When you think of the demand for green building, the 80-plus demographic likely doesn’t spring to mind. But at the “continuing care” community of La Posada in Arizona, the elderly residents are part of the driving force behind greening the existing buildings and management’s decision to make the next phase of new homes super efficient.

La Posada, located in the Tucson suburb of Green Valley, includes a community of 124 attached garden homes and two apartment buildings accommodating four levels of care for residents 62 and over: independent living, assisted living, memory care, and health care.

The campus is about to expand with the addition of Park Centre, a development of 35 detached homes that will be built to the National Green Building Standard. But the journey to green for Park Centre began much earlier, on the grounds of the 100-acre campus and in the halls of its existing buildings. Residents at La Posada, surrounded by awe-inspiring nature but also impacted by the desert climate’s water woes, are ever aware of the possibilities of and necessities for environmentally conscious living.

“Residents who have lived here have become astute and very tuned in to the energy consumption requirements, the water usage requirements, the recycling activity that goes on,” says La Posada’s director of marketing Tim Carmichael. “… so they have focused in on making sure the buildings that we build, the houses we have constructed, and the programs that we have are designed to be energy efficient.”

The efforts also go straight to residents’ wallets, as energy-conserving measures—such as a switch to CFLs that’s reaping $3,000 to $5,000 in savings per month per building—help the community conserve costs and avoid hefty fee increases. Native plants and grasses that reduce water consumption also play a big role.

With the continuing efforts to green the existing property and to conserve funds, it was not surprising that current residents insisted the next phase of the community be built sustainably.

Each Park Centre home is oriented on its lot based on optimal solar orientation, adding variety and some non-traditional placements of garages and driveways.
Each Park Centre home is oriented on its lot based on optimal solar orientation, adding variety and some non-traditional placements of garages and driveways.

The new 2,000-square-foot houses, to be built by Pepper Viner Homes, will be oriented on each lot to maximize solar gain. The homes will be crafted with SIPs and will include zoned HVAC in conditioned space, low-E windows, and overhangs for shading. Slabs will feature post-industrial crushed block and 40% fly ash. Like the rest of the campus, properties feature native plants and drip irrigation on timers. Given the future residents’ age, optimizing indoor air quality was essential. Low- or no-VOC paints and sealants are specified, as are formaldehyde-free cabinets. “We have found more and more in the last five years people coming to our campus who are affected by asthma or they have environmental sensitivities or they have [pulmonary disease] or other lung issues,” Carmichael explains. “For us to provide an environment that would be clean … is paramount in importance to us. We are concerned about their quality of life as much as the fact that we’re providing services to them.”

Finally, each of the houses is pre-wired for future installation of photovoltaics and is designed for future implementation of greywater systems. Though these features likely won’t be offered as upgrades for the initial sales, the houses are ready as they turn over down the road and as technologies, costs, and demand improves. “We know that the larger wave [of interest] is coming at us at a later date, and we just want to be ready,” Carmichael says.

The eco-friendly elements in the new houses—particularly the IAQ details—will be incorporated into future renovations of other areas of the campus.

For the management at La Posada, the transition to greener, healthier living for residents hasn’t required a burdensome adjustment from a cost or learning curve standpoint. “We’re finding that the myth that building green is a major expense doesn’t hold water,” he says, noting that the NAHB’s estimates of a 3% to 5% increase in cost is accurate in this community’s case.

What’s more, the process isn’t as complicated as some would believe. “The decision process now just has this element of discussion of how it is that we do it in a green way.”