A solar array on the building’s roof supplies all of the common area electricity.
A solar array on the building’s roof supplies all of the common area electricity.

MANAHAWKIN, N.J.—As a condition of approval to build the 112-unit Stafford Park Apartments,The Walters Group had to ensure that the project would be certified to the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED standards.

“We had an eye toward doing things more energy efficient,” says Ed Walters Jr., president of the Barnegat, N.J., company. “This was the perfect opportunity to dive in. The whole LEED program from A to Z is about building a better building. All of the components really are just common sense.”

The 9 percent low-income housing tax credit (LIHTC) development was completed in August 2010 and is part of a larger master plan with retail, restaurants, market-rate apartments, and single-family market-rate homes.

Walters says the development team went above and beyond LEED certified, with Stafford Park becoming the first LEED-Gold affordable housing project in New Jersey. “During the process we pushed the envelope to do the best that we could afford to do,” he says. “We knew from day one that if you're going to do something, you can't do it halfway.”

He says going LEED was a complete transformation for the company, and a lot of work had to be done to educate contractors and subcontractors. “We have a really strong management team, and the message was conveyed that this was something really important to us.”

All of the exterior walls are caulked, and the duct work is sealed to prevent air leakage. The building also has 2x6 walls with spray-foam insulation. “The building is very airtight,” says Walters, adding that the work was inspected and certified by a third-party inspector.

Energy Star appliances, low-flow water fixtures, and carpeting with recyclable content also are included in the units.

The Walters Group made a push to educate the residents on the building's green features. A handbook detailing why the building was built to LEED standards and how it's healthier with proper ventilation, low-VOC paints, and nontoxic construction adhesives is given to residents at move-in. The property management team also teaches residents how to program their thermostats at night and if they're not home to save on utility costs.

The approximately $10 million project was financed with tax credit equity and a permanent loan from Wells Fargo.

Walters estimates that generally speaking it costs an additional $5 per square foot to go LEED. But as the developer does more LEED projects, he's seeing the square footage costs decrease. Regardless, the additional costs are worth it to Walters.

“Any additional costs that we incur directly gets recouped by the end user for lower utility costs. The whole process of building things more efficiently and more intelligently is reflected in at least a break-even sense in what it costs to run and operate a building,” he says. “That savings justifies spending the extra money.”

He adds that the key is to start a LEED project before the architect puts pencil to paper. “When you design from day one, everything is thought out more efficiently.”

The Walters Group continues to push the green envelope. “The ultimate goal is to be building buildings that generate as much energy as they use,” says Walters. “Right now what we're building is a 40 percent savings over a code building. We're on our way, but we're not all the way there yet.”

The developer plans to have two LIHTC developments under construction this year that are expected to also be LEED-Gold—the 52-unit Whispering Hills Apartments and the 92-unit Laurel Oaks in Barnegat.