Green building--tunneling through the cost barrier
From: Kellie Teter and John Connell (
Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 00:54:01 -0600 (MDT)

I agree, we should question the assumptions that underly our thinking,
because it is these assumptions that limit what is ultimately possible for
us.  You're proposing that we question the assumption that low income
housing should always be included in cohousing.  But in doing so, you
pointed out another assumption that seems to be almost universal:

> To give just one real example, there is often a tradeoff to be made
> between "cheap" and "environmentally friendly"/"energy efficient".
> Using recycled materials sometimes costs more.  Adding extra insulation
> and making all windows be double-glazed costs more.  Doing these things
> makes housing less "affordable" to a short-sighted person who can't
> think beyond this month's bills.  To someone with a long planning
> horizon, who considers "total cost of ownership" instead of initial
> price, these things may be wise investments.

This assumption, that greater energy efficiency costs more money up front,
is something that almost everyone seems to take for granted.  However,
please consider this:

"When intelligent engineering and design are brought into play, big savings
often cost even less up front than small or zero savings. Thick enough
insulation and good enough windows can eliminate the need for a furnace,
which represents an investment of more capital than those efficiency
measures cost. Better appliances help eliminate the cooling system, too,
saving even more capital cost."  (Paul Hawkin, Amory and Hunter Lovins, in
Natural Capitalism--see links below)

In other words, if enough energy efficiency improvements are made during the
design of a cohousing community, houses can (and have been) built that are
not only super energy efficient but which are more affordable (cost less up
front) than conventional buildings.

I make this point for the people who participate in this listserve who are
in the design or pre-design phase of building their communities.  You have a
chance to avoid the energy efficiency vs. affordability pitfall.  I invite
you to check out the following links before you settle on a conventional
design for your community:

Natural Capitalism, chapter on Tunneling Through the Cost Barrier

Rocky Mountain Institute Summer 1997 newsletter cover story, "Tunneling
Through the Cost Barrier"

John Connell,
Hearthstone Cohousing
Denver, Colorado

Where we just sold our last unit!  And where we missed the opportunity to
tunnel through the cost barrier--I love it here anyway!

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