One of every five new homes this year will be bought
by Americans age 55 and older, representing the
fastest growing segment of the housing industry.
appliances, fluorescent lighting and solar water heating. Occupants
can further reduce energy use through simple actions like turning off
lights when leaving a room, washing clothes in cold water and cutting back on space heating and air conditioning.
Walkable Communities Offer Healthy Living
Many green builders recognize the need for communities that
are walkable — where residents can walk to the grocery store, to
the doctor and even to their jobs. For older adults, these walkable
communities provide the convenience of having essential services
Many communities have programs to
help seniors insulate their windows and
purchase fan and air-conditioning units. Here
are some more steps that can be taken to
improve energy efficiency:
■ Replace appliances with Energy Star models.
■ Improve the attic and crawlspace insulation.
■ When replacing the roof, install light-colored
shingles to reflect sunlight and reduce attic
■ Use compact fluorescent lighting.
■ Buy low-flow faucets and showerheads.
■ Put in a whole-house fan.
■ Install a solar water heater.
■ Plug air leaks.
Some air leakage points are easy to find
because we feel them as we live in the house;
these includes leaks around windows and
doors and through electrical outlets. Other
leaks, such as those found in attics, basements
and around chimneys, are harder to detect,
and these can be a house’s largest sources of
Indoor colors can also contribute to energy
efficiency. Bright walls and ceilings help reflect
sunlight throughout the house, making the
house feel warmer in the winter and reducing
the need for artificial lighting during daylight
How we live in our houses can also make a
big difference in energy consumption. Turning
lights off when leaving a room, operating the
washing machine with cold water, and setting
the thermostat a few degrees cooler in the
winter and a few degrees warmer in the summer can help reduce monthly utility bills.
nearby. Also, walkable communities can be more neighborly than the
big suburban developments we have grown accustomed to in America, where homes are far apart and automobile ownership is often
essential. Walkable communities provide more opportunities for fun
and relaxation, like visiting the park, the library, a movie theater or
a nearby cafe, and the exercise of walking is important too. By cutting back on automobile traffic, walkable communities help fight
climate change by reducing global warming gases.
Walkable communities are especially amenable to a low-energy
lifestyle — smaller homes, less driving and shared facilities all play an
important role in energy efficiency. In some walkable neighborhoods,
community buildings serve multiple purposes. For example, an elementary school classroom might be used in the evening by an older
adults’ book-of-the-month club or family support group, or an arts center could host social gatherings for seniors during off hours. Facility
sharing happens in other communities too, but being able to walk to
community events makes the sharing of facilities that much easier.
Sharing facilities is not only an energy-efficient use of space; it provides more opportunities for older adults to be integrated into community life, an important factor in maintaining a healthy outlook as
we grow older.
Market Ripe for Affordable, Efficient Communities
Fortunately, utilities and state and federal agencies offer a num-
ber of incentives for building new homes, retrofitting existing homes
and buying energy-
An excellent source
of information on
these incentives is
the Database of State
Renewables and Effi-
ciency, a joint proj-
ect of the North Car-
olina Solar Center
and the Interstate
Council, funded by
the U.S. DoE
( dsireusa.org). Vari-
ous incentives are
JOHN WESLEY MILLER COS.
available, including tax credits and deductions, rebates, low-interest
loans, grants, bond programs, sales and property tax exemptions, and
green building programs. The database, at dsireusa.org, is searchable
As millions of baby boomers edge toward retirement, now is the
time to begin planning for residential communities that are accessible, affordable and energy-efficient. Especially for the large numbers
of low-income older adults, we need to establish housing options that
will allow an active, comfortable lifestyle without exorbitant energy
costs. Along with low-energy housing, the continued creation of
walkable communities is also a step in the right direction. Because
energy-efficient housing helps reduce climate change gases, the environment will benefit too. ●
Richard Crume works as an environmental engineer and teaches a
college class on air pollution assessment and control. Yoko Crume, Ph.D.,
is a social work professor, specializing in aging and long-term care. The
Crumes live in a right-sized, passive solar house located in a walkable community near downtown Chapel Hill, N.C. Contact them at