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Brent Williams' Apartment Blog

Thoughts, comments, and ideas about the overall multifamily industry, as well as a property-specific focus on resident retention and apartment marketing.

Want Your Apartment Community To Be “Green”? It Already Is!

We often discuss ways to transform our apartment communities in more eco-friendly ways, but many times this is in relation to other apartment communities.  In other words, we are trying to create a competitive advantage between apartment communities.  But how does the multifamily industry stack up against single family homes?  To answer this question, I talked “green” with Tim Frank, Team Leader of the Livable Communities Committee at the Sierra Club.

After talking with Mr. Frank for just a few minutes, it became clear that the “American Dream” isn’t “eco friendly” at all. There are several direct negative consequences of single family housing, and several indirect sources, as well.

Expanded Resource Requirements
Living in a single-family house is extremely inefficient in terms of resources needed to run it.  Mr. Frank explained that single family developments require more electricity and water.  And due to the spread out nature of these developments, they also require longer lines for sewer, electrical, phone, cable, as well as longer roads.  The buildings themselves also affect the ecological impact.  Mr. Frank explained that during both the initial construction, as well as with ongoing maintenance, multifamily buildings are much more efficient with the resources they require relative to single family developments.

Green Space A Thing Of The Past

One of the main reasons people don’t consider single family developments as eco-“unfriendly” is that they are usually so green, literally.  A drive through a single family development is often greeted with green grass in the yard, trees along the way, and bushes up against every house.  But the “drive” is actually one of the problems.  The roads required to transport the residents to their own private oasis destroys an amazing amount of green space, without even considering that each house requires its own driveway, as well.  Add to that fact that apartment buildings tend to build up, while single family developments build out, this sprawling nature of single family homes masks the fact that the concrete footprint on the environment is immense.

Traffic JamThe Commuting Price

To support this larger concrete footprint, single family housing developments inevitably move farther and farther from city centers, which also mean they move farther from their work, entertainment, and their friends and family.  An ABC study in 2005 indicated the average commute had grown to 32 miles round trip.  Keep in mind that this number is skewed lower by those that live in urban areas that reduce this figure relative to suburban commutes.  On average, this represents over 4 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year per person! 

Adding Health Into The Equation

Although not an environmental issue necessarily, there is also an overall health impact for living in “walkable” neighborhoods, largely powered by multifamily communities.  These walkable communities result in higher levels of…   well, walking, and create for a healthier lifestyle for their residents.  In fact, apartments are required to create critical mass of population in order to support local businesses within a healthy walkable community. 


Overall, multifamily development is more efficient with original building materials, necessitates less ongoing water and electrical usage, and is more ecologically friendly than single-family developments.  It appears that from a green point of view, single family developments are less an “American Dream”, but rather an American Nightmare.  First came the mortgage crisis, and now we see the full impact of single family housing on our environment, the question becomes, “Is now the time apartment living can finally compete with single family housing?”

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This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

What a great mind set - together as a community we are creating a smaller carbon foot print than a singel family home ! Having on older community we have always valued our natural surroundings and felt bad for NEW places with no TREES !!

  Cindy Harrison
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Thanks for the comment, Cindy, and you are right - I should have included a mention of the clear-cutting that happens in new single family developments!

  Brent Williams
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Brent, I loved this post so much I put it on our Facebook page! One of things it reminded me of was that leasing agents can use the commuting numbers to make the case for quality of life, less time in the car, more time to enjoy amenities. Also, think of all the money that goes into transportation, car payments, insurance, maintenance, taxes, and gas. Renters (like home buyers) make choices based on price and emotion, but often the true cost of a neighborhood is not taken into account.

  Kimberly Madrigal
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Thank you so much, Kim, and I'm honored that shared it! I was actually wondering if you noticed the blog!

  Brent Williams

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