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Solara Multifamily Is Zero Energy (USA)

Credits: ©2010 Community Housing Works

Solara is a 56-apartment, affordable housing community composed of six two-story residential buildings and a 2,100 square foot Community Center on 2.5 acres in Poway, California, near San Diego. Solara, completed in March 2007 and 100 percent occupied, is a pioneering sustainable community, constructed “green.” It was the first apartment community in California to be fully powered by the sun through a grid-tied system. Photovoltaic panels are mounted on the roofs and carports supplying all electrical demand. The California Energy Commission recognizes this as the first Zero Energy New Home in the state.


Solara Pathway

Solara is a 2.5-acre development of 56 units in six residential buildings, and a 2,100-square-foot community building, including a seven-computer learning center, in Poway, Calif. Solara is a large family apartment computer that pioneered sustainable development in multifamily affordable housing, including being the first apartment complex in California to be fully powered by the sun. ©2010 Community Housing Works

Community HousingWorks, the owner/developer, constructed the community on an infill, blighted site that is within the Poway Redevelopment revitalization area. Flanked by a community park and existing market rate rental housing, Solara is located across the street from major retail, and within walking distance of shopping, services, City Hall and library, schools, and on a major transit arterial. A high percentage of residents work in Poway, allowing them to live and work in the same community with no commute. And, with a 425’ western boundary along Rattlesnake Creek floodway, the development “breathes” along the wide expanse of a natural greenbelt.

Community HousingWorks designed Solara to feature five major sustainability principles – besides renewable energy, the development has:

1) High energy efficiency in passive design and building envelope (radiant barrier, Low E windows), as well as mechanical and lighting systems and appliances, exceeding Title 24 (2005) by more than 15 percent;

2) Water efficiency including dual flush toilets in all apartments, landscape that includes an organic Meyer lemon grove, a high percentage of California natives with naturalized plants, no mown grass, and storm water that is treated and released to the greenbelt;

3) Use of recycled materials including: fly ash in concrete, glass in a decorative walkway, newspaper in the tackable wall surface within the 7-computer Learning Center, Trex decking, play structure and soft surfaces made of recycled tires and bottles, and even office and computer furniture developed to “cradle to cradle” standards;

4) improved indoor air quality with recycled carpet pad and Green Label carpet, linoleum in kitchens and bathrooms, low VOC paint, fans vented to outside, bathroom fans timed with light switches to avoid mold, cross ventilation including windows in many bathrooms, wood cabinets sealed against formaldehyde, and vents sealed during construction; and,

5) Public art integrated into the hardscape that emphasizes sustainability - including more than a dozen etched stepping stones and rocks within the Community Center and along the winding pathways meant both as decorative and to be used for rubbings; “Sun Quilt”, a sculpture triptych composed of recycled materials; a cat tail sculpture embellishment on the gate connecting the winding floodway walk with the adjacent park; and, a kaleidoscope within the Community Center containing recycled materials.

In addition, to keep the physical plant “green”, Solara produced a management/maintenance guide and sustainability training for staff and pre-occupancy briefings for residents. Consistent with its mission of “helping people and neighborhoods move up in the world”, project leadership designed an innovative Green Curriculum with bi-lingual activities and art projects created by the two project artists. To encourage healthy habits, each family is supplied a shopping cart to use in walks to the Farmers Market or other shopping. Job and computer training skills, leadership training, opportunity for scholarships, and financial fitness training and opportunities for first-time homebuyer loans make Solara a long term sustainable village, and an example of why affordable housing is smart growth.

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  Solara Case Study in Energy Use PPT Slides by Jim Meacham (415 kb)

  Solara Community Case Study Powerpoint Slides 2007 (1,274 kb)

  Solara Community Case Study (3,836 kb)


Rodriguez Associates Architects (San Diego, California, USA)

Community Housing Works (San Diego, California, USA)