Smart Communities Network banner

WelcomeContactSite IndexNewsletterEspanol

Green Buildings

Building Principles

Building Programs

Rating Systems

US Building Efforts

Affordable Housing

Success Stories

Codes / Ordinances

Articles / Publications

Educational Materials

Other Resources

Green Buildings -- Affordable Housing

In addition to being less harmful to the environment, creating healthy indoor air quality, and utilizing renewable resources, green building technologies can be affordable. Houses that are energy-efficient, for example, use less energy than their conventional counterparts, which makes them more affordable to lower-income families. Smaller designs and alternative and salvaged building products rely less on precious resources and can cost less than traditional approaches.

This section provides useful information on affordable housing techniques and approaches, and identifies many additional resources.

Affordable Green Design Overviews/Principles
Alternative Building Techniques and Products
Success Stories
Articles & Publications
Other Resources

Affordable Green Housing Overviews/Principles

There are a number of ways to achieve affordable green housing. The following resources discuss some of these approaches, as well as profile successful affordable housing projects.

Affordable by Design is an article that explains affordable green housing and investigates the efforts of some groups to achieve small, resource-efficient homes that are also affordable.

Affordable Housing Through Efficiency explains a project in Chicago that demonstrates the benefits of superinsulation techniques as a way to help create and maintain affordable housing.

Environmentally Responsible House Requires Thoughtful Choices profiles the affordable green building efforts of two Oregon builders.

Green Builder Program: A Sustainable Approach profiles the city of Austinís Green Builder Program and offers suggestions on how to reduce home construction costs by conserving resources.

The Green Home: Sensible Home Buying in Central Texas provides some guidelines when considering a new home that will help achieve affordability and comfort.

Guidelines and Principles for Sustainable Community is a portion of a masters thesis focusing on sustainable architectural design for buildings.

Overview: Resource Efficient Buildings discusses the benefits of green buildings, how they accomplish resource efficiency and affordability and their importance in the community structure.

Smart Growth for Neighborhoods: Affordable Housing and Regional Vision is a report from the National Neighborhood Coalition that explores ways to strengthen links between affordable housing, smart growth, and neighborhood revitalization.

Sustainable Architecture: Efficient Livable Housing offers a checklist to incorporate the concepts of sustainability into home construction projects.

Alternative Building Techniques and Products

Some approaches to building use fewer virgin products and make more efficient use of natural resources. For example, technologies using straw-bale and rammed earth as building components rely less on timber products. Co-housing also uses fewer timber products because common areas such as kitchens and play areas are built as "shared living areas" to be used by all residents. Manufactured housing is a less-expensive alternative to custom, site-built homes. There are also a host of materials that include recycled-product content that can be more affordable than conventional products and at the same time help reduce the amount of waste deposited in landfills.

The following resources provide information on alternative building approaches.

Manufactured Housing and Standards, from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), offers information on purchasing, installing and caring for manufactured homes, and the process for filing complaints regarding their performance.

Cohousing: A Model For Sustainable Living spotlights the elements and benefits of cohousing, or "shared living communities."

House of Straw--Straw Bale Construction Comes of Age is a U.S. Department of Energy publication that discusses the technique of straw-bale construction and its benefits. Included are answers to frequently-asked questions, as well as a list of resources for additional information.

Manufactured Housing offers information on buying an energy-efficient manufactured home, as well as links to manufactured housing links and contacts.

New Age of Building Materials Becoming Common Place in Homes gives a brief introduction to "engineered building materials" as an alternative to expensive, conventional products.

Ontario Manufactured Housing Association aims to to "maintain a conducive regulatory and legislative environment that ensures the quality of manufactured homes without sacrificing affordability." OMHA also "focuses on education concerning the tremendous advances made in aesthetic s and quality of today's manufactured homes, ensuring the availability of competitive financing for potential homeowners, and removing zoning and land-use barriers based on outdated perceptions." Website includes links to other manufactured housing sites.

Affordable Housing: Manufactured Homes (PDF) is a fact sheet produced by the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This publication discusses the benefits of manufactured housing, including affordability, energy-efficiency features, and safety.


The cost of installing energy-efficiency features in new and existing homes can be financed through special types of mortgages called energy-efficient mortgages (EEM) and energy improvement mortgages (EIM) . EEMs and EIMs also can allow a buyer to qualify for a higher mortgage, because the reduction in utility bills allows more debt.

The following resources offer more information on the types of mortgages and other financing issues.

