By Mae Lee Sun, Inside Tucson Business
Published on Thursday, July 02, 2009

The sun, the warm weather, golf and the arts are what typically attract retirees to Southern Arizona. For those choosing to live at La Posada in Green Valley, there’s a new consideration: green living.

“The average age of our residents is in the mid-80s. They are a very politically active and environmentally conscious population,” says Tim Carmichael, director of marketing for the nonprofit continuing care retirement community for people ages 62 and up. “Most of the changes we’ve been making at La Posada have come about through our residents suggestions who are concerned about water and energy usage. So we’ve taken that on and have hired Pepper Viner Homes as the developer for the planned Park Centre Homes neighborhood which we hope to break ground on by the end of 2009.”

None of the 35 homes to be built will be owned by residents. Instead they’ll pay an “entrance fee” that on average will be about $450,000 — 70 percent of which gets returned when the resident leaves. The fee, along with additional monthly maintenance costs also provides for of having medical staff nearby. La Posada’s 35 homes won’t be for sale, residents will instead pay a partially refundable “entrance fee.” Advertisement As for being green, all of the homes will be energey efficient and built with low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) in the cabinetry, paints and flooring. (VOC are carbon-based chemicals that evaporate at room temperature and can be harmful, especially from sustained exposure.)

Not only will the homes be energy efficient, their construction will be cost-efficient as well, says Richard Barna, director of green building and building science for Pepper-Viner Homes and a member of the executive board of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.

“We are still able to have a profit margin by sticking within La Posada’s budget because we have been working with energy think-tanks to pull out all the stops and not settle for cheaply built houses because of money,” Barna said. “It’s more about the science of it actually and applying the Pima County standards for green building rather than LEED’s which doesn’t account for issues specifically related to our region. A 50 percent savings for the consumer is our goal on all power usage and much of that will happen by using structural insulated panels (SIPS) instead of wood frame construction. It’s one of the greenest products out there.”

He also said the concrete that will be used is made with 40 percent fly ash – a glass-like powder that is a waste product of coal-generated power. It’s used as a stronger replacement for cement, where most green building programs utilize only 20 percent.

Each home will also be built specific to each site to maximize the passive solar heating and cooling. So far, Carmichael says the homes will be built in two sizes with a choice of two different floor plans. The curb appeal will be native desert plants and landscaping.

While the homes will be plumbed for solar, gray water systems and solar hot water, Carmichael says they’re waiting for the technology in solar tiles to evolve before actually offering the complete package. But in general, the Park Centre Homes will be a major change in how retirement and continuing care communities are thought of.

Meanwhile, the existing apartments and suites on the La Posada campus in Green Valley, while not having been built from the ground up as “green,” are undergoing a retrofit.

A resident at La Posada, Bob Venuti, 84, says things like that show the management is cognizant of the needs of the older generation, which is why he chose to move there three years ago.

“Green is a broad subject. It can mean anything,” Venuti said. “On the things that were obvious, like lighting and recycling, the changes have already been made. The management has the attitude that they live here with us. And to help further their efforts, I volunteer with a lot of others to educate the community on how to live more green and what the benefits are.”

© 2009 Inside Tucson Business