Re: common house costs
From: Fred H. Olson (
Date: Thu, 27 Jan 2000 15:22:58 -0700 (MST)
Katie McCamant The CoHousing Company <katie [at]>
is the author of the message below but due to a problem it was posted
by the Fred the list manager:  fholson@cohousing org

To get off cohousing-L, send email with UNSUBSCRIBE COHOUSING-L in the 
msg body to:  listproc [at]   Questions? email Fred - addr above
--------------------  FORWARDED MESSAGE FOLLOWS --------------------

There has recently been some discussion on this list serve regarding the
preliminary common house design we did for the Pleasant Hill Cohousing
Group. I thought it might be helpful to clarify the Group¹s and our intent.

We believe it is important from both an accessibility and basic programmatic
view to put as many uses as feasible on the main level. We have found that,
with a few exceptions such as guests rooms, when a room is moved off the
main level­where it easy to pass by?-it gets significantly less use. All of
the primary rooms in the Pleasant Hill common house design are on the main,
"accessible" floor?the dining, kitchen, sitting area, laundry, arts &
crafts, and kid¹s play rooms.

Nevertheless, we often find there are opportunities for additional  cost
effective useable space in a common house on either a basement or second
floor. In most cases, if an elevator was required to make use of these
spaces, the group would have to forego them altogether because they simply
don¹t have the budget. (2-3 story elevators which meet the codes for common
houses typically cost $30,000 to $50,000.)

For example, in the Pleasant Hill common house we wanted to include a
cooling tower in order maximize ventilation  and minimize the need for air
conditioning. In addition, because the common house is the most important
physical representation of the cooperative spirit of the community, we felt
it should be a taller structure. The second story is relatively small (885
sf vs. 2950 sf for the main level) and is currently programmed to function
as a teen hang out room and guest rooms or alternatively more storage or
office space depending on community need. The other consideration was that
this is a relatively tight  urban infil site (32 units on 2.2. acres) but
not so tight as to require housing over parking or higher than 2-story
buildings which would require a elevator like Old Oakland. But there is
limited space, and there isn¹t room for more common house on the
ground floor, in addition to the greater cost of building one story vs two

The group has discussed how they would accommodate people who cannot use
stairs should they need to access any of the uses currently located on the
second story. For instance, the arts and crafts room could be used as a teen
room if there is a teenager  in the community that can not go up stairs. And
a guest who can¹ t go up stairs can be hosted by one of the families that
has a bedroom on the ground floor.

Jasmine also mentioned in her posting that we have called out rooms by a
variety of generic uses. Through hard  experience, this is something we have
found eases the processing thru city bureaucracies. While we seem to have
strong support for this project, our design plans will be review by a slew
of agencies we may not ever get the opportunity to meet with (we submitted
22 sets of plans  for review). Many of these people don¹t know anything
about cohousing. So calling the dining room a great room or rec room helps
avoid the misinterpretation that this is a commercial venture rather than a
well used community building, analogous to other condominium "rec rooms".
Misunderstandings about cohousing uses have added  numerous extra costs to
projects. We like to leave it to the community members to prioritize what
the best use of their money is.

I urge all of us to speak cautiously about partial or inaccurate information
about any project, but specifically about any project that is in the site
acquistion, planning approval and/or building department approval process.
These early stages of development are very political with many decisions up
for interpretation and not  necessarily rational. When Jasmine's comments
first came up on the list, the group's first concerns was whethermight this
get to someone in one of the review agencies and make an already complicated
process even more complicated.

We hope this clarifies some of the issues that are taken into account during
the design approval process. It is always a balance of how to best use
limited funds and how much education and explanation of a group¹s intent
will be useful and when is it best to avoid introducing to much information.


Kathryn M. McCamant, Principal Architect
The CoHousing Company
1250 Addison Street #113
Berkeley, CA 94702
Tel 510-549-9980/Fax 510-549-2140

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.