RESNET (Residential Energy Services Network) offers an excellent primer on home energy rating systems and energy-efficient mortgages, as well as contact information for HERS programs across the country, and lists certified home energy raters and lenders offering EEMs.

The Alliance to Save Energy offers on its website consumer and lender resources for energy-efficiency financing and HERS. Included are a brief overview and a lender's guide about energy efficiency financing, a national directory of lenders, links to HERS/EEM organizations and an energy-efficient mortgage guide for the homeowner.

The Green Communities Initiative, a partnership of The Enterprise Foundation/Enterprise Social Investment Corporation (ESIC) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, and top corporate, financial and philanthropic organizations, is a five-year, $550 million commitment to build more than 8,500 environmentally friendly affordable homes across the country. The initiative offers financing, grants and technical assistance to developers to build affordable housing that promotes health, conserves energy and natural resources and provides easy access to jobs, schools and services.

Success Stories

Affordable Modular Homes Project is successfully using lessons learned through Building America projects around the country, and creating energy-efficient and affordable homes for residents in Carbondale, Colorado.

Bethel New Life describes a community development organization working to revitalize a low-income community in Chicago, including the development of affordable housing using energy-efficient designs.

Building America projects built under the DOE program to encourage energy efficiency include a 52-unit development in Carbondale, Colorado, that relies on energy efficiency to make single- and multi-family homes affordable for residents.

Casas de Don Juan are two single-family homes built in Santa Fe, New Mexico, as part of an affordable housing program. The homes include natural lighting, energy efficiency, on-site water catchment and the use of locally-available materials.

Cascadia Resource-Efficient Home Plan is a resource-efficient affordable home plan that is available for sale, or free to nonprofit organizations. It is designed to use 20 percent less energy per year than a comparable house built to Oregon code, both preserving the environment and saving money. Demonstrations of the plan have been built.

Emeryville Resourceful Building Project is a three-unit affordable housing project in Emeryville, California, that incorporates resource and energy-efficiency measures; use of recycled, durable, non-toxic building materials; and job-site recycling.

Erie-Ellington Homes (pdf) is a 50-unit, low-income housing development in Boston, Massachusetts, that incorporates energy efficiency measures, manufactured components to reduce waste and labor costs and infill of existing neighborhoods.

Good Neighbors: Affordable Family Housing is a website that includes case studies of affordable housing developments in five regions of the United States. The projects profiled emphasize participation in long-term community planning as a strategy for improving community livability.

GreenHOME profiles a home, built in conjunction with Habitat for Humanity in Washington, D.C., that incorporates affordable, green building features.

Habitat for Humanity Sees Affordability in Energy-Efficient Homes discusses Habitat for Humanityís efforts at incorporating energy-efficient, environmentally-friendly features in its affordable housing projects.

HUD Best Practices' Case Study Book - Communities at Work: Addressing the Urban Challenge profiles the winners and finalists in the National Excellence Awards for The City Summit (Habitat II). 

Jackson Street Village, an affordable housing complex built on a reclaimed brownfield site in St. Paul, Minnesota, uses energy-smart materials and practices to keep residents' utility bills low while promoting environmental and human health.

Low-Income Housing Rehabilitation for Sustainability and Affordability describes a renovation project at Johnson Creek Commons, a 15-unit apartment complex near Portland, Oregon. Johnson Creek Commons was built in 1973 and rehabilitated in 1998 with sustainable materials to provide affordable housing. The project report is provided in PDF format.

Natural Habitat profiles the energy-efficiency features of a Habitat for Humanity house in Lynchburg, Virginia.

North Carolina Solar Center explains this state clearinghouse for solar energy information, education and technical assistance. Its programs include the Energy-Efficient Affordable Housing Program, which offers home builders assistance with implementing energy-efficient technologies by providing design reviews, energy audits and help in the actual construction of the home.

PATH Technology Inventory links to a number of innovative housing projects throughout the U.S. that accomplish durability, quality, environmental performance, energy efficiency and affordability. Specifically, the PATH Concept Home demonstrates advanced technologies and building practices that hold potential for making home design and construction more efficient, predictable, and controllable. These methods will result in cost savings that will make homeownership available to an estimated 90 percent of the population by 2010.

Portland Place describes a Minneapolis, Minnesota project designed to revitalize an urban neighborhood by transforming substandard rentals into 52 owner-occupied homes. The project began with four homes constructed in a Habitat for Humanity blitzbuild. The homes feature energy efficiency and healthy designs.

