Re: Common House costs
From: Berrins (
Date: Thu, 13 Jan 2000 21:12:09 -0700 (MST)
In a message dated 1/13/2000 6:31:19 PM, fholson [at] writes:

<< Our cohousing community, Solterra, is located in Durham, NC.  We will have 
lots on 20 acres, and are about 50% occupied or under construction at this 
time.  We are now making a concerted effort to arrive at a design and budget 
for our Common House.

We need your help with respect to our Common House, and would greatly 
appreciate comments and answers to the following questions:

1. How many sq.ft. does your Common House have?
2. What did (or will) it cost?
3. How many families are in your community?
4. Would you be willing to share your Common House design with us?

We are currently meeting virtually around the clock to zero in on our Common 
House design, and would greatly appreciate your responses.


Gordon Lambert >>

Sounds like you are at a similar stage, although different.  Here's some info 
about where we are at with the Pathways Common House; hope it helps.

1. How many sq.ft. does your Common House have?
A present, 3100 square feet on the first floor, with a full basement that we 
intend to build out later.  We have already "programmed out" what we want to 
have in the basement.  The second floor has taken a hit in the later stages 
(more on this later) and may or may not have a mezzanine, which would be 
about 1/3 the size of the Great Room (aka the dining room).  We may also be 
able to put some storage on the second floor.   Due to city code, any other 
use of the second floor would require an elevator (about $50,000!  -ouch) for 
handicap access.  

2. What did (or will) it cost?
    There's some lessons here somewhere, so please bear with me...
The original budget, way back when, estimated $300,000, or about $100/square 
foot (the origninal idea was to have a 3,000 square foot Common House).  
Several things pushed the cost WAY up.  Here's a few:   
    A) The builder and architects hadn't consulted with our city inspector 
when the original guesstimated budget was made.  Apparently every city has 
its own codes, and some cities are more strict than others.  Our only model 
at that time was Pioneer Cohousing in nearby Amherst, whose codes are a lot 
less strict.  In Northampton, the inspector decided that we had to build the 
Common House to commercial standards, which calls for much greater load 
bearing ability, cast iron plumbing ($$) and other features to meet 
commercial codes.  Lesson?  Make sure your builder and architect know your 
city codes BEFORE they budget and start design work.
    B) In order to avoid putting in an elevator, and to make the rooms easier 
to use, we put all of what we think will be our most-used rooms on the first 
floor, using up all 3,000 square feet.  This created a bigger footprint for 
the building, which is more expensive.  We still have to put in a lift to use 
the basement (access codes again, not to mention that it's just the right 
thing to do), but a lift is a lot cheaper than an elevator (about $20,000 vs 
    C)  A cathedral ceiling is more expensive per square foot than a regular, 
flat ceiling and our Great Room design calls for for one.
    That's three budget busters that I can think of.  There were many other 
smaller, more expensive options that went in during the initial design phase. 
 SO, after we blithely went through the first design process with the 
architect, and after the builder and architect found out about the codes, the 
builder came up with a cost of... about $450,000!!  After the shock subsided, 
the design team went back to the mats and chopped, chopped, chopped.  Without 
changing our basic program (the "program" being  the rooms/activites you want 
and where they are in relation to each other), and after several tense 
general meetings, we got the cost down to about $370,000.  Lesson?  It's 
gonna cost more than you think...

3. How many families are in your community?
    24 households on about 40 acres.  There are 38 adults and about 32 
children.  There are also 3 lots that the builder is selling next to ours, 
and those are being bought by families from our waiting list.  That 
potentially adds 5 more adults and 4 more children using our Common House.

4. Would you be willing to share your Common House design with us?
    I would, but I don't know if the architect will allow us to send the 
plans.  However, I can attempt to describe it.  (One of the architects, by 
the way, is Mary Kraus, who lives at Pioneer Cohousing In Amherst and had 
done talks around the country on cohousing. I will email you privately with 
her email address, in case you want to ask her directly.  The other architect 
is Laura Fitch of Margo Jones and Associates, who also lives at Pioneer). 
    Here's the layout: Picture a large, horizontally oriented rectangle. The 
main entry way is slightly to the right of midline as you face the building, 
with the children's room on the left (in the center of the front of the 
building) and living room on the right front.  The two guest rooms and two 
bathrooms are in the back right (across a hall from the living room), the 
kitchen in center back across from the children's room, and the great room on 
the far left, down the hall and to the left of the kitchen and children's 
    The biggest discussion in the program phase was whether to put the 
children's room or the living room next to the great room.  The children's 
room proponents were able to convince the rest, but we'll miss being able to 
seat more people for dinner by using the living room (had it been next to the 
great room).  That said, we will essentially have a noisy side (great room, 
children's room and kitchen) and a quieter side (living and guest rooms).
    Another discussion was whether or not to have laundry facilities on the 
first floor.  We tried to design them on the first floor, but there just 
wasn't enough room. That, and a large storage space (near the great room, for 
folding tables and chairs), separate library and much larger pantry are other 
spaces I wish we could have designed in.  Meanwhile, we did design for the 
ability to expand behind the great room and the guest rooms, just in case.

With 40 families, you will likely have a bigger common house and may be able 
to get more types of spaces on the first floor.   As you go through the 
design phase, be sure to constantly ask the architects if the dream they have 
on paper is an expensive one.  They won't be able to give you any figures, 
but if it looks nice, it probably costs extra.  And finally, be prepared to 
have that cut back discussion.

    Good luck!

        Roger Berman
        Pathways Cohousing (in construction, first move-ins in about two 
        Northampton, MA

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