Such automation keeps energy costs low and adds an additional feature that appeals to modern residents — tech gadgets that make life easier to use and enjoy their homes.

The modern apartment is not complete without an array of gadgets. Unfortunately, smart televisions, gaming consoles, computers, modems and other electronic devices draw idle current when not in use. This phantom load contributes to higher energy costs and unnecessary strain on the energy grid.

To help with power management, master switches cut all standby power from devices, also known as “vampire power.” The switch helps residents decrease energy costs and conserve resources by managing inactive devices that would normally siphon energy.

Ecoluxury is a lifestyle that includes residents’ preferences in the apartment and beyond into the amenities offered at the apartment community.

“Residents care about walkability,” Bernstein says. “Electric vehicle charging and bike storage are also on the top of the list.”

According to “What Renters Want” in The Atlantic, nearly half of Millennial car owners say they would be willing to give up their car if they had alternative modes of transportation, such as public transit, ride shares or walkability. Public transportation can eliminate the cost of a vehicle and insurance for renters, while also shortening commute times and reducing carbon emissions.

GID’s The Sovereign property in Houston offers multiple transportation options for residents. The property stands adjacent to Regent Square, a mixed-use site showcasing shops and restaurants within walking distance. The Sovereign also offers guests a storage room for up to 109 bikes, complete with a repair station. For those with farther distances to travel, the site accommodates METRO public transportation.

For residents who opt to own a vehicle, The Sovereign is equipped with two electric charging stations. Residents can charge their vehicles in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the size of the battery in conjunction with the speed of the charging station.

Electric cars are becoming more mainstream. Tesla, for example, released its Model 3 series starting at $35,000. As vehicle pricing becomes more favorable, the demand for charging stations will increase at properties of varying price points. What was once a feature of ecoluxury will increasingly become commonplace.

From Trending to Mainstream
The idea of ecoluxury encompasses both the amenities offered to residents in an apartment community and the sustainable design and construction of a building. Nearly 20 years ago, the use of renewable energy technologies was featured almost exclusively as part of high-end, new construction. Times have changed.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Renew300 Initiative aims to help federally assisted housing save money through the installation of onsite or community-based renewable energy technology. HUD’s program jumpstarted the installation of solar panels in millions of properties nationwide. For example, policymakers in California and the District of Columbia are following HUD’s lead with their own independent programs to promote solar power generation in affordable housing.

While some jurisdictions remain ahead of the curve by promoting incentive-based programs, Mihalik forecasts that sustainable living will become more mainstream quietly and naturally, “It will happen organically through the typical repair-and-replace cycle that all buildings go through. Inevitably, what we buy now is going to be more sustainable than what we were buying 20 to 30 years ago. How quickly can we get there is more of the question than whether or not we will.”

Timing depends largely on advances in retrofits, Mihalik says. While it is a challenge for older property operators to decide what and when to retrofit to remain competitive, it is a challenge worth overcoming. Residents demonstrate interest in sustainable older properties, not just new construction.

Rebecca Crunk is a young professional, Gen X, living in Philadelphia. She has been a renter in market-rate communities for more than 13 years. With each relocation, she aims for a community that is more sustainable than the last.

Crunk explains, “I wanted a more up-to-date structure. It didn’t have to be new construction but something that would offer energy-efficient appliances and something to make me feel that the building was looking to make as little of a footprint as possible,” she says. “The majority of the people that I hang around are like-minded.”

Residents are paying attention to the sustainability choices made by operators. As discerning apartment hunters seek the savings offered by green products, the demand for ecoluxury living will continue to grow and become a standard throughout the industry.

What’s Next?
“We think in the future, eco amenities will be tied into the Internet of things and many will be anchored by sensors,” says Shawn Mahoney, CIO of GID. “Sensor information will be accessed by the management company and the resident, and used for the basis for automated responses or traditional decision-making. I see a lot of potential in that.”

Mahoney cites progress in lighting as a leading example of the trend. Light is linked to the circadian rhythm of most living creatures. When LEDs are connected to sensors, users can control the color and intensity of the lights to mimic certain conditions or promote a mood or atmosphere.

“You will see a lot of that in commercial spaces,” says Mahoney. “We haven’t seen how that would work in residential but we’re keeping on top of that.”

Intelligent personal assistants (IPA) such as Alexa, Siri and Cortana are also growing in popularity. The market for IPAs is expected to exceed $11 billion by 2024, according to a report by Global Market Insights.

IPAs will connect with more devices throughout the smart home. Now most popular in mobile devices and smart speakers, IPAs of the future will integrate with home automation.

Technology pioneer Mark Zuckerberg has developed a real-life Jarvis that is voice-activated and home-automation equipped. The technology is not yet ready for mass consumption but developments seem promising.

Erica Rascon, Creative Writer, Digital Content, for Yardi Systems.