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Looking For Your Advice: How Can Apartment Managers Make Their Buildings Sustainable?

Capitol Hill Apartments At Sunset

Ok, need your brain power everyone! As one of the several things I’ve been up to in my community lately, I am working with a few others in my neighborhood on a new community website: Sustainable Capitol Hill. The organization has outgrown its old site, and now we’re working on making it an indispensable resource for our community!

So… we expect our readers will fall into one of three categories: Residents, Building Owners/Managers, and Businesses. With that in mind, one of the things we’re doing is making a “Top 10 List” of Ways to Go Green for each of the three types of readers.

I’m assigned to write the Building Managers Top 10 List. And… I’m stumped. Help! Here’s what I have so far…

Top 10 Ways For Building Managers & Owners To Make Their Buildings Green

1. Make sure to provide enough Recycling & Yard Waste/Compost containers for your residents. Even if your building does not generate much yard waste, you can still order a Yard Waste bin for residents to discard compost. You can encourage residents to recycle and compost, by providing them with an informational sheet when they move into the unit. Here is a printable flier describing yard waste and compost (available in several languages), and here is one for recycling.

Note that in addition to helping keep unnecessary materials out of landfills, there are financial incentives: if Seattle garbage contains more than 10% recyclables, a $50 fine may be added to your garbage bill.

2. Create a gardening space for residents to grow food and flowers. Not only does this increase the property value by beautifying the grounds, but it also encourages residents to stay longer in your building (by improving their quality of life, giving a sense of investment in the property, and showing that you care about their needs). If you don’t have room for a courtyard garden, consider providing matching window boxes for tenants, or creating a rooftop garden.

Please visit our gardening resources page for more information.

3. When remodeling or repainting, use green and non-toxic materials. For example: paint with non-toxic and non-VOC paints, replace carpeting with formaldehyde-free carpeting, and use reclaimed building materials from businesses like Earthwise, Second Use, or Re-Store.

4. Clean apartments and common areas with non-toxic cleaning materials. Generally these are cheaper for you, as well as better for the environment, the individuals who are cleaning, and your residents. (Anyone know a good link to go here?)

5. Provide a list of local businesses to new residents. The more invested your residents are in their community, the longer they are likely to stay in the building. Additionally, the stronger the local economy is in our area, the more desirable the neighborhood will become, and the higher the property value will become for you.

6. Use locally-owned and -operated businesses for your services. For example: cleaning services, plumbers, electricians, handymen, key duplication services, hardware stores, and management services can all come from local businesses. And again, when you support our local economy, it becomes stronger, which benefits all of us.

7. Recycle old appliances and building materials. You can take old appliances to the Waste Management Disposal Facility for recycling, or have them picked up by calling (206) 684-3000. If the appliance still works, you can advertise it on Craigslist or Freecycle, where someone will pick it up for free.

You can donate recyclable building materials to Habitat For Humanity for a tax-deductible donation. Or you can take the materials to Earthwise, Second Use, or Re-Store. Many of these services offer pick-up or free drop-off, and some also offer store credit for your usable materials. (Note: before deconstruction, make sure to call the facility and find out its policies.)

8. Weatherproof windows and doors throughout the building. Weatherproofing or weatherization includes: window caulking and weatherstripping; installing storm windows and/or new energy-efficient windows; pipe wrapping outdoors and in carport areas; weatherstripping exterior doors; and insulating the attic, walls, and crawlspaces. Check with Seattle City Light to see if your building might qualify for a Multifamily Weatherization Rebate. For low-income buildings, there is also a weatherization program for low-income apartment buildings.

9. Light hallways, entryways, and other common areas with CFL lights. In addition to lasting up to 10 times longer than regular incandescent bulbs, these will use 75% less energy. This takes a big bite out of your electric bill: each bulb will save about $30 in energy costs over its lifetime!

When the CFLs do burn out, make sure to dispose of them properly: you can take them to a Take It Back Network facility to be recycled (call the facility for details), or to a hazardous waste dropoff site. Check with Seattle City Light to see if your building might qualify for a Multifamily Lighting Rebate.

10. What have I left out? Please help!

What Else?

What do you think? What have I missed? Please help me brainstorm… !

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25 comments to Looking For Your Advice: How Can Apartment Managers Make Their Buildings Sustainable?

  • becky

    great list melinda! will think more about it but one idea came quickly. in the list you suggested for new tenants providing local businesses, etc. to support…. perhaps the manager could include information (cost, availability, contact info) about the nearest mass transit options- light rail, bus, car share companies, taxi services and car rentals, as well as pleasant walking routes to local areas, bike routes to local bike trails and perhaps even some local community groups to join such as yours which work on green/sustainability issues.

