by Jessica Carreras
Apartment innovator Eric Brown knows what his customers want. When he noticed that his renters all had pets, he dropped the fee for owning one. For renters who were sick of bland, white apartment walls, he offered color choices. Free wireless internet? It comes standard. And now, the creator of Urbane Apartments, a chain of hip and modern lofts, studios and one-bedrooms with buildings in Royal Oak, Troy and Berkeley, is going green. “This whole ‘green’ concept is really taking off,” he says. “Not only is it the right thing to do, but people like it. It’s what our residents want.”
Brown’s new environmentally friendly building, located on Center Street in the heart of downtown Royal Oak, is already filling up with applications. This week, the first resident will move into the 1960s vintage building, marking a new era of green living.
The features, Brown explains, include low-emitting carpets and paints, which have less adverse health effects due to the release of gases known as volatile organic compounds. VOCs are found in almost all carpets and paints, but buying specific brands ensures that Brown’s residents will have less exposure to them. In addition to this, many of the countertops will be granite, while government-backed company Energy Star will provide all the appliances. The apartments will be equipped with low-flow toilets and faucets, as well as energy-conserving fluorescent lighting.
Though it sounds like a large endeavor all for the purpose of being Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified, Brown insists that it was both necessary and painless to make the switch. “These were all things that were fairly easy to do,” he says.
That easy switch may be why homeowners are going the same route – and why new buyers are looking for earth-friendly homes from the start. Guy Bazzani, who owns Grand Rapids-based architecture, construction and real estate company Bazzani Associates, has capitalized on this movement. His company designs, builds and sells homes and buildings that are environmentally and economically responsible.
While working in Northern California, Bazzani often hiked through the same forests where trees were cut down for timber used by builders like him. The devastation astounded him, so he made the decision to create a company that held certain environmental standards.
Now, years later, Bazzani Associates is recognized both locally and nationally as pioneering the green business. In addition to building and selling LEED certified homes, Bazzani has worked on many commercial projects as well, including the Hispanic Center and SandMann’s restaurant in Grand Rapids.
In Ferndale, Affirmations Gay and Lesbian Community Center is the first building in the city to receive LEED certification. There, natural light replaces much of the need for electricity, while sensor-operated lights and faucets lower energy and water use.
But still, much of the green movement starts in homes and apartments – many of which are owned by the LGBT community. “We appeal to the more creative class,” asserts Bazzani, naming gays, lesbians and transgender people as part of that group. And from his work in Grand Rapids to his beginnings in California, LGBTs are a group he has often worked with.
“I think the LGBT community is very passionate, and it seems to me that being green is likely to be something that they’re interested in,” agrees Brown, who says that a fair amount of his customers are young, gay and earth-conscious. “But we’re open to anyone who wants to rent from us,” he adds.
And those interested in going green, both men say, are of diverse demographics, ranging from hip 20-somethings to senior citizens, in Bazzani’s case.
For those who already own a home or rent an apartment that isn’t green, making the switch is easy, Brown and Bazzani insist. “Get an energy audit on your home and have the auditor make a list of things you can do one step at a time to bring your home to a more energy efficient basis,” Bazzani instructs. Simple changes can include switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs, watching thermostat settings and cutting down on unnecessary energy use, such as turning off lights and televisions when leaving home. Bolder changes can include replacing carpeting and paint, and buying energy-efficient appliances and faucets.
The cost of making changes, Bazzani ensures, is well worth it. “Typically, it pays back in two to five years,” he says of the added costs, “so it’s always a good investment to make these upgrades.” Plus, he adds, the health and environmental benefits last a lifetime.
For Brown and his renters, the benefits are obvious, which is why Urbane Apartments’ green efforts are expanding to existing buildings as well. Recycling options are available at each location, and common areas and lobbies are all lit with fluorescent bulbs. “We like to think outside the box and not do things as normal,” Brown says.
His hope, however, is that someday, being green will be the norm.