Houston LEEDs the Way in Living

This influential, senior community stands by its sustainable achievements and offers residents a nationally-recognized place of essential accessibility.

By Lauren Felechner
Photography by Hiebert Photography & Professional Imaging

With affordability and sustainability in mind, Cypresswood Estates, located in Houston, Texas, was created to bring quality and a peace of mind as a senior community for its residents. In for the long haul with the installation of its energy-efficient features, Cypresswood Estates’ goal was to foster a quality development that would be truly affordable for active adults’, 55-plus years-old, who may be on a fixed income, explained Horace Allison, chief development officer, Harris County Housing Authority. Nationwide, there are an ever-increasing number of baby boomers; therefore producing a major demand for affordable, senior housing to accommodate. “We wanted to ensure that the property looked no different than any other Class A apartment community. The goal of the Harris County Housing Authority is to develop quality, affordable developments that offer peace of mind to its residents,” Allison stated. This project was completed in May 2011, after 13 months of construction time. It seems as though Cypresswood’s goal in its perpetual standing as a senior community has paid off by grabbing the title as the nation’s first, affordable housing for seniors that not only meets, but exceeds the criteria for Platinum LEED and Emerald Green certifications — both of which are the highest certifications available.

Alongside its recognition in the green world, this community was also named by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) as a finalist for a Multifamily Pillars of the Industry award. Cypresswood Estates made it possible to not only help reduce utility costs for the residents, but achieve its LEED certification, according to Allison, by implementing green elements throughout the community. These essentials included: Solar panels that generate enough power to meet up to 30 percent of the complex’s projected energy needs; water conservation features including rainwater harvesting and low-flow plumbing fixtures that reduce overall water consumption;

a rainwater reclamation system that channels rainfall from the roofs into storage tanks that supply drip irrigation for native, drought-tolerant landscaping; the 15 SEER air-conditioning systems and Thermax /cellulose insulation which keep the units cool during Houston’s unforgiving summer months; Energy Star appliances that include washers, dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators; and building insulation (R-19 walls & R-45 ceilings). Green-certified kitchen cabinetry and wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are furnished throughout the campus as well. “Building to LEED standards ensured that Cypresswood Estates would be a fully sustainable development with features that contribute to its affordability, and help reduce the property’s environmental impact,” Allison explained.

The funding for this Texas community came from both federal and state funds that helped utilize the development of the project. It also received a development fund through a HUD grant that required the reclamation and revitalization of distressed properties by building on a foreclosed lot space. This requirement, according to Allison, was another piece to Cypresswood’s puzzle, as it was a starting wish to assure that the community was built with green practices, from the ground up. “We took a cost-effective approach to securing building materials for Cypresswood Estates. We used local items sourced from within 300 miles of the building site. In addition to reducing our materials cost, this also decreased our transportation costs,” Allison added, “There was only a 20 to 25 percent increase in building costs as compared to previous developments. Within 10 to 15 years, we expect for Cypresswood Estates to see payback on the LEED improvements through reduced operating costs and the use of more durable and sustainable materials.”

With the choice to go green for any community, there are typically stringent, required building codes in order to acquire that objective. Therefore, LEED consultants were regularly engaged in the project and its progress to make sure the necessary benchmarks were being met. This also led to the construction site having to enforce extreme monitoring, quality control and supervision. “Our biggest challenge was to ensure that all members of the team were brought in from the beginning and made aware of our goal to develop a sustainable, affordable, senior development. It was critical to have coordination between all parties…” Allison added, “This helped to improve, rather than constrict, the building process by outlining each individual’s role in achieving the goal.” Once their goal of a green community came to life, the creation of Cypresswood Estates — today — features five floor plans throughout its campus, with the various units spanning in size from 854 to 1,088 square feet.

The units can also be easily adapted to meet the specific accessibility needs of its residents, however, the biggest challenge in the design of this community, “… revolved around ensuring that all green features were seamlessly integrated into Cypresswood Estates and did not impact the look and feel of the development,” Allison explained. Within this 88-unit community, 53 units have been leased so far with 35 remaining — ranging in price from $552 to $1,275. Several of the one- and two-bedroom units are additionally designed for Net-Zero energy usage, meaning they require no energy other than what is generated by the solar panels. Beyond the walls of Cypresswood Estates, the Houston community seems to be pursuing the greentheme as well, as Cypresswood’s surrounding walking trails and sidewalk surfaces are made of recycled concrete; alongside several bicycle storage facilities and electric car charging stations that simultaneously promote a lifestyle that’s healthier for residents, neighbors and for the environment.

Cypresswood Estates has made some influential strides in the world of building third-party certified, senior housing communities. This project stands as a nationwide example of affordable housing that can be built and maintained, according to green design standards that are often considered, but rarely executed in the low- and moderate-income housing levels. Perhaps — and hopefully — other home builders will take notice and follow suit. “We weren’t trying to be the highest-rated LEED property,” said HCHA President and CEO, Guy Rankin, “but building an environmentally-sustainable property makes sense because LEED contributes to the quality, affordability and peace of mind we offer our seniors.”

Lauren Felechner is an assistant editor at 50+ Builder magazine. She may be contacted atlfelechner@penpubinc.com.

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