  • Great list!

    I have a couple suggestions. Landlords should equip bathrooms and kitchen faucets with low-flow heads. Generally speaking landlords pay for water in apt bldgs (well they did in Illinois and California anyway.) Assuming that’s the case in Seattle, then landlords can save quite a bit of money with low-flow heads, and it generates less water waste.

    Another thing that my former landlord did was there was a timer on the light in the laundry room. So when people left the laundry room, and inevitably didn’t turn off the light, the light didn’t stay on all day and night. I’m pretty sure that my landlord did this for financial reasons, but there is obviously a sustainability argument there as well.

  • Great list! You might want to somehow suggest to the landlords that apartment dwellers often are looking for places where they pay lower utility bills and have few drafts in the winter. It’s a selling point! They could make some of these changes related to energy/water use and weatherizing, and then use it in their ads.

  • I agree-this is great! Here’s something I’d add about gardening. In spots where it would be difficult to have a “garden,” to replace ornamental plants with native plants at the very least.

  • Drip irrigation for watering the grounds, and like Deb G said, native plants in the landscaping so they don’t have to be watered so much.

    Air conditioning/heating that is up to date, energy efficient and can be adjusted (lower temp for heating, higher temp for air.) Some apartments go either too hot in winter or too cold in summer without the ability to turn it down or off. As a resident I’d see it as a selling point to know I could control the temp in my place.

    Bike racks in secure areas so riders don’t have to bring their bikes up to their apt.

    Ability to pay rent electronically (that doesn’t have an extra fee attached.)

    If there is parking available, maybe have a few spots reserved for those who have electric scooters, bikes, or cars to plug in?

    Public Transit schedules available onsite – even if its just the local bus route that serves the apt building being posted near the mail boxes, and then keep it updated. Possibly offering transit tickets for sale in the rental office?

    If there is a place to do gardening, are there tools to share? Shed to store tools and supplies? A place to rinse off shoes and boots before walking through the building messing up the hallways with muddy shoes.

  • DSF

    “Pause buttons” for the shower. When remodeling, choose low-flow showerheads with massage/pulse/etc., which often come with literal pause buttons, but in the meantime, have maintenance install in-line volume control valves with temporary shut-off switches or levers. And tell the tenants what they are! (Not everyone’s curious enough to push a slide. -G-) A temporary shut-off allows you to stop the water while shampooing or whatever without having to fuss with temperature and flow settings again when it’s time to rinse.


  • EJ

    Regular cleaning of furnace/heating/ cooling systems
    Look for efficiency when replacing heating/ cooling systems
    provide secure bicycle parking

  • Rob

    The only thing I can think of left out is our local city councils need to get action on recycling for apartment buildings- it is not a hardship on Waste Management- good example is my mom’s apartment complex- on giant dumpster for about 90 homes- no provision for recycling- Burien city council thinks it is too much of a burden to expect the apartment dwellers to recycle but they expect other folks to do it.
    Cracks me up-

  • monica

    Solar power on the roof.
    solar water heaters
    greenhouse for during the winter months

  • diana

    All great ideas! My relatives in Europe all have outdoor clotheslines at their apartments. I would also suggest converting to green roofs.

  • dancingfatcat

    I love ALL of the ideas. One I didn’t see and one that my HOA uses is solar heated swimming pool and jaccuzi with timers. I would like to see solar lights outside in the common area’s around the greenbelt and maybe a communal compost bin. We also have a library/free book exchange (so used books don’t end up in a land fill). I would like to see run off water (sprinklers) be recycled and the use of gray water systems be used.

  • Pippi

    A safe, convenient place to store bikes. In my old building I had to carry my bike up the stairs and through a door that opened toward me. In the three years I lived there I rode it about three times.

  • becky

    when my daughter lived in a dorm in denmark the clothes washing machines were located in the basement. there were no dryers. instead, clotheslines were strung up across the basement for the students to use.

  • You guys ROCK. Absolutely rock, rock, rock, rock, rock! Thank you so much for your help, and for the time you’ve invested in your comments. Truly, truly helpful – I knew this was a good idea, to ask you for your thoughts!

    Becky, Yes, yes, yes! Thank you. How could I have forgotten that?! Of course! Will definitely be included.

    Arduous, Duh – yeah! Of course! Both suggestions going in. Thank you.

    Joyce, Genius. Will definitely add that in there somehow. Great point.

    Deb G, I’ll work that in, too. I think there needs to be a water-wise section, so I’ll include replacing lawns & ornamentals with native plants with low-flow showerheads, fixing leaks, low-flow toilets, sink aerators, and Energy Efficient washers in the laundry room.

