EVERYTHING YOU WANT TO KNOW ABOUT BUILDING AND LIVING IN THE RACHEL CARSON ECOVILLAGE . . . almost
Please Note: The answers here should all be prefaced with “It is likely that…” or “Probably…” since we are just beginning the formation of the ecovillage. Some (like the cost of the units) will depend on information we don’t know yet. Others will depend on what the community decides. Here is the best approximation we have to the answers at this point.
What’s the relationship between the terms “ecovillage” and “cohousing”?
While the connotations of these two terms often lead to different interpretations, they may be used interchangeably. Ecovillage may bring to mind a more land-oriented, often more rural development, while cohousing is more likely to be used for an urban community. But these differences are by no means definitive. While individual ecovillages and cohousing communities are quite diverse, they are based on the same principles of sustainability and community, and they are formed and operated in the same ways.
Will Rachel Carson Ecovillage be age-restricted?
Rachel Carson Ecovillage is a multi-generational community that welcomes people of all ages. Multi-generational cohousing attracts a wide range of household types: single people of all ages, couples and single parents of infants, toddlers and school-aged children, couples whose children are grown, and couples without children.
How many units will there be?
We’re aiming for 30, but it may be feasible with as few as 25 or as many as 35 units. Cohousing communities in North America range in size from 9 to 80 households. CoHousing Solutions, an experienced developer, recommends 25 to