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Green Building Is the Gold Standard in Senior Living

Sustainability will be essential for 50+ residents in 2021 and on

By Mark Warrick

Creating a senior living community that beats with the heart of the city or town where it’s located helps everyone live safe, healthy, purposeful lives; and it attracts residents who are engaged and committed to contributing to the people and places around them. Increasingly, green buildings are central to these efforts; and this often involves LEED certification.

How To LEED the Way 

LEED for Cities and Communities helps local leaders create responsible, sustainable and specific plans for natural systems, energy, water, waste, transportation, and other factors that contribute to quality of life. The LEED framework involves social, economic, and environmental performance indicators and strategies with a clear, data-driven means of benchmarking and communicating progress. These strategies are organized around several categories:

Natural Systems and Ecology. By creating ecologically resilient communities, buildings and property are better able to withstand and recover from natural disasters such as floods, drought, and wildfires. While life-sustaining, these also enhance quality of life.

Transportation and Land Use. Land use helps drive mobility in a city or community, and urban spread has disrupted land use patterns. This, in turn, increases the dependence on motor vehicles; and transportation—including these vehicles—is responsible for about a fourth of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.

Water Efficiency. Water use and demand is on the rise, particularly in highly populated urban areas. This category addresses meeting demand for water, maintaining water quality, reducing water losses, capturing stormwater, and managing urban floods.

Materials and Resources. Not surprisingly, cities and large communities are big consumers of natural resources including both materials and nutrients. This category is designed to encourage communities to move toward net zero waste via recycling, reuse, and reduced waste generation.

Quality of Life. All the other categories contribute to quality of life for residents, including their ability to live healthy lives, pursue livelihoods and recreation, contribute via volunteerism and other activities, connect with family and friends, etc. This may mean anything and everything from spacious common rooms that enable safe year-round socialization and gardens that enable residents to grow their own vegetables and herbs to fully equipped art studios, trails and paths that accommodate walkers, bikers, and joggers, and an array of dining options.

Post COVID: Ventilation Takes Centerstage

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new urgency to improving ventilation and air filtration in buildings. At the same time, managing indoor air quality is an important part of building/operating a LEED building. The U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC) recently outlined existing LEED strategies and resources to help guide improvements in these areas and released four LEED Safety First pilot credits for buildings in response to the pandemic. These include managing and measuring indoor air quality, including relative humidity, CO2 concentration, and particulate matter concentration. 

To meet LEED standards, existing buildings must meet a “Minimum Indoor Air Quality” requirement designed to benefit occupants/residents. For units/spaces with mechanical exhaust, proper operation of these systems must be tested and confirmed. 

It is important for existing buildings to review and upgrade their air filtration systems as needed. The air we breathe is a shared resource, so investing in air-cleaning systems to protect collaborative environments and keep residents and others safe during an outbreak such as the COVID-19 pandemic is essential. 

Specifically, communities can consider installing state-of-the-art air purification and sanitization systems. Many of these systems display real-time air quality measurements on digital screens to keep employees informed, and it will serve as a continuous disinfectant, improving air quality by reducing airborne and surface contaminants such as viruses, bacteria, germs, VOCs, smoke, and other allergens. Not only will these keep residents safe and promote green living; these kinds of amenities increasingly will be in demand by prospects, residents, and families.

Tailoring Green Building to Fit Each Community

Of course, green building in senior living isn’t one-size-fits-all. In addition to energy efficiency, reduced waste, and other features, these communities must consider the local climate (including the risks for floods, hurricanes, etc.), the needs and interests of targeted markets (Will residents expect to golf every day? What types of technology will they demand?), and how they can integrate and harmonize with the town/city around them. 

Green living in senior communities will just be more important to residents moving forward. Boomers and Gen Xers alike identify environmental-friendliness and energy efficiency as important components of their homes and communities.

Mark Warrick, AIA, LEED AP, is vice president of Pi Architects. In addition to his design talents, Mark works closely with regulatory bodies throughout the design and construction of Pi Architects projects.