Re: Shared Walls or Single Family Houses?
From: Deborah Mensch (
Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2008 08:37:42 -0800 (PST)
As far as quiet is concerned -- someone pointed out recently on this list
that if you live in a climate where you ever want to leave windows open,
building shared walls with good soundproofing is likely to give you more
quiet than having other houses a short distance away, with both houses'
windows open. I have had far worse problems with noise when living in
detached-house neighborhoods than when living in cohousing, for this reason
and because the closer neighbor relationships facilitate solving noise
problems quickly (as Joani said). This has been mostly because of dogs left
outdoors to bark. People in detached homes are more likely to feel entitled
to leave their dogs in the yard, regardless of the noise impact on
neighbors, than are people in more closely-spaced dwellings, especially
where agreements exist to address noise from pets or other sources. If you
want a quiet neighborhood, be sure to talk about pets early on! (Outdoor
cats who fight or mate can also have a significant impact on neighborhood
peace and quiet.) I speak of pets in particular because human behavior --
loud music, kids screaming, etc. -- can often be addressed among friendly
neighbors as it develops, but pet situations can be pretty hard to change
once the outdoor pets are in the 'hood.

If the value is living farther away from your neighbors, then a desire for
separate houses is understandable. But my experience has been that living
closer -- particularly where most (foot) traffic to and from the units is up
a shared path in view of all units -- makes for easier, more frequent
connections with my neighbors, and I like that. I also like having less
individual yard space to take care of, and though I'm not there yet (I'm in
my late 30s), I expect this desire might become more intense as I age and
potentially have more physical difficulties. Taking care of common green
areas, gardens, etc. seems more of a pleasure than the week-in, week-out
mowing (watering, whatever) of my own private plot, and working on shared
spaces means it can be easier to adapt to varying physical needs among
neighbors, or to hire out that work (assuming your community values support
this) if there aren't enough neighbors willing and able to do it.

There are certainly pros and cons both ways; I think it's important to know
what you (as individuals and a community) want and have a realistic idea of
which arrangements will help you get it.

-Deborah Mensch
 * Wild Sage Cohousing, Boulder, Colorado (townhomes and flats)
 * Formerly of Pleasant Hill Cohousing, Pleasant Hill, California (also
townhomes and flats)
 * and hoping to build a great new community with lots of shared outdoor
spaces at Tumblerock (Colorado, site TBD, once the real
estate blahs settle down a bit!

On Jan 27, 2008 6:20 AM, VAN DEIST <vandeist [at]> wrote:

> Joani Blank of Swan's Market Cohousing made a strong argument to Tom Shea
> for shared walls, and it seems as though all her points are valid.  The
> thing is that her viewpoint might have an urban bias, and her values are not
> priority with some people.  Here in Florida, our group considering elder
> cohousing has a priority of downsized, detached cottages.  Although some
> members did not express a preference and were willing to go either way, the
> majority wanted detached cottages.  Granted, our group is primarily made up
> of people in their 70's with a bell curve representation of those members in
> their 60's and 80's and only one single representative of the 50's age
> group..  These older members remember a quieter time in small towns during
> the pre-WW II era, and have a nostalgic vision of what their new community
> should look like.  They are mostly from traditional neighborhoods of
> detached houses or from gated communities of detached houses, and only a few
> have had a condo experience.  We are considering the use of cracker style
> homes similar to those designed by the Katrina Cottage Group (
><> ).
>  Sometimes decisions boil down to values rather than economy or efficiency.
>  I've visited cohousing neighborhoods with attached homes, and they were
> certainly attractive and vibrant.  Nonetheless, they remind me of the row
> houses and town houses of the Northeast from which I escaped in favor of my
> own house with a little breathing room.  My preference, my values, but it's
> shared with many other folk.  To each his/her own, and either way, it's the
> community more than the architecture that makes cohousing so attractive to
> so many people.
> Van Deist
> Suncoast Cohousing
> Venice, Florida

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