A Holistic View of Affordable Housing

When I think of affordable housing, I think low monthly rents. However, we can take a step back look at ways a community can support affordable living.

Keeping monthly rents low is the first step, but a number of additional monthly expenses come to mind including utility bills, access to quality transit, and walking distance to entertainment like parks and open space. APAH’s Arlington Mill Residences, with 121 committed affordable units, is a great example of a project striving for holistic affordable living. The project earned Earthcraft Virginia certification for high quality construction, with low VOC building materials to support the health of occupants, plus Energy Star lighting and appliances and WaterSense plumbing fixtures for savings on monthly utility bills. Savings from car-free living is not out of the question with easy access to the Four Mile Run bike trail, Capital Bikeshare, and numerous bus lines. However, getting to a grocery store is a pretty long haul and there are no car-sharing services within walking distance yet.

As development continues and transit improves along the Pike, Arlington Mill Residences can serve as a model of healthy, high performance, and affordable living.

By: Jessica Abralind

Waste(ing) Away

Arlington County recycling and trash collectionHere on the AIRE team we are always looking around us and trying to rethink and improve our community. Arlington has some lofty goals, like a zero-landfill goal by 2020 and a zero-waste goal by 2039.

Designers, entrepreneurs, and policy makers are rethinking all of the items and systems that we use on a daily basis, from the light bulb to the electric grid. So how exactly are we going to rethink the waste stream to achieve a zero waste goal for a community of 210,000 people?

Arlington is already on a good trajectory. In 2012 Arlingtonians diverted 51.1 percent of the trash collect by recycling or composting, one of the highest rates in the region. This was well above the 2011 national rate of 34.7 percent. The EPA notes that nationwide recycling efforts reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 183 million metric tons in 2011. That’s about the same as removing 34 million cars from the road!
The first step is to look for opportunities to reduce and reuse before you recycle. Simple acts such as bringing your grocery bags to the store, bringing your own coffee cup to the cafe, using a refillable water bottle, and double sided printing are just a few actions that can have a big impact. You can even line your gardening bed with bottles before you recycle them.

To make recycling even easier for residents and businesses, Arlington County is working to implement yard waste and food waste collection programs in the coming years. Yard waste and food waste combined make up approximately 50% of residential refuse annually. If Arlington County could recycle 100% of these source-separated organics, the residential recycling rate would be close to 80%. Remaining waste is sent to the waste-to-energy facility that creates power for 20,000 homes in the region annually. The new yard waste program is one way that Arlington is rethinking waste to achieve our community goals.

Check the County’s website at https://recycling.arlingtonva.us/ for a list of items that can be recycled. When in doubt recycle it!

By: Adam Segel-Moss

How Do You Dry?

ENERGY STAR gave us all some big news recently when it announced its new rating of clothes dryers. ENERGY STAR rated dryers are on their way!

How do you dry your clothes? Do you have an outdated or inefficient machine? Do you go the 100% economical and environmental route and only line dry?

Clothes dryers account for over 4% of household energy use. All total, they account for carbon dioxide emissions of 32 million metric tons each year in the U.S.

Until you can get your hands on an energy efficient model, remember to dry full loads and to change the time setting accordingly. No sense on over-drying your clothes and wasting that energy and money, but a lot of people pick one setting and forget about it. ENERGY STAR notes that using your dryer an extra 15 minutes longer each load can cause you to lose about $34 a year.

Another way to operate your existing dryer the most energy efficiently is to ensure you are always cleaning the lint trap before use. You can save another $34 a year if you are sure to do this., because this how dryers efficiently and effectively move air and heat around to dry your clothes.

We are very excited that ENERGY STAR now counts clothes dryers among its rated appliances. Of course we’ll be even more excited when those rated dryers help us do this…


By: Kelly Zonderwyk

LEEDing the Way – Part 2

Everyone is excited about the new Arlington Mill Community Center in Arlington! We’ve recently shared the status of Arlington as a county with many LEED buildings, and Arlington Mill is one fine example. The gleaming new facility offers something for everyone from a full size gymnasium, fitness facility, outdoor plaza and playground, family activities, and multicultural and multigenerational programs.

We are also excited about the new facility because Arlington Mill is also a very environmentally friendly building, having just earned the prestigious LEED Gold certification!  Our newest community center joins other LEED certified public buildings in Arlington including:

  • Langston-Brown School and Community Center
  • Westover-Reed School and Library
  • Parks Department Operations building
  • Walter Reed Community Center
  • Fire Station 3 in Cherrydale
  • Arlington’s three new high schools (Washington-Lee, Yorktown, and Wakefield)

There are lots of components that make Arlington Mill “green.” Here are some highlights:

  • Water Efficiency: Arlington Mill is designed to use 40% less water than a standard building. Check out the water efficiency toilets and faucets and the waterless urinals.
  • Energy Efficiency: The building is also designed to use 30% less energy than a standard building. It’s harder to “see” energy efficiency but if you look carefully you can see:
    • extra thick wall insulation
    • high quality windows
    • new lighting technologies including LED light bulbs and occupancy sensors
    • light colored paint to reflect light and lots of windows to reduce the need for lighting
    • an air conditioning system that uses rainwater to help cool the building – a “cool” new technology
    • healthy indoor air: we pay special attention to make sure the air in the building is clean and fresh; “green” building materials were used to minimize toxic chemicals in the building (that new carpet smell isn’t very healthy) and non-toxic cleaning supplies are used to keep the building clean and healthy

Come visit the new Arlington Mill Community Center! Walk around the building and read the signs describing the green building features.

