Green Affordable Housing: Solara


California’s first apartment community designed to be fully powered by the sun. Completion date for the affordable housing project: 2007.


Through our Greening of Affordable Housing Initiative, we work extensively with nonprofit community development corporations, architects, financial institutions, and government agencies at the local, state, and national level. Global Green USA was the Green Building/Renewable Energy Advisor on the project.


SOLARA's 141 kilowatt, grid-tied photovoltaic (PV) system supplies power separately to each of the project’s 56 energy-efficient apartment units, community center, and common areas. While SOLARA was built exclusively with easily obtainable off-the-shelf technology, its major breakthrough was financial. By taking advantage of funding sources available to most new affordable housing projects in California, the development team was able to cover more than 92% of the cost of the $1.1 million solar system with incentives and create a business model that can be replicated in affordable housing developments across the state.

SOLARA's energy efficiency and renewable energy package may be its most obvious green feature, but the foundation of SOLARA’s success as a green affordable housing project lies in the design team’s holistic approach to sustainable development. The team focused on core elements such as community access and walkability, indoor environmental quality, water efficiency, and resource conservation throughout the design and construction process. The result is proof that quality, innovative, and environmentally-friendly housing can be accessible to everyone.


Energy Efficiency

  • Low-E windows
  • Radiant barrier roofing
  • Central, high-efficiency, tankless water heaters for water and space heating
  • SEER 13 and 14 air conditioning with non-HCFC refrigerant
  • 100% pin-type fluorescent lighting
  • ENERGY STAR appliances
  • Exceeds Title 24 (2005) by 15%

Renewable Energy

141 kW photovoltaic system supplies electricity to all units, common areas, and parking areas

Water Efficiency

  • Dual flush toilets
  • Native, drought-resistant plants with low water needs 

Recycled Materials

  • Fly ash in concrete
  • Natural linoleum in kitchens and bathrooms
  • Composite (plastic and wood) recycled decking
  • Recycled paper wall surface in the Learning Center

Indoor Air Quality

  • Low VOC paint
  • Cross-ventilation and windows in most bathrooms
  • Green Label Plus carpets
  • Wood cabinets sealed against formaldehyde leakage
  • Bathroom fans with timers to help prevent moisture accumulation and mold growth
  • Formaldehyde-free insulation 

Resident Life

  • Preoccupancy green briefings for residents
  • Green Curriculum in the Learning Center
  • Families supplied folding shopping carts to encourage shopping at local establishments without driving
  • Community center resources include: job training, computer skills, leadership, and financial fitness
  • Individual solar energy consumption monitoring
  • Six on-site public art installations
  • Meyer lemon grove with edible citrus
  • Family recreational area


Our case study