(Foresight, Fall 1998)
By Jaimie Ross, Affordable Housing Director
Energy conservation is one of the many areas where good planning for the environment and good planning for affordable housing overlap. What makes housing affordable for either the renter or the homeowner is the amount of money expended monthly on it.
Housing costs are traditionally thought of in terms of rent or mortgage payments. But a large part of a family’s monthly housing expense is its utility bill. For the average Florida homeowner, the average annual utility payment cost is 3 to 5 percent of annual income; for low-income homeowners, however, it typically accounts for 20 to 30 percent. High utility bills reduce the amount of housing a family can afford, eating up monies needed for food, clothing, and transportation.
When measures are taken to conserve energy, housing costs are reduced. The two best ways are: (1) to design housing to gain the benefits of nature’s ability to heat and cool through the placement of the house on the site, the location of doors and windows, shade trees, and the like; and (2) to build housing with low cost energy conservation features. Specific features may vary depending upon the location and type of housing. For example, heat pumps are excellent for northern Florida but may not be appropriate for South Florida due to climate differences. Features for apartments differ from those for single family housing.
Florida boasts an Energy Code that requires new buildings to meet a high level of energy efficiency. Unfortunately, there is little or no oversight of the Florida Energy Code’s implementation, as building plans and specs are not subject to independent review for compliance with the Florida Energy Code.
One tool is the Energy Gauge rating system. “EnGuage,” as it is known, is a computerized analysis of a proposed or existing building that measures its energy efficiency and can determine whether the structure meets the Energy Code. For more information, contact the Florida Solar Energy Center at 407-638-1437.
1000 Friends of Florida has always promoted the use of energy conservation for affordable (and all) housing. We continually stress the importance of using plentiful landscaping (which is also helpful in avoiding NIMBYism) and we successfully advocated for the state housing finance agency to use energy conservation as a measure for choosing which multifamily developments receive state funding.