Casa Feliz brings affordable LEED Platinum housing to Albuquerque

All images photo credit: Patrick Coulie.

Transformation. Creation. Connection. These were the words the Casa Feliz team had in mind during its development, and as one of USGBC's three Outstanding Affordable Projects recognized in the 2018 LEED Homes Awards, the project succeeds in creating a new sense of place in the unique context of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Spread over 11 separate sites in the Trumbull neighborhood, the LEED Platinum apartment homes offer 89 units reserved for families and individuals with incomes at 30–60% of the area median. Casa Feliz, built by the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership, also represents phase 2 of a larger neighborhood revitalization effort in the Trumbull neighborhood.

Making life better for the community

"This neighborhood has literally been completely transformed," says Cody Gatland, of Green Insight, LLC. Gatland was the LEED Green Rater for the project, and he witnessed firsthand the effect of the new development. "Many of the old homes that were knocked down and replaced by this project were havens for crime. Having hundreds of tenants who take pride in their homes and adjacent spaces has done wonders."

The addition of a town square-style space in front of the Casa Feliz community building, as well as shared indoor/outdoor spaces, helps create a community experience, says Gatland, and the area's mix of market-rate and affordable units "further creates an opportunity for community cohesion. When you drive through these blocks in the neighborhood, it just feels nicer and safer than it used to," he explains.

The site's layout was inspired by traditional “urban village” patterns, where homes face the street with private front porches and are grouped together for sociability and security. Public plazas throughout the development include play structures, grape arbors and a sports field.

Longstanding neighborhood groups supported the building of the Casa Feliz project and the nearby Plaza Feliz (also certified LEED Platinum), says Gatland, and the Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership showed its strong commitment to improving communities.

"They also do LEED for Homes on almost every project they do," says Gatland of his client. "They are a great example of a group who develops neighborhood-changing projects that are beautiful, sustainable and culturally relevant."

LEED Platinum Casa Feliz community building in Albuquerque

The Casa Feliz community building.

Mark Wade of Hartman + Majewski Design Group shared Gatland's enthusiasm. With the architecture, he believes, the community benefits from a "heightened awareness of the natural environment—especially that which existed long before anything was built anywhere near the project site."

Design elements intended to weave the beauty of the landscape into the structures included allowing roof water to drain visibly at the front of the apartments, which mimics the natural water features of the area, and integrating colors and shapes into the apartment doors and community building tower that are reminiscent of plants and animals native to New Mexico.

Meeting the challenge of unique sites

While working on Casa Feliz, Gatland found the site-related LEED credits the most challenging, due to the project's 11 noncontiguous lots. "Typically, these are very straightforward calculations...but each site was calculated on its own for things like permeability, landscaped areas, etc.," says Gatland. "Likewise for things like community resources, which had to be calculated uniquely for each site. In some cases, one site had a different set of community resources than another around the corner, so we had to cross-reference all of the sites and make sure we were getting to our thresholds on all sites."

Because the team's goal was Gold or Platinum-level certification, they had to commit to a consistent high standard for all the sites and put in the time to unravel the complications of verifying credits across all the spaces. Their determination paid off, with a LEED Platinum certification for the full set of sites.

The LEED Platinum Casa Feliz apartments in Albuquerque

A front view of the Casa Feliz residences.

In addition, Gatland had to be flexible with the mechanical elements, specifically the heat pump water heaters. A last-minute renewal of the state's sustainable building tax credit changed the process of selecting the equipment. The tax credit specifies a minimum HERS score of 60, but Gatland says, "we routinely find that meeting that HERS 60 in Albuquerque’s climate zone on an all-electric project without onsite renewables means you have to go with heat pump water heaters."

Though they were able to find appropriate heaters, there was no outdoor location in Casa Feliz to place them. This meant they had to be inside the home—presenting potential issues with ventilation, fan noise and thermostat—but the units selected worked for the project's needs to mitigate these potential complications.

Achieving LEED certification through creativity and organization

For others seeking to build a residential project to LEED standards, Gatland advises stocking the project team with sustainability veterans. "As someone who has worked on the development side, is a Green Rater, a HERS rater and a LEED for Homes QAD, I can say that choosing an experienced verification team is very important" when choosing to build toward and certify with LEED Residential, says Gatland. "At Green Insight, we strive to make it as easy as possible, from concept to final certification."

He also advises that "getting everything designed and fully incorporated into the plans as early and thoroughly as possible is a key to success."

Wade also urges teams to get creative. "Try to meld the LEED points you want into a visible and usable amenity for the community," says the architect.

Who made it happen: The Owen Residence team


Hartman + Majewski Design Group (Mark Wade, Ketan Bharatiya)


Greater Albuquerque Housing Partnership (Felipe Rael)


Hartman + Majewski Design Group (Dave Aube)

General contractor

Tofel Dent Construction, LLC

LEED provider/rater

Green Insight, LLC (Cody Gatland)

Landscape architect

Radicle (Christie Green)

Structural engineer

Walla Engineering Ltd. (Jeremy Randall, PE)

Mechanical and plumbing engineer

Arsed Engineering Group (Pat Sedillo)

Electrical engineer

AC Engineering (Fred J. Telck)

*Bold text indicates USGBC members.

From the technical details to the big-picture vision, the Casa Feliz team created an apartment community that they hope will serve the neighborhood for many years to come. Its affordability, beauty and sustainable features make it a home of which Albuquerque residents can be proud.

Learn more about LEED v4.1 for Residential