Guest Post By Tanya Fairclough-James

We may not all be tree huggers but in the move towards a greener future more people are identifying ways and means to reduce their carbon footprint by reducing energy consumption and improving their community’s environment, economy and quality of life. Community associations can play an integral role in the green movement by amending the governing legal documents to comply with city/county environmental regulations and the practice of waste minimization and pollution prevention. Taking these steps will not only save an association time and money, but will also help to conserve natural resources, particularly our limited water supply. The following are our top ten amendment tips for going green in your community.

1. Require the Installation of Low-Flow Toilets and other Water Saving Devices

Toilets are the biggest water users in most households. Therefore, for those communities where water is paid for as a Common Expense, the installation of low-flow toilets can save thousands of gallons of water and hundreds of dollars on the water/sewer bill. Various cities around the state are currently offering Toilet Rebate Programs to encourage the replacement of old, leaking toilets which can cause significant spikes in usage, as well as toilets installed before 1993 which use on average between 5-7 gallons per flush. An example of one such program is the City of Atlanta – Toilet Rebate Program, which offers City of Atlanta residents who replace old, inefficient toilets with approved low-flow toilets a $50 rebate (for 1.6 gallon per flush toilet) and a $100 rebate (for 1.28 gallon per flush toilet).

Some other water-saving devices worth considering are low-flow faucets and showerheads. In addition, the use of flex-steele washer hoses can prevent or eliminate water waste and water leaks, which in turn can also help to minimize insurance claims resulting from water damage.

2. Change out those “Energy-Hog” Appliances

If your community has older less energy-efficient appliances in its common areas, replacement of these appliances with more energy-efficient appliances is a great way to reduce an association’s common expense utility bill. Some other energy-saving steps include switching out common area light bulbs to compact fluorescents (CFLs), and installing programmable thermostats for common areas. Also, for associations that have an on-site manager or maintain office space, consider reducing energy use by unplugging electrical appliances or shutting down computers and other office equipment when not in use. Even if utility services are not paid for as a Common Expense, an association should definitely encourage owners within the community to use energy-saving devices.

3. Require periodic inspection and repair/replacement of high risk components and plumbing fixtures located in units

The early detection and prevention of water leaks or other potential plumbing problems in a unit can be extremely beneficial to an association in a condominium or townhome community. Therefore, it makes good sense to allow the association to perform plumbing inspections of condominium or townhome units on a regular basis (e.g. annually or bi-annually), and allow the association to make any necessary repairs up to a certain amount (e.g. $250) to charge back to an owner without approval.

Any plumbing inspection conducted by an association would involve a limited investigation for certain water leaks and other plumbing issues, and a recommendation for applicable plumbing upgrades/retrofits. Owners would be obligated to pay for the repair of any leaks or other plumbing problems identified by the association’s plumber in their units, as well as the replacement of any high risk components in their units, such as hot water heaters that are no longer under warranty. An association may also be permitted to install any larger physical systems that provide greater energy efficiency overall for the community. This suggestion will require an amendment to the Declaration.

4. Provide for water capture devices or energy saving devices.

Many communities have covenants in place prohibiting the use of green tools such as solar device, clothes lines, water storage tanks or rain barrels. Boards of Directors should certainly consider ways of accommodating those devices without offending other owners. Such accommodations may require an amendment to the Declaration if the items are prohibited by the Declaration. If the board has the ability to allow such items without amending the Declaration, the board should impose reasonable restrictions as to placement/location, size, color, etc.

5. Allow for Elimination of Yard Waste by Grasscycling

Grasscycling is the natural practice of leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. The clippings quickly decompose and return nutrients to the soil. Landscape experts recommend that grass be cut when it is dry and free of leaves, and should be mowed often enough so that no more than one-third of the grass blade is cut which allows grass clippings to fall easily through the grass to the soil. This practice reduces the need for fertilizers and reduces waste going to landfills.

Another possible option is to reduce the frequency of lawn mowings (e.g. once every two weeks versus once per week). In so doing, resulting lawn waste and pollution are reduced.

6. Provide Adequate Recycling Space and Convenient Drop-offs for Recyclables

Boards of Directors should encourage owners in the community to recycle appropriate items, by setting aside sufficient space in convenient non-visible locations for recyclables. This should give owners an incentive to start recycling. It also makes good sense to use a sanitation company that provides recycling service.

There are some cities that require owners to recycle and/or communities to provide recycling space. For example, the City of Atlanta recently passed an ordinance that requires condominium and apartment communities to make recycling space of 3 cubic yards per person available in their developments. Under this city’s ordinance, owners are not required to recycle, but the communities must make the space available nonetheless, and file an annual report concerning the amount of recyclables collected in a given year.

7. Allow for use of Single Sanitation Service

It is not uncommon for single-family developments to have different trash pick-up companies providing service within the community. In an effort to cut down on traffic in the community, and minimize the wear and tear on the community’s streets, Boards of Directors for single family communities might consider proposing an amendment to change the legal documents to allow for only one sanitation service provider.

8. Let go of the Perfectly Manicured Lawns and Allow Xeriscaping

Xeriscaping, also known as zeroscaping, and smart scaping, is water-conserving or drought-tolerant landscaping. The word Xeriscaping was coined by combining xeros (Greek for “dry”) with landscape. XeriscapeTM and the xeriscape logo are registered trademarks of Denver Water, the water department of Denver, Colorado. They were created by the Front Range Xeriscape Task Force of Denver Department in 1978.

This type of landscaping does not require any supplemental irrigation, and is promoted in areas that do not have easily accessible supplies of fresh water. It is also catching on in other areas that are experiencing water shortages due to the significant climate changes. Plants used in Xeriscaping depend upon the climate, but would generally be native plants.

9. Allow for the Creation of Common Area Compost Bins and Vegetable Gardens

Consider allowing the use of common area space for the establishment of a compost bin and community vegetable garden. The resulting product from the compost bin can be used in the vegetable garden to nourish plants, and the harvested food will support the concept of building more locally based, self-reliant food economies, as well as the broader sustainability movement.

10. Get an Energy Audit

Taking this simple step can help your community association determine exactly how much “juice” is being used by the community and will identify ways for reducing total energy consumption through better insulation and other techniques.