We take the need for a more sustainable future very seriously. It affects everything we do. To help organize our thinking about this very complex subject, we consider the sustainability of our actions using the triple-bottom line framework: environmental stewardship, community well-being, and economic resilience.

Please bear with us on the length of this, as there is much thoughtful design by many generous and talented people that went into this work.

For a short overview of some sustainable aspects of this project, check out this video created in partnership with TBD Magazine.


Environmental Stewardship


Taking care to leave the planet better for the next generation, our goal is an ecological footprint that is less than one fifth of a normal apartment/hostel’s.


We targeted our energy savings solutions to the major areas of energy consumption in residential and hotel buildings. These include heating, cooling, ventilation, hot water, appliances and lighting. Some of our energy savings solutions are:

Geothermal Heating and Cooling – By placing tubes in the earth, we can use the constant 50F temperature of the earth to help heat the building in the winter and cool it in the summer. This is 35% more efficient than using air-based heat pumps.

Energy Recovery Unit – The unit transfers 65% of the heat and humidity from the outbound indoor air to the inbound fresh air in the winter and 65% of the heat and humidity from the inbound fresh air to the outbound indoor air in the summer. It does this with only the energy required to slowly turn a small wheel.

Super-Insulated Envelope – The entire building is super-insulated, reducing heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer. Our walls are 10 inches thick with both polyiso and cellulose insulation.  We also used spray foam to eliminate air cracks (air infiltration rate) and thermal bridging throughout the building.

Solar PV Panels – We have 42 high performance solar panels on the roof of the historic building. Each panel is 250W for a total generation capacity of 10,500W. We expect to generate approximately 13,000 kWh per year.

Windows – Our high efficiency windows have been installed to prevent air gaps and thermal bridging around the frames. The glass is Cardinal 366, which has a 60% SHGC (Solar Heat Gain Coefficient), blocking the heat gain components of the solar rays and thereby significantly reducing the cooling demands in the summer.

Lighting – There is LED and CFL lighting throughout the building. There are automatic controls that keep the hall lights at a low level until someone enters the hallway, at which point the lighting raises to a normal level, lowering again when they leave. Solatubes installed in the main lobby provide lighting with natural daylight from the sun. As the sun gets brighter, the electric lights automatically dim.

Appliances – All appliances are Energy Star or better. They are high-function, apartment sized appliances.

Autoless Lifestyles – Many of of our residents have no car.  In Detroit this was once heresy, now it’s a lifestyle choice.  We’ll try to measure the effect of this as best we can.


We’re fortunate to live in one of the areas with the greatest supplies of fresh water.  It’s literally all around us.  With this gift comes a great responsibility (just like Spiderman). We need to find new and better ways to care for the fresh water we have been given.  Here are a few of the things we’re doing at the El Moore.

Rain Water Harvesting – We have a 4,250 gallon cistern on the east side of the historic building that captures our rain water. It is connected to an underground distribution system so the water can be used to water our plantings throughout the property.

Rain Water Management – We have a rain water retention field under our parking lot. This retention field can hold the water of a 10 year storm. So once every 10 years we’ll put water in the city’s sanitary/storm sewer system.

Hot Water – We use high efficiency (96%) tankless hot water heaters to heat our water. We have a hot water loop to reduce running the water (i.e., wasting the water) to get hot water.

Low-flow Fixtures –  All of our faucets, showers and toilets are low flow. They meet or exceed all Water Sense standards.

Front Load Washers –  These use less water per load that top loaders.


We believe that it’s important that we reuse the materials that are already in Detroit.  It takes a different mindset to do so. You design with the materials you have, not for the materials you can order. First we started with the materials already in the El Moore, and then worked with materials from other buildings being taken down in Detroit. This all would not be possible without the talents, dedication and strong relationships of Detroit’s reuse community, including the great people at Detroit Architectural Salvage.

El Moore Reuse – We have reused the materials from the existing building to rebuild the building, including:

  • 66% of the 2x4s for wall studs
  • 90% all the wood flooring
  • 90% of the door trim to make furniture for the parlor and window trim for the cabins
  • 50% of plaster wood lath for the rooftop cabin interiors and furniture
  • 75% of wood paneling for the parlor paneling
  • 50% ceramic tile in our bathrooms and kitchen back splashes
  • 100% of the remaining historic metal railing donated back to the El Moore to use by Tom Delaney.

Detroit Reuse – We believe that Detroit’s sustainable future can be built from the materials that are already here. These materials were destined for the landfill, but we redirected them to the El Moore. They are beautiful. Some of the materials we’ve reused and the ways we’ve reused them include:

  • Metal legs from the Dalgleish Cadillac water tower as columns holding up the back decks
  • Clay roof from a Boston Edison home for the roof of the greenhouse
  • Metal windows from a commercial building two miles north of us for the windows of the greenhouse
  • Sandstone historic curbs from Prentis Street for the stone fence columns
  • Wrought iron fencing from a local Jewish cemetery for our fencing
  • Wood from blighted homes to make our wood decks and walkways


We targeted one fifth the waste of a normal apartment / hotel building.  We accomplished this by reduced consumption, recycling, composting and measurement.

Recycling – Each resident and Lodge guest participates in recycling plastic, glass, paper, cardboard and metal.  Each residential unit has a recycling bin drawer built into the kitchen cabinets.  Each residential floor has a recycling center (closet) with a larger rolling recycling bin.  The residents themselves manage the recycling system by twice a week taking the recycling bins from each floor to the recycling drop-off dumpster.

