Re: Tunneling through the cost barrier
From: Racheli Gai (
Date: Sat, 29 Jun 2002 12:02:03 -0600 (MDT)
>From Racheli
Sonora Cohousing.

I agree with you that some forms of environmentally responsible design and
materials don't cost more (or much more), and are cheaper if one takes
into account the full life-cycle of the buildings. However, this is not
always the case, and somewhat depends on what we mean we we use the term
"environmental" or "green". As long as we aim at energy efficiency, the
assupmtion that while  the initial investment might be larger to begin
with, the extra cost will be recovered in the long run holds true much of
the time. But "environmental/green" means other things, too.
One of them is the level of toxicity of materials.  Moving from toxic to
lower or non-toxic materials costs more, and the payoff cannot be
justified on a solely economic basis.
We looked at many of these issues, in large measure because I have
multiple chemical sensitivities.  I can tell for a fact that making houses
which are less toxic costs more.  In our case, only some of the  necessary
measures were taken on a community-wide level.
Some examples of things we were able to do for everyone: We used less
toxic mud-sills; painted interiors with low VOC paints; insulated with
cellulose instead of using fiberglass.
We have metal roofs, which means that we won't have to re-do them with
asphalt.  (We do have some asphalt underneath, because some of our
professionals couldn't be convinced that it's unnecessary :( ... ; We used
OSB (which contains the lesser-toxic form of formaldehyde) for subfloors
etc.  We installed a solar stub in all houses, so that if people wished to
install PV panels at a later date it wouldn't be too difficult to do;  We
have solar panels on our strawbale CH;   Our heating and cooling systems
are not the cheapest...  There are  probably other things which don't come
to mind right now.
We have not been able to get kitchen and bathroom cabinets which are low
on toxicity (except in the CH) because this would have cost a whole lot. 
We got cruddy interior doors, which are toxic;   We also built with wood
studs instead of with metal ones, since the  difference in price ended up
being too high.  [If it was up to me, we'd  have gone with the metal studs
anyway - because I think we'd live to  regret this choice in view of
termite activity in our part of the world].

we allowed certain types of upgrading during construction.  In my  case, I
was allowed to get a different kind of cabinets.  People were able to
choose different floor materials, and not be stuck with the
cheap-but-very-toxic carpets.  (Some people who could probably afford
other floors  stuck with carpets, which comes to show that this isn't
*all* about economics)...

IMO, if we were all more prosperous, we might have had some
additional environmenal elements, but its also very likely that the houses
would have been larger - so the good and the 
bad (environmentally speaking) would have cancelled out
each other at best.


>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.

jnpalme [at] (Racheli Gai)

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