Re: Elevators and exclusions
From: Tim Mensch (tim-coho-lbitgems.com)
Date: Sun, 11 May 2008 15:06:59 -0700 (PDT)
I've been staying out of the elevator debate for an important reason: I don't feel strongly about either side. I support folks who value accessibility more than affordability, and I support folks who value affordability more than accessibility. Each community needs to choose its battles, and its values, itself. If the folks in a community don't care about living there until they'll need an elevator from age-related issues, and don't want to hedge against the chance that they'll be in an accident that makes stairs difficult, it really is their decision. There also exist communities that value accessibility, and frankly those who need the accessibility would certainly be happier linking up with one of those groups rather than fighting an uphill battle against a group that is unsympathetic.

How's this for a compromise position, though: I did a search to find out how much elevators really cost to add to a common house (my assumption was $100-$150k, which fits with the 20-25%-of-budget that people seem to be assuming). So I was surprised to find a company that claims they have an elevator that starts at $19k. That price shouldn't break the bank even in an affordable cohousing budget--if it still seems expensive, then I'd hope your common house will be small enough not to need two floors! I have no information on reliability, ongoing costs, electrical costs, ACTUAL installed cost, etc., though I'd imagine that most ongoing costs could be reduced if there were an understanding that able-bodied folks should use the stairs. Even if $19k is just materials, I bet the whole thing could go in for $40k, and at 20 units that only adds $2k to the cost of each.

Here's the link:

http://www.tkaccess.com/home-elevator-cost/

Some elevators can retrofit without the need to dig a shaft, even:

http://www.tkaccess.com/ResidentialElevators/ELwindsor.asp

So, how about it--can we tune down the rhetoric a bit (not picking on anyone in particular, but more of the sheer volume of mail this topic has generated...), and just suggest that an inexpensive elevator (now or as a planned retrofit) is a reasonable thing to add to a common house? Heck, put the elevator inside and the stairs outside, if you like, and gain more internal square footage. It doesn't quite pay for itself, but my back-of-the-envelope indicates that you could save something like $15k on square footage costs by trading an internal stairway for an elevator (at $150/sq ft building cost, counting 100 sq. ft. of space previously taken up by stairs). The debate changes entirely if the costs are different, because then the cost/benefit analysis comes out very different--you may find able-bodied folks who appreciate having an elevator to help get groceries home, for instance (if, e.g., it were lifting them from an underground garage up to the main level). Also, the fact is you might attract more people to your group if the plans take into account accessibility--and having a few unsold houses at the end can be an extreme burden on a project.

This is a tack that I'd like to see folks take more often, in particular to sell green housing features: Instead of saying, "It's the morally correct thing to do!", or, "If you don't do this you're a bad person!", neither of which will convince many people, you can argue the benefits outweigh the costs. There were folks arguing the benefits of elevators ("Everyone will someday be disabled.", in particular), but there are many things that will provide a long-term benefit to a person that they may judge aren't worth the cost. The current trend AWAY from organic food is a good example--folks tend to agree on the benefits of buying organic, but the cost/benefit analysis means that they decide to buy the food that they believe is not as good for them (or the planet), in the long term, because it's what they can afford. (See Newsweek this week for the article that talks about organic foods.) And frankly, as sad as I am to observe this about the behavior of humans, I think at least as many hybrid cars have been sold to people who saw it as a way to save gas $$$ as who wanted to improve the environment.

Tim

Currently living at WildSage in Boulder, CO, where the common house has two floors, is built on a hill (with external doors on both floors for accessibility), and it snowed as recently as...yesterday, as a matter of fact. Most of the time you don't need to use the stairs because most of the action takes place on one floor at a time--in a year of living here, I've used the stairs a half-dozen times or less, and then mostly to give someone a tour of the common house. I did not design it, however, nor was associated with the group during the design process, so please redirect any criticism about the design to, as we programmer geeks would say, /dev/null. See Wikipedia if you're curious...about anything, really. ;)

And yes, I do drive a Prius, but not to save $$$, since the economics doesn't actually work out that way. ;)

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