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Ecovillages & Cohousing Setting a New Trend in Sustainable Living

RP Siegel | Friday July 30th, 2010 | 0 Comments

I took a few days off last week to travel up to Maine to visit old friends, smell the ocean, eat fresh seafood and even fresher blueberries. Along the way, I was introduced to Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage, a work in progress with the intention of becoming “a model environmentally sustainable, affordable, multi-generational cohousing community.” The site, upon which construction is yet to begin, “is easily accessible to Belfast, includes land reserved for agricultural use and open space, and is an innovative housing option for rural Maine.”

Cohousing is a rapidly growing trend, showing up in both rural and urban areas. According to cohousing.org, “Cohousing is a type of collaborative housing in which residents actively participate in the design and operation of their own neighborhoods. Cohousing residents are consciously committed to living as a community. The physical design encourages both social contact and individual space. Private homes contain all the features of conventional homes, but residents also have access to extensive common facilities such as open space, courtyards, a playground and a common house.”

Cohousing originated in Denmark. It was discovered and promoted in the U.S. by architects Kathryn McCamant and Charles Durrett in the early 1980s. Worldwide, there are now hundreds of cohousing communities, expanding from Denmark into the U.S, Canada, Australia, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Belgium, Austria and elsewhere.

Looking through the online directory, I was able to locate 237 US communities in 36 states from Connecticut to California, Washington to Wisconsin. I counted 3311 completed units on 4605 acres. Triple Pundit ran an item about one in Colorado a few months back.

I stopped by the Belfast site, just two miles outside of town, took in its quiet beauty and then checked out the 1500 sq. ft. model home with its impressive passive solar, net zero energy efficient design that the builders, G•O Logic, claim can be comfortably heated on a zero degree Maine winter night, with a single hairdryer.

This is accomplished through a variety of techniques including, special insulation and weather barriers at the foundation level, use of geothermal energy to pre-heat hot water, energy recovery systems including pre-heated ventilation air, engineered window systems, solar PV and passive solar design based on the Passive House standards developed in Germany..

The embedded video takes you on a tour of the prototype house. Additional videos are also available on their website.

But cohousing is far more than energy efficient housing. While the ecological impact of living this way is substantially reduced, there are also numerous intangible benefits that many associate with a return to an old-fashioned neighborhood where everyone knows one another and has a strong sense of belonging to the resulting community. This also means shared decision-making and shared responsibility.

Is there cohousing in your future? I predict that for many, the answer will be yes.

RP Siegel PE, writes, blogs, invents and organizes for sustainability. His latest book is Vapor Trails, an eco-thriller about an oilman who comes face-to-face with the consequences of his decisions. He is also President of Rain Mountain LLC and Executive Director of Cool Rochester, a non-profit devoted to reducing the carbon footprint of the Rochester, NY area.

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