Green Living for an Aging Population

Some things are uncertain about our future while others are quite clear, and one thing that's clear is that we're getting older. And it's not just you or me, but the whole country. The U.S. population is aging, with a demographic bulge pushing the number of older citizens steadily higher. As the population ages, the growing number of older people need places to live that accommodate their unique needs and provide a good quality of life. Places like La Posada in Arizona. And the more that these facilities incorporate sustainability in their design and maintenance, the more that we all benefit.

La Posada, in Pima County, Arizona, is in a rural area about 30 miles from Tucson, surrounded by pecan groves. As a continuing care retirement community, they specialize in residents over the age of 75 with about 750 residents who live on the campus and 540 full time staff to help them. The unique needs of these residents must be satisfied, and the increasing care they require as their age advances, and going green can help to accomplish this. La Posada has found that going green is not just the right thing to do, but an important part of their business that attracts residents and keeps costs reasonable.

Most people want to live independently, so La Posada helps them stay in their own homes as long as possible, while also giving them the care they need. Their latest development, called Park Centre Homes and built in partnership with green builder Pepper-Viner Homes, has individual residences, good-sized homes where seniors live comfortably on their own. These homes use a "universal design" with wide hallways, wheelchair and walker accessible restrooms and things in the kitchen within arms reach, not too high or too low.

The homes also have sustainability built into them from the ground up, making the best use of our resources as well as providing a good place to live. The homes are "designed from the cement to the paint on the wall to be green built," said Tim Carmichael, Director of Marketing at La Posada. The use of structurally insulated panels that are fabricated in a factory reduces construction waste 40-50% compared to on-site construction, and the homes are dramatically more energy efficient as well, designed to be net-zero energy use with solar panels installed on the roof, zoned air cooling and heating, and strong insulation from the panels, among other features. To save water, greywater is used in landscaping and low water landscaping is used everywhere, in keeping with the precious nature of water in the Southwest.

Indoor air quality is another concern, particularly for those with health issues, providing an added incentive for many residents to be attracted to green construction methods that release fewer volatile organics, using low VOC paint and formaldehyde-free cabinets.

Green construction methods also help the bottom line, a further attractive feature. The cost of building green only increased the overall cost of construction by 4% according to Carmichael, and by designing the homes and the whole facility to be eco-efficient with energy and water use, they reduce the cost of running the facility, and the cost of living there.

I'm not anywhere close to 75 yet, but I will be someday, hopefully. It's nice to think that when I am, there will be places like La Posada where I can live as an option.

Glenn Croston is the author of 75 Green Businesses and Starting Green, and the founder of Starting Up Green, helping green businesses to get started and grow.

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