November 18 2007

Solara - Energy Efficient Housing

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Solara is a newly opened energy efficient affordable housing project in the city of Poway just outside of San Diego. I first heard about the project this week at a lecture by Matt Petersen of Global Green as he explained their involvement in the design and described their goals for building affordable low-income energy efficient housing around the nation and world.

Solara_Image 04 What makes the 56 unit Solara unique is how little it burdens its residents both in lease price and in utility costs. A spokesperson for the development says that leases in Solara run 40% below market rate at the Solara. Couple that with the fact that residents pay NO UTILITY BILLS and you have a recipe for housing that can really help lower income families.

"It's solar-powered, so the lights are free." says an 8 year old boy interviewed for a San Diego Union-Tribune article

Total project costs were $18.5 million. With that money say experts, the Solara project created possibly the first "green-built, government-financed, affordable-housing complex that is virtually climate neutral with minimum pollution and maximum energy efficiency." Furthermore the project was designed as a model that could be used by private developers and other public departments to build cheap and green.

Solara_Image 05One thing you will not see at Solara are a number of whacky "green" strategies affecting the architecture. "The green is what's unseen" says the the San Diego Union-Tribune. Shade structures above the car park hide the solar panels. Insulated windows, insulated walls, reflective roofs, and non-toxic building materials are some of the other green measures used in the houses. So for the most part the designers tried to make these houses appear as though they were typical apartments. If you look close though... all the plantings are even edible... mmm.

Solara_Image 02My criticism of this project is that it is in San Diego. It isn't a criticism as much as a complaint that the weather in the rest of the United States isn't quite as wonderful as that found in SoCal. I hope this project works well. But I will reserve judgement until I see projects like the Solara being built in climates that are less hospitable. Would this development thrive in New Orleans (we will find out soon because Global Green is working on one there too... more later) or Pittsburgh? I speculate that the answer will be yes as long as developers and designers can grasp what they need to do to make these homes affordable and efficient.

For more information on the Solara Project take a look at the original article in the San Diego Union-Tribune. Also visit Global Green, Community Housing Works of San Diego for information on Solara and green affordable housing.

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