There's no denying that "green" construction and housing practices have popped up everywhere. In fact, Illinois has long led the country in eco-friendly housing, with the most LEED-certified square footage per resident. Even small private landlords are taking steps to retrofit their properties for the sake of the environment.
It's our opinion that "green" construction should be a top selling point to all renters, even if they think that climate change is a load of malarkey. Modern environmentally-forward housing doesn't have to mean stinky compost heaps and weird fluctuating solar power. Much of it is actually less expensive and more convenient for renters. If it makes it easier for you to stomach, think of "eco-friendly" as a codeword for "better housing."
1. Less money goes to Uncle Sam.
There's very few people out there that think the government needs more money, especially if it's coming from the hands of individual taxpayers and small businesses. Federal, state and local governments offer plenty of tax breaks to landlords that make efforts to reduce energy and water consumption. For your average small private landlord, lower taxes mean more cash to return to the local economy.
2. Lower Rents.
If you think of "green construction" as silly and misguided, maybe you should think of it instead as a code word for more "green" in your pocket. When a landlord chooses to use eco-friendly practices in their apartment buildings, they see not only tax breaks but lower water bills and even lower insurance premiums. While there's no accounting for all landlords, lower expenses usually translate into fewer rent increases.
3. Stay Warm (or Cool) for Less.
No matter what goes on with the weather elsewhere, there's no denying that Chicago has always had a lot of extreme temperatures. With Chicago seasonal extremes, heating and cooling your apartment can be your next biggest expense after rent. Better insulation, windows and roofs make for less warmed or cooled air escaping.
4. Less noise.
Better insulation doesn't just help keep you properly warm in the winter. It also helps to dampen the noise that travels between apartments. Properly fitted windows don't rattle and creak in Chicago's brisk winds. Well-maintained, efficient heating systems don't bang, clang and grind like older models did. If you're looking for a quieter living environment, look for the "eco-friendly" label.
5. Expert Opinions.
The Chicago housing inspectors are the main watchdogs when it comes to making sure that landlords keep their buildings in safe and legal condition. However, they can only visit a handful of the many buildings in the city every year. The bigger buildings get an annual checkup from the city, but the smaller ones only get a visit when someone complains. This fact coupled with the city's complicated building permit system means that an apartment building can go for years without getting a visit from anyone with knowledge of safety codes.
Landlords rarely make eco-friendly changes to their buildings just for fun. They want those tasty tax breaks. That means at least a few people with experience in safe, legitimate building practices have to visit your building to certify the work as in-line with "green" standards.
6. Fewer Flooded Basements.
Chicago was built on a swamp. Soil soaks up water like a sponge, but our concrete-paved metropolis? Not so much. When there's no natural soil for that water to soak into, it flows into basements instead. Your standard sod-covered Chicago lawn doesn't do much to help the problem either - lawns may be pretty, but they do a really bad job of holding all that water.
Native Chicago plants are cherished by environmental advocates not only for the sake of preserving them from aggressive, invasive species. However, since swamp plants do a better job at absorbing rain and melting snow, their usage in yard landscaping is something that even hardened skeptics can support if they want dry basements.
Ecological experts can help restructure yards and even rooftops to improve drainage and absorb excess rain. Landlords that pay attention to their landscaping in more than just cosmetic ways are taking steps to help keep flooding, water damage and mold to a minimum.
A landlord that has made the effort to add eco-friendly features to their building is more likely to have a care for the upkeep of the building and for the well-being of the residents. These kinds of capital improvements are a good indicator that other proper preventive maintenance is happening as well.
8. Fewer nasty fumes.
Smoke-free housing is part of the eco-friendly movement, but it's also part of healthy living. The choice to ban smokers from apartment buildings isn't just about the obvious health benefits to renters. Landlords who go smoke-free are eligible for even more of those lovely tax breaks. Smoke-free apartments are also easier to turn over, as they don't require heavy duty cleaning and repainting to get rid of the tar.
Even smokers will be happier with landlords who don't use High VOC paints, varnishes and carpeting. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) are airborne pollutants and very toxic, so eco-warriors are strongly against their use. They're also the main element that makes paint smell so terrible, and they can make you sick if they build up too much. Landlords who make a point to use low VOC materials are going the extra mile for the health of not only their tenants but also their workers - always a good thing.
9. Parking downtown is really awful.
While early forms of public transit were created for conveniece and thrift, modern urban mass transit continues to thrive thanks in part to the efforts of the Green movement. Plenty of Chicago renters prefer to have a lot of public transit options nearby because they're more convenient, cheaper and better for their health - they don't do it just because it's a "green" choice. Plus, anyone who has to drive downtown and park there on a regular basis will tell you that it's no picnic.
10. Eco-Friendliness and convenience go hand in hand.
Modern innovators may create devices with the environment in mind, but they know that a lot of people won't buy in to their inventions without what I like to call the "shiny factor." Gadgets like the Nest thermostat, sink aerators and those blue Divvy bikes are all examples of items that bring enough convenience to the table that climate change skeptics can enjoy them too.
Even if you think your head is going to explode the next time some eco-friendly busybody talks to you about climate change, you can't deny that there's a lot to gain from living in their building. In fact, I'd make a bet that a lot of landlords that trumpet the virtues of their "green" apartments didn't go green for environmental reasons. So rest assured, you aren't forfeiting your skeptic card by choosing environmentally sound housing. You're just using vocabulary cues to make a sensible choice.
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