Living in a high rise has particular challenges and opportunities– not the least of which is interpreting the current call to action to be green or to live sustainably.
On the outset, if you live in a highrise you should be commended for choosing to live in a dense, compact building form within the middle of an existing developed urban area. The benefits of being able to walk to work, shopping and social activities are not lost on you– but by channeling development into urban areas which use a city’s infrastructure helps to preserve outlying natural resources, reduce pollution and land development impacts from automobile use and associated sprawl.
As a highriser, what you might not appreciate are the numerous sustainability and efficiency opportunities that are either right at your fingertips or within arms reach.
Energy and water use: Look for the Label!
It’s good practice to review your current fixtures, fittings and appliances to ensure that they are in good working order and meet or exceed the current baselines for efficiency. Fixing a leaky faucet, or toilet can save up to 20 gallons of water per day for every leak you fix but installing a 1.28 gallon dual flush toilet can further reduce your water use by 60 percent! Compact fluorescent bulbs consume up to 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs. Technology has gradually increased the performance of these often shunned “office only” alternates—most CFL’s are now offered with dimming and color ranges that rival the warmth of incandescents.
WaterSense labeled products use about 20% less water and perform as well or better than their less efficient counterparts. EnergyStar certified appliances typically offer a 30% percent reduction in overall energy use. If one home in ten used these efficient appliances it would be as if 1.7 million acres of trees were planted. (Think of Delaware.)
Energy and Orientation: Know your light and heat exposure!
The view your home enjoys is probably one of its most important assets– but it can also be your most challenging adversary because of the solar exposure and gain that the windows allow.
Unlike a single family home with multiple faces, your single source of natural light, air and view all come from the same façade or face. This presents particular problems for West facing facades which enjoy dramatic views of Twin Peaks but are regularly punished as the afternoon/evening sun brings increased interior temperatures and unsightly glare and contrast into your home.
Managing this heat gain and view accessibility is made even more challenging when south-west exposures require different types of shading at different times of year. Knowing the subtleties of your orientation can greatly inform your choice in window treatments as well as interior layout. Instead of blacking out your entire view, with full-blackout or cellular shades consider vertical louvers on West and East exposures, and horizontal louvers and Southern exposures.
It is also useful to re-consider the interior layout of your home to take advantage of areas that benefit from hard shade or hard glare situations. This is most evident, say, when considering new locations for screening plants, televisions and media centers, dining areas as well as artwork and couches.
Materials and Resources: From recycling in kitchen to recycling the entire kitchen
Storage and collection of recyclables can be a challenge for high risers due to limited space. Add on top of that the opportunity to participate in San Francisco’s compost collection and highrise living quickly falls short in this department.
To improve your chances of success, designate collection and storage areas within your home that are commensurate with your consumption. Make sure that your storage areas are big enough to limit the total number of trips to the chute or garbage area to at least once a week at best. As a practical matter, consider bifurcated sealed storage compartments for garbage and compost and installing a compactor to hold your recycling materials (they typically take the most space as more material are allowed into the recycled material stream.)
When it comes to renovating your kitchen first consider what my really change. Only then consider materials which reduce the demand for virgin materials and reduce waste, thereby lessening impacts associated with the extraction and processing of virgin resources.
Look for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood in your wood products. Raw FSC wood comes with a chain of ownership certification the confirms that the material’s origin is from forests where environmental social and economic interests are safeguarded. Look for wood products that include everything from furniture to plywood, moulding and doors.
Indoor Environmental Quality: There are more pollutants inside than outside
Most Americans spend up to 90 percent of their time indoors. The Environmental Protection Agency estimated that indoor air pollutant levels may be two to five times higher than the pollutant levels out doors.
What’s the most efficient way to reduce these pollutants? Consider using an electrostatic air filter in your heating and cooling system and choosing zero VOC paint, and cleaning products that have been labeled by the EPA as “Designed for the Environment” (DfE).
It is common high risers is to personalize new rooms with a fresh coat of paint. Be sure to select a NO VOC (volitale organic compound) brand when redecorating and be sure that there are no VOC’s in the paint and no VOC’s in the colorant. This is easily overlooked in paints that claim “Low or No VOC’s” and is elemental in establishing a health baseline for your indoor air quality.