By: Joan Kelsch

LEEDing the Way


What was once a rare and coveted honor that was isolated to bleeding edge innovators is now business as usual in Arlington.

LEED certification was previously perceived as a cost premium, an amenity, or even a liability to some. In few industries over such a short period of time has such a massive market transformation occurred. A market that includes product manufacturers, waste haulers, architects, engineers, construction, operations, maintenance workers, and more.

Arlington’s Green Building program began 15 years ago. We now hear developers comment that they build LEED buildings in Arlington as a risk mitigation measure. Building LEED buildings in Arlington protects developers and owners from financial risk since these assets have lower operating costs, lease up faster, and maintain their value better despite shifting economic winds.

Is LEED certification as ubiquitous as seat belts in cars? In Arlington, it kind of is. Since 2008 no site plan project has been approved without agreeing to achieve LEED certification.

Let’s take a look at the recently released statistics by the U.S. Green Building Council. The report lists the top 10 states for LEED Certifications. Arlington leads in Virginia with:

  • Most LEED certified projects in the state with 122;
  • Most ENERGY STAR buildings with 96;
  • Most LEED square footage with 30.24 million–which accounts for about 30% of LEED square footage in Virginia.

Now that Arlington’s Green Building Incentive Program has moved the market, we are providing incentives for LEED buildings that achieve previously unattained levels of energy efficiency. Arlington County strives for lofty goals such as our award-winning Community Energy Plan, which lays a framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Arlington by 75% by 2050. Newly constructed buildings with increasing levels of energy efficiency are one way that our community is going to reach this goal.

While we continue to transform into a truly sustainable community I suggest that we take a minute to pause and reflect. Let’s reflect on the enormous success and transformation of our building industry and the increasing levels of energy efficiency. The next 15 years show no sign of slowing this pace of change. These are exciting times, indeed.

By: Adam Segel-Moss

Students Ask: Turn Off Your Lights

HB Woodlawn Earth Force students would like to bring attention to the growing problem of light pollution and the deleterious effects the disappearing night sky is having on human health and our watershed as a whole.

To help raise awareness of this problem, we are asking all Arlington residences and businesses to turn off or dim unnecessary lights & draw shades for a 30 minute period beginning at 10 pm on April 26th, Arlington Earth Day. This event also coincides with International Dark Sky Week and the peak migration of birds over our region. During that 30 minute period, we would like all Arlingtonians to go outside and view the lovely dark and starry night sky.

Studies have linked various cancers to over-exposure to artificial lighting, including breast and prostate cancer. Some amphibians have been show to come out later to feed and are missing their prey opportunities. Millions of birds die each year by flying into tall artificially lit buildings. Algae continues to grow excessively at night under the artificial lights polluting streams, and nitric oxides and C02 (a greenhouse gas) and SO2 are building up contributing to pollution.

Please help us by turning off the lights on April 26 from 10:00 PM – 10:30 PM to raise awareness of these problems.

By: Samara Cathirell, HB Woodlawn Sixth Grade Earth Force

The Great Energy Challenge

The other day I was searching the web for a way to stream the new Cosmos series with Neil Degrasse Tyson, and stumbled across a really great resource on the National Geographic website called the Great Energy Challenge. It has cool tools like a “personal energy meter.” I put in info like how much I pay for gas and electricity, how much I drive and fly, and it scores my energy use compared to my neighbors (based on my zipcode) and the national average.

It also asks a “Big Energy Question” that the AIRE program in Arlington is working to answer: “How so we make cities more sustainable?” There are five suggested options offered and visitors to the site can rate each on level of importance:

  1. Improve Mass Transit (What’s Arlington doing?)
  2. Make buildings more efficient (What’s Arlington doing?)
  3. Preservation of historic and natural assets (What’s Arlington doing?)
  4. Boost clean energy (What’s Arlington doing?)
  5. Upgrade power infrastructure (What’s Arlington doing?)

I rated all as extremely important. When I look at what Arlington is doing, I give pretty high scores everywhere mostly because of the planning work underway to implement Arlington’s Community Energy Plan. I would, however, like to see improvement in the area of the preservation of historic and natural assets. For example, I’d really love to see more value placed on the renovation of existing buildings whenever possible, as opposed to demolition. The work done at 1400 Crystal Drive and Arlington’s recent renovation of Carlin Hall are great examples.

Check it out yourself and see how you stack up!

By: Jessica Abralind

How Do You Flush?

Toilet, commode, throne, john, potty, privy, head, can, WC – no matter what you call it, we all use it. And we are lucky to live in an era and a community where we all have at least one, and often 3, 4, 5 or more in our homes. The EPA reports that on average, 27% of the water used in our homes goes to commode flushing.

All the water that enters your toilet tank is potable water – water from the Potomac River is treated to drinking water standards using filters and chemicals. It is pumped through pipes to your home.  Once flushed, it is pumped through pipes and is treated all over again to near-drinking water standards and discharged back into the Four Mile Run. A lot of energy is involved in that process. And we flush it right down the toilet.

There is a lot of water (and energy) to be saved in toilet flushing. Most people think that changing flushing habits will save water – remember the little ditty: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow?” But in reality, most people flush every time. Replacing your old throne with a new low-flow commode can save a lot of water in the long run.

According to the EPA, replacing your old inefficient toilets with WaterSense labeled models can reduce the average family’s water usage between 20-60 percent or up to 13,000 gallons of water per year. If you calculate the cost savings, given Arlington’s current water/sewer rate of $12.61 per 1,000 gallons, you could save up to $160 per year.

If your toilets were installed before 1994, you most likely have toilets that use between 3 and 5 gallons of water per flush. If your toilets were installed after 1994, the building code required 1.6-gallon toilets. In either case, you can reap big savings and help the planet by replacing your old toilets. New and improved toilet technology makes new low-flow toilets as effective as the higher flow models. You can go the extra mile and get a dual-flush model to save even more. Whichever you choose, don’t keep flushing your money down the toilet (literally)! Keep it in your wallet!

By: Joan Kelsch


You Can Offset What You Can’t Reduce

carbon-footprintA carbon offset is a project that is certified to counterbalance a given amount of greenhouse gas emissions. They help to offset part of a carbon footprint. A certified carbon offset ensures that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions wouldn’t have happened without the project for the offset. They are measured after a project, so that the exact offset is known.

Energy efficiency reduces your total carbon footprint, which is better than a carbon offset, but right now we don’t always have the option to get rid of an emissions generating activity (like driving a car) completely. Purchasing carbon offsets is one way to lessen the overall impact of your actions on the environment.

Offsets are different than Renewable Energy Certificates (or RECs), which represent a unit of renewable energy produced. However, a REC represents energy that is still used, just like a carbon offset is used to counteract energy that is consumed.

Arlington is matching 3.5% of its natural gas use with carbon offsets through our natural gas provider. In Arlington, all natural gas customers pay for service and distribution from Washington Gas, but they can pay for the supply, or the actual gas that they consume, from a registered supplier of their choice. Other local organizations that are purchasing carbon offsets to match part of their natural gas use are Arlington Public Schools, matching 10%, and Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), who recently announced that they are matching 35% of their natural gas consumption with carbon offsets.

Projects that qualify for offsets include things like taking trucks off of the road and shipping products using a less carbon-intensive mode of travel, such as rail. They can also be projects like tree planting or adopting new farming practices to reduce nitrogen runoff. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is partnering with organizations like Washington Gas Energy Services and Sterling Planet on projects like this that yield certified carbon offsets.

You can buy offsets just like Arlington, APS, and NOVA, if you have a natural gas bill. Some people buy offsets in other ways, like to lessen the impact of a flight that they take, by purchasing offsets for the emissions that result from their actions.

By: Jeannine Altavilla

How Smart Meters Help YOU

Dominion is in the process of upgrading electric meters in Arlington to smart meters. These meters have a lot of system benefits, and some benefits that directly help you – the customer. If you have your own electric meter and pay your own bill, Dominion can turn on and off service remotely with smart meters. So if you move into a new home and opening your electric account slipped off the bottom of the to-do list, Dominion can turn on your service without you having to wait for a service technician to be scheduled to come and turn it on.

Even better, the smart meters will allow you to monitor your daily energy usage with a new tool that Dominion has released. From your online account, you can now click on Daily Energy Usage on your home page. You can view the daily kilowatt hours together with temperature for the last 90 days. It’s a great tool to help you analyze how you can be smart about how you’re using energy and think of ways to use less electricity every day.

Over the last month my highest energy usage days are Mondays. Now I’m going to start thinking about when I use appliances like the dishwasher and dehumidifier, to see if I can find what is causing my beginning of the week uptick in use. If you have a holiday light display, you can also see as soon as the next day how much your decorations are affecting your energy bill. If you use LED lights, you may not notice too much difference!

Are you seeing any interesting patterns that you wouldn’t have noticed without this new tool from Dominion? Be Smart. Think Less!


By: Jeannine Altavilla