Northside Strawbale Demonstration describes a non-profit project in Missoula, Montana to develop two strawbale homes that achieve both affordability and resource efficiency.

The Sustainable Development / Affordable Housing Pilot Program of the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Division of Housing and Community Resources is determining how to incorporate sustainable design principles and energy efficiency into affordable housing through demonstration projects.

Articles & Publications

Building Green on a Budget addresses green design techniques, products and energy systems that can help keep the cost of affordable sustainable housing down.

A Community Guide to Basic and Cost-Saving Construction in the American Southwest was produced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for nonprofit housing developers, local housing advocates, self-help homeowners, and community groups that provide housing in the rural Southwest. The publication is intended to showcase the cost benefits of energy-efficient home construction and rehabilitation. Available for $5 from HUDUSER.

Low-Income Housing Rehabilitation for Sustainability and Affordability (pdf) is a report studying the effect of the rehabilitiation of Johnson Creek Commons, an apartment complex rehabilitated for affordability and sustainability.

The Sustainable Building Residential Rehabilitation Guidebook, produced by the City of Los Angeles and Global Green USA, serves as a compendium of healthy, efficient, and affordable building strategies for residential rehabilitation projects. (Note: Adobe Acrobat 4.0 is required to open this publication. Version 3.0 will not read it.)

The Environmental Resource Guide, produced by the American Institute of Architects  includes assessments, articles and case studies of the environmental and resource qualities of building methods and materials.

Guide to Resource Efficient Building Elements discusses resource-efficient building materials and includes more than 100 manufacturers.

A Primer on Sustainable Building offers useful discussion on sustainable building, including chapters on green building design, site selection, site development, building placement and configuration, the building envelope, energy use inside the building, conserving water, and building ecology. Available from: Rocky Mountain Institute.

Publications Guide: Energy-Efficient Manufactured Housing identifies more than 50 manufactured housing reports and other publications produced by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Since the mid-1980s, BPA has actively promoted programs to increase the energy efficiency of electrically heated manufactured homes in the Northwest.

Green Product Information from Oikos Green Building Source identifies sustainable building products in a number of categories. The website is searchable.

Sustainable Building Sourcebook, created by the City of Austin Green Builder Program, focuses on alternative building approaches and sustainable construction materials. Identifies information and resources related to affordable, resource-efficient house construction.

Sustainable Building Technical Manual, produced jointly by the U.S. Department of Energy, Public Technology, Inc., the U.S. Green Building Council, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, shows how to design, operate, and maintain environmentally friendly buildings. Includes chapters on energy-efficient design and green building materials.

An Analysis of the Effects of the GSE Affordable Goals on Low- and Moderate Income Families
A report that describes how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac helped reduce the disparity between homeownership rates for low- and moderate income families by purchasing more loans originated to low-income families and increasing their overall market share in the conventional conforming mortgage market.

Other Resources

Affordable Housing Design Advisor was developed to help anyone involved in the production of affordable housing achieve higher design quality. It is full of useful--and usable--information that can be accessed in a variety of ways. The website includes information about the essential issues of design in affordable housing, ideas and examples of great affordable housing, the Design Considerations Checklist and mini-lectures where experienced experts in various fields of the design and development of affordable housing give quick, targeted overviews of important issues.

Energy Source Builder is a newsletter that focused on energy-efficient construction topics for heating climates. Back issues are available on-line.

ENERGY STAR is a program of the U.S. EPA and DOE that aims to help create homes that use at least 30 percent less energy than required by the national Model Energy Code, while maintaining or improving indoor air quality. Because they are more energy-efficient, homes certified under the program cost less to operate.

Green Building Databases & Design Resources identifies resources for sustainable building products, materials and design assistance.

Greening Affordable Housing Initiative is a component of Global Green USA's emerging Resource-Efficient, Sustainable Communities in the Urban Environment (RESCUE) program. Its goal is to: "reduce resource consumption and foster sustainable communities by encouraging the design, construction, and maintenance of affordable, resource-efficient housing around the globe."

Southface Energy Institute works with nonprofit organizations to help make affordable housing more resource-efficient. Website includes links to information on affordable housing, energy-efficient construction and other topics.

Sustainable Building Design Coalition is a network of individuals interested in sustainable and ecological building, design and development. It aims to facilitate education on these topics.

Sustainable Design Resources identifies books and videos that focus on sustainable building design issues.

Last updated: January 28, 2005

Back to Top