    Young Snowbird, Yep – perfect, I’ll include drip irrigation in the new water section I described to Deb G just above – thank you! And good call about the a/c and heating – our thermostat doesn’t work, and our heat stays on – crazy! We just keep it off and have a small, energy efficient portable radiator instead, but we’re unusual. : )

    Bike racks – of course! Our bikes are hooked up in a crazy way in the basement storage room. Tools to share – great idea to include in the gardening section!!!!! All these suggestions are great, thank you thank you!

    DSF, I’ve never heard of pause buttons for the shower, but boy does that ever make sense!! I’ll have to look these up!

    EJ, Ah, yes – cleaning of the heating/cooling systems, and replacing filters annually – very good point. And yes, somewhere the bicycle parking is going in – thanks!

    Rob, Yeah. I haven’t written about my trials and tribulations regarding recycling here yet. I’ll do it soon. It SUCKS. But I think in this area, my building is unusual…. more on that later.

    Monica, Great ideas! Love it – thank you!

    Diana, Clotheslines – great idea. Green roofs… I wonder if I could get away with tacking on an “Other suggestions” at the end of the Top 10 List… hmmmm….

    Dancingfatcat, Solar lights – yep – that’s going in! I’ll add composting to the gardening section – good idea. And a GREAT idea to have a common library area! All great stuff – thank you so much.

    Pippi, Definitely! Yeah, I was saying to Young Snowbird that we have to tie up our bikes to some pipes in the basement storage room. Not cool. And definitely a deterrent for riding regularly.

    Becky (again!), I think clotheslines are a great idea – our laundry room could definitely use some clotheslines! Other buildings can probably install some outside, but here there’s nowhere to put them… but in the laundry room there is! Thanks!

    Please keep adding to this list if you think of anything else! Thanks again!

  • N.

    I thought of water, but then saw that someone else commented on it… I no longer feel so smart :)

    I also thought of water heater blankets and using an electronic water system that knows not to operate after rain. Most apartment complexes put a significant amount of money into landscaping so in addition to using native species or “decorating” with herbs or vegetables that could use a sprinkler system that knows when it’s rained so it won’t water again.

    When they provide information on local business if they could highlight things like farmer’s markets or thrift stores that would be good too.

  • I really like #2 and #4. I guess it’s time to start adding to my list of What I want in my Dream Apartment Building… ;)

  • [...] also working with another small committee to create a new Sustainable Capitol Hill website, which you all have graciously helped with already!  We’ll be launching it in [...]

  • Look into alternative energy and maybe greywater recycling devices.

  • N, I totally missed water heater insulation – thank you. The local businesses list – yes, totally makes sense to highlight thrift stores & farmer’s markets! Since it rains so often in Seattle, we could really use water systems that sense the moisture of the ground. Do they make them?

    Stephanie, Well, if you have a wish list and you find an apartment that you love that does not include everything on the list… remember me : ) . Take the apartment, and get to work making that wish list happen there!

    Jen, Great ones – thank you.

  • James

    Here’s one: organize a weekly “grocery delivery.” For those of us who know what we’re going to buy, we can put in an order and pick it up once a week. Save gas, encourage bulk-buys, help the bicyclists get groceries.

    Also adding a lot of uncooled and unheated storage might be good to encourage buying in bulk.

    There are some awesome low flow toilets out there– with larger throats and with two different flush buttons.

    A green idea I’ve seen my neighbors do is put a shade over their patio. It blends in and presumably reduces the need for cooling during these infernal Arizona summers.

    I never turn my heat on in the winter. Occasionally I close my door. This winter the AC came on more than once! I had it turned up to eighty at one point! Might have thought I was sick if I hadn’t noticed the thermostat. My neighbors need to visit the doctor or go back to Venus.

  • Great suggestions, James – thank you!

  • Barreg

    Hi there, I’m currently researching for a post that I am writing for my own website. I have found this post extremely useful and I was wondering if I may link to your post as it may be of some interest to my viewers? Best wishes.

  • food shop at locally grown farms and farm stands or farmers market. Solar panels. Paint roof silver. Grow a garden terrace. land lord have direct communication via a bulletin board to keep residents abreast of the latest news info etc. IE set up a carpooling service to work or shop or where ever. Have people donate a ride to where they are going. Have a raffle or Lotto where proceeds go towards improving the buildings insulation and energy efficiency.

  • Peter

    Hi all,

    I’m thinking building and operating an apartment building. So something from scratch. I live in Thailand so the winter remarks are not that applicable. Any suggestion from this perspective is welcome. It will probably be for students, so a shared kitchen / restaurant might be possible as well.

    Looking forward hearing from you,


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