CompostingEach residence and the Lodge rooms with kitchen sinks are equipped for composting.  The sinks have composting strainers, not garbage disposals. As a community we participate in neighborhood composting, sending our food and yard scraps to our neighbors at the North Cass Community Gardens

Reduce Consumption – Overall we try and purchase less and reduce the number of waste containers we bring on to the property.  One simple example is that all our documents with residents and Lodge guests are paperless. Another is that we enroll residents in a No Junkmail service. The list goes on.

AccountabilityOur resident community measures its trash weekly and tracks its progress to lower waste levels.


It’s especially important in urbanized areas that we create healthy environments for other living creatures and plants.  They do best in balanced and diverse environments.  So do we.  Here are a few steps we’ve taken to increase the biodiversity of the land that we steward. 

Native Plants – We’ve planted over 15 species of Michigan native plants on land that was covered by invasive species.

Animal and Insect Well-being – Our plants were selected to support birds, insects (e.g. butterflies and bees) and microbial life in the soil.

Community Wellbeing


In the primary action of our business we want to be creating and strengthening our community.  So community is at the center of everything we do. We surround everything with community because community is essential to sustainability. Here are some key ways we grow community at the El Moore.

Co-Living Community – The El Moore community is an intentional community of residents who share a commitment to a more sustainable future for Detroit … and its future generations of residents.

Connected –  The El Moore was designed to be locally and globally connected. The Lodge will bring visitors from around the area, nation and the world to visit a neighborhood in Detroit. Our first floor parlor was designed as a place where people can meet, ideas can be exchanged, and new relationships can be formed.

4 Generations – The El Moore was designed for and has four generations of residents living in it. We feel that we have much to learn from the elders and children in our community.  They are essential to a healthy and holistic community.

ResponsibilityResidents share in the responsibilities of the community.  They take care of the recycling, the composting, the gardens… Residents at the El Moore each feel a responsibility to their community, their city, and their planet.

Walkable / Bikeable – The El Moore is located in a very walkable and bikeable neighborhood. Walking and biking connects our community and contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Healthy Food – Residents will be able to grow their own food in pots located next to the greenhouse. Rain water from the El Moore cistern will be used to water the plants, which is much better than chlorinated city water. The greenhouse will be used to start plants early in the season.

Fresh Air – There is a constant flow of tempered, filtered fresh air into every space in the El Moore.  This keeps the air healthy. Also, the windows open to allow fresh air in.

Natural Daylight – We designed the residences to take advantage of the natural daylight. When you walk into a room you are walking towards a window, so that the city and the outdoors become part of your daily life. The health benefits of natural daylight have been documented.

Clean Water – We used polypropylene piping (Aquatherm Green Pipe) to eliminate the introduction of lead into the water by the solder joints in copper piping.

Economic Resilience


Being a contributing member of a healthy, sustainable local economy is at the center of our mission. For the El Moore to be economically sustainable, its revenues must exceed its ongoing costs. Profits in themselves aren’t good or bad…it’s what you do with them that matters. Our profits will be used to fund a reserve to replace building components and equipment at their end of life, pay for community events, and provide a basic return on investments in the building. Further, in order to encourage others to adopt a triple bottom line framework, the El Moore needs to demonstrate some basic return on capital. Please note we feel that a strategy that depends on permanent government subsidies is very high risk. These are not risks we are prepared to assume. So for us, the economic bottom line includes these decisions and actions.

Affordable Living  – Our strategy is to have market rates on smaller residences with lower energy costs. Energy bills are now a major part of the cost of living in a home. Also, you don’t pay for what you don’t use. We charge for parking separately, for instance, so if you don’t own a car, you don’t pay. We are working on creating market-based affordable housing. We explored government subsidized low-income options but found serious challenges in meeting our energy and diverse income community goals. Others may not have these challenges. We’re grateful to all our residents that make this possible.

Overnight Stay Strategy – The building could not be profitable without the lodge, our overnight stay business. (Profitability challenge is one of the reasons it remained vacant for over 15 years.) About half of the building is now dedicated to the lodge. This approach does increase the risks of our business, should the lodge occupancy fall below our goals. We do feel confident that Detroit is well positioned to attract visitors locally and from around the world to discover its resilience and DIY approach to finding a more sustainable future. We enjoy providing a stay option where visitors can actually experience this movement in Detroit. We’re grateful for all the guests who make this enriching and joyful work of hosting wonderful visitors in a Detroit neighborhood possible.

Low Profit – We seek a low profit from our investments, a 3% financial return. Social impact investors are aware the remainder of the “return” is in the environmental and community bottom lines. We know that if the El Moore project is not profitable, then it will significantly reduce the number of other investors that will follow this path to a more sustainable future.

Living Wages – We provide our workers living wages. Our employees receive health care, disability,  life insurance and 401K matching for retirement.

Hire Detroiters –  We give a priority in hiring and contracting to Detroit residents and businesses. This reduces travel times (and energy) to get to work, keeps dollars local and strengthens employment in our neighborhoods. It also means guests are potentially connecting to Detroit in some deep ways.  

Learning Culture – We support the personal and professional development of everyone connected to our work.  It is a requirement for working in our organization.  Everyone is a teacher and everyone is a learner.  All the time.

Government Funding for the Project –  We did receive government and Midtown Detroit Inc. support for the El Moore project. We are grateful and accountable for this support. We need to complete the improvements we promised. We also need to be successful as an ongoing business and in doing so, we believe there’s an added obligation to make the community and City around us better. We welcome this accountability. 


Sustainability happens when we make small changes happen continuously.  Each of us is on a journey.  Pick one thing off this list and start today. You’ll find it’s more fun than you think….because it connects us more deeply to each other and our mother earth.