Re: building cohousing yourself
From: Pablo Halpern (
Date: Mon, 10 May 93 09:28 CDT
On May 3, 12:59, BARANSKI [at] VEAMF1.NL.NUWC.NAVY.MIL wrote:
} ..
} My question, being a do it your-self type, is have there been any groups that
} have been able to do the majority of the building themselves?
} It seems to me that if there were people in the group willing, that 
} cost savings can be realized in this fashion.  With the economy the way it is,
} with money *and* jobs being in should supply, it makes sense to me to have as
} much work for the commuity be done within the community as possible.
} Jim Baranski
} Lanman Hill Farm
} Norwich CT
}-- End of excerpt from BARANSKI [at] VEAMF1.NL.NUWC.NAVY.MIL

There is a spectrum of participation in the building process from
having contractors do everything to, as you suggest, having future
residents do most or all of the work.  In between are various levels
of "sweat equity."  Although it seems attractive to build the
community yourself, for economic as well as other reasons, there are
many pitfall to beware of.

In several cases I heard and read about, sweat equity offered anywhere
from minor savings to no savings to complete disasters, where more
money needed to be spent to re-do incorrectly completed work.  If
sweat equity is mixed with traditional hire-out contracting, costs
could be adversly affected if the resident-done work holds up the
schedule.  This problem may or may not exists in cases where most of
the residents do the work.  Unless you're entire community consists of
unemployeed construction workers and carpenters, it is hard to see how
construction can procede on a reasonable schedule such that the
carrying costs on the land don't eat up all of your savings.

Also, consider how to value people's contributions in light of the
fact that people have different amounts of time, money, and skills to
contribute.  This point requires special attention.  A friend of mine
lives in a collaboratively-developed commnunity in which a great deal
of sweat equity was REQUIRED by the community during the building
process.(this is not a cohousing community and does not make its
decisions by consensus).  My friend uses a wheelchair and certainly
cannot do any lifting or construction.  On the other hand, she has a
legal degree and, though not making typical lawer's saleries, she has
a decent income.  She was also one o the founders of the community.
None-the-less, the only work that got sweat-equity credit was physical
labor -- no meetings, organizing, etc. could be substituted.  This
resulted in her being assigned demeaning busy-work or else let her
husband do the work for both of them.  This is an extreme example but
demonstrates the problem: people have different talents and different
levels of comfort with work of this nature.  If your definition of a
contribution is too narrow, somebody is going to be hit unfairly.  At
the least, people should be allowed to use their tallents to make more
money and "buy" their way out of at least some of their sweat-equity

I do not mean to seem overly negative about resident-built communities
but some strong words of caution are in order.  On the other hand,
many farming communities routinely build barns and other structures.
Things that don't hold up the building process can successfully be
performed by the residents in order to both save money and strengthen
the communal bonds.  For small commnutities (say 4 or 6 houses), the
possibilities are probably greater owing to the reduced complexity of
the development process.  On the other hand, in answer to the original
question, I personally know of no completely resident-built
*cohousign* communities.

- Pablo

Pablo Halpern             (508) 435-5274          phalpern [at]

I am self-employed, so my opinions *do* reflect those of my employer.
However, they may not reflect the opinions of my client.

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