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This is What the Future Looks Like

Project Open’s All-Electric Apartments Set the Stage for Eco-Friendly Affordable Living


Outside Project Open2

by Ryan Anderson, SLCgreen intern

If you’ve been to Salt Lake City in the winter, you know that our air quality leaves room for improvement. Our air pollution has already been found to have severe health impacts, and it’s crucial that we act now before the problem worsens.

Winters are plagued by inversions and in the summer we have a growing problem with ozone.

Both of these problems are directly tied to the emissions we put into the air. While transportation is the largest source, our homes and buildings are a close second and are projected to become the top polluter in the coming years.

With Utah’s population expected to double in the latter half of this century and a growth rate three times the national average, reducing emissions and improving our air quality has become even more pressing.

A key step in securing a healthier future for our community is to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas in residential and commercial buildings, plus the transportation sector.

Luckily, there are solutions. If we design and build our structures smarter, we can reduce much of the pollution that comes from our buildings. And if these structures also incorporate green transportation features, we can significantly move the needle on both air pollution and our community carbon footprint.

That’s why we’re excited to feature a forward-thinking new housing complex that is innovating on all of these fronts.

Realizing a Net Zero Housing Development

Chris Parker from Giv Development created Project Open, a mixed-income net-zero energy apartment complex. Inspired by the grave realities presented by the relationship between pollution, climate change, and population growth, Parker and his team set out to bring green living to the multi-family lifestyle.

“Net-Zero” energy means a building meets all its net annual energy needs with the production of renewable power.

Not only did Giv aim to prove that creating such a building was possible, but they also demonstrated that there’s a financial incentive to do so. By installing air-source heat pumps and foregoing natural gas lines and the traditional duct system required for heating and cooling, Giv was able to save $50,000 during development compared to a traditional apartment complex.

This heating and cooling system is also fully electric, allowing 100% of its annual energy demand to be provided by renewable energy.

This means that the primary component contributing to both winter- and summertime air pollution in residential buildings – the natural gas from furnaces and hot water heaters—has been eliminated. This is not to be underestimated.

Electrifying heating in buildings not only sends local air pollutants plummeting, it offers the ability to source that electricity from clean energy.

This is easier said than done. A common barrier preventing the development of net-zero energy buildings is limited roof space for solar panels. With an estimated 3.5 acres of solar required to power the development’s electricity needs, Giv faced a dilemma. However, Parker teamed up with Rocky Mountain Power as part of their Subscriber Solar program to enroll in a solar farm in Central Utah to provide power to Project Open.

Subscriber Solar

Subscriber Solar sticker on the door of Project open’s leasing office


Clean Transportation

Additionally, Project Open is planning to deploy electric vehicles to be shared by its tenants. Two EVs will be shared initially through use of an online reservation platform which is really cool for a number of reasons.

First, electric vehicles have no tailpipe so they do not emit the unique mix of air pollutants that create PM2.5 haze in the winter and lung-burning ozone in the summer.

They also have a smaller carbon footprint, even when factoring in the fossil fuels used to create the electricity.

Medium-to long-term: that electricity will be cleaner so our cars will be virtually emission free.

A study by Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) found that EVs can reduce air quality pollutants up to 99% along the Wasatch Front compared to driving a new gasoline vehicle.

So swapping gas guzzlers for electric vehicles is another important way to clear our air.

Parker factored this in to his development. Because demand for electric vehicles is expected to increase, he has outfitted each parking stall in Project Open with electric vehicle charging capacity not just for the shared vehicles, but also for residents who own their own plug-in vehicle.

By offering residents diverse and low-emission transportation options, Giv is empowering all residents to lower their carbon footprint and improve local air quality.

Second, having access to shared vehicles means that residents don’t have to purchase their own car. They can use alternative transportation for the majority of their travel needs, but can check out a clean, electric car, located conveniently in their parking garage, when they need to make specialized trips.

Access to the shared electric vehicles will be paid for by tenants in low, monthly installments that also include TRAX and GREENbike passes.

Social Equity and Affordable Housing

To reduce the strain of gentrification on Salt Lake City’s affordable housing crisis, Giv has reserved many units for low-income families.

Giv has also put in place multiple opportunities for tenants to meet their neighbors through a communal dining area and two communal balconies that allow residents to share the two best views from the apartments: The Capitol and the sunset. Parker is concerned by the high rate of loneliness found in the U.S., and firmly believes that the more you know your neighbor the happier you’ll be. Knowing that most apartment-dwellers in today’s society often don’t go out of their way to meet each other, Parker designed Project Open to create as many chance-encounters as possible in hopes of eventual friendships and a greater sense of community.

Capitol View

View of the Utah State Capitol from one of Project Open’s shared balconies

When asked about the biggest challenge throughout the whole process, Chris Parker identified the need for extraordinary levels of ingenuity. While large, net-zero projects are difficult to envision due to their newness, Parker pushed his team to innovate because he believes that humans “are remarkably inventive little creatures when we want to be.”

Moving forward with Phase 2, Parker is optimistic because he has already proven that a renewably powered, socially responsible apartment can be built.

Yes, you can be sustainable and make money doing it. Congrats Giv Development!

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