Re: Access to common areas
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2017 07:49:10 -0800 (PST)
> On Jan 16, 2017, at 3:01 PM, R Philip Dowds <rpdowds [at]> wrote:

> Takeaways:
>     (1) A high-tech computer-managed security system is expensive, and may be 
> over-kill.  And, it is not set-and-forget; it requires … management.
>     (2) Your key program needs to be designed to match your building layout 
> and usage.  More advanced keying involves a hierarchy of grand masters, 
> masters, sub-masters and uniques; this makes it easier to solve specific key 
> problems without changing dozens of locks and hundreds of keys.  There are 
> security experts who can advise on this, and your architect should be able to 
> connect you with one.
>     (3) Build explicit understandings among yourselves about key sharing 
> policies, how to answer the door, how to deal with strangers, and other 
> habits of daily life.  You are your own best security.

I totally agree. We spent tens of thousands of dollars on systems that we never 
needed or used. Alarms on all entrances to the CH, including windows, that 
would have caused constant false alarms as residents returned to get their mail 
after midnight and forgot about the alarm. Or opened a window for fresh air.

A keypad system that was very nice but designed for buildings of 500+ units. We 
could each have had our own code and then we could track who was giving out 
codes to others. Which code was used to commit which crime. One code for USPS, 
another for the pest control person, etc.

The security system's wiring was so complex the telephone company couldn’t 
handle it and kept disconnecting our phones. A resident electrical engineer had 
to spend and afternoon straightening it out. It could also be programmed from a 
computer, but the software was  was too complex for anyone to remember how to 
use it. Changed codes were only needed 1-2 times a year. Changing required a 
long distance walkthrough with the company in Canada when long distance was 
expensive. Then we lost the software when someone changed the hard drive on the 
electrical room computer without knowing there was no hardcopy.

Think forward and find a system that will have to be easy enough for ¼-⅓ of 
your residents to fix. Computer repair people are expensive.

Now we have an intercom and keypad at the front door, and simple keypads on the 
other frequently used entrances. Every adult has indoor and outdoor keys—only 
two keys open everything. We have only had to rekey the locks twice because 
someone lost a key. And we saved the keys so we could just go back to the old 
keys if it happened again. 

Parents decide when their children are ready to use the code or have a key. (I 
think most households have a common key the teens use. )

The only two thefts we have had from the CH were inside teenager related jobs—a 
TV and a DVD player. (Not counting cake in the refrigerator.) And it isn’t just 
because there are people around all the time. It’s also because cohousing 
communities aren’t the profile criminals think would make a good target. It 
looks weird. Thieves like predictable architecture close to home.

Individual homes have had small thefts by a local pre-teen whose mother was 
training him to steal. An oddity not likely to happen often. Their doors were 

For entertainment value: we had a couple using the CH at night, like after 
midnight, to watch television, etc. Two or three people had seen them but 
thought they belonged there. It didn’t even raise alarms when we found a French 
Vanilla condom under the couch in the sunroom. Someone finally saw them race 
through the dining room and take the elevator to the basement. We called the 
police who found the couple in the basement having sex. They had gotten the 
code years before as teenagers from a friend who lived here. (We filed a report 
but didn’t press charges.)

Simple, simple, simple. Don’t spend money on cool stuff designed to protect big 
crime targets. 

It’s very hard not to want to boast a bit about technology when you are 
designing your own perfect community and trying to attract buyers. And to 
impress your relatives that you are not moving into a weird place off the grid. 


Put the money into the HVAC and insulation. And CH kitchen appliances. And high 
ER windows. Those produce long term savings and happiness.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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