There's no doubt about it: Green building is red-hot today. But despite all the hype, the reality of "going green" is still confusing for many. "Developers want to know if green building is a far-out utopian dream with waterless toilets and solar heating, or if there is a practical application that makes sense and may even offer economic and marketing advantages," says Tom Baum, president of Greenbelt, Md.-based Bozzuto Development Co.

TAKE CONTROL: Spray-foam insulations  can help reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 50 percent. This soy-based product from BioBased Systems is installed in liquid form and expands in seconds.

TAKE CONTROL: Spray-foam insulations can help reduce heating and cooling costs by up to 50 percent. This soy-based product from BioBased Systems is installed in liquid form and expands in seconds.

The answer: Green building is a little of both. While some green products, such as photovoltaic solar cells, are generally still too high-priced to make financial sense for multifamily applications (unless grant money offsets the cost), there are a host of green solutions that can help developers achieve both short- and long-term operational savings. From simple energy-efficient light fixtures to the more elaborate geothermal heat pump systems, both affordable and conventional multifamily developers and renovators are successfully greening their properties–and saving some green dollars of their own.

PERFECT AIM: Corbond Corp.'s spray-in-place polyurethane insulation helps reduce energy costs for buildings such as Washington Park, an affordable Chicago rental community.

PERFECT AIM: Corbond Corp.'s spray-in-place polyurethane insulation helps reduce energy costs for buildings such as Washington Park, an affordable Chicago rental community.

With energy and heating costs expected to soar by 50 percent or more this winter, it's worth the time to take a closer look at these solutions. "Financially, it's getting to the point where we need to start think about green building," says Ed Hord, principal of Hord Coplan Macht, a Baltimore, Md.-based architecture firm. "With increased energy costs this winter, this [efficient building] can really could improve the bottom line of operations."

To help you demystify the crazy world of green, here's a look at some of the more popular green building practices and the payback time you can expect if you choose to use them at your properties.

Solid Building Envelope
Payback time: Two to three years

A well-insulated building can go a long way toward reducing monthly utility bills. The developer of Washington Park, an affordable 63-unit single room occupancy project in Chicago, expects this green strategy to pay off big. "Since it was a gut rehab, and we were already spending money to insulate [it], why not take it to the next level and basically create a low-energy building by increasing the insulation value?" asks James Bess, a principal at Chicago-based Building Engineering Systems, which served as a green consultant on the project.

Bess and his team selected Corbond–a spray-in-place polyure-thane insulation manufactured by Bozeman, Mont.-based Corbond Corp. This insulation material has been used for years in products such as thermal bottles and commercial refrigerators and freezers. The product offers an extremely high R-value in a 3.5-inch stud cavity, which keeps construction costs lower (because many spray-ons require thicker walls), says Bess. The developer paid a $100,000 premium for the upgrade, but the extra insulation resulted in a reduction of the base mechanical systems by about $60,000. Bess expects to reduce annual energy costs by more than 40 percent.

Energy-efficient windows also can play a big role in reducing energy costs. Jeff Ross-Bain, an associate at Smith Dalia Architects, an Atlanta-based architecture firm, recommends using energy simulation software to analyze utility bill savings based on the use of various energy-saving glazings. "Sometimes there is no need to increase the window quality over code minimum," says Ross-Bain. "Other times, it makes all the difference in the world." If you have a building with a significant amount of south-facing glass, he says, going up one or two grades from the code minimum should pay for itself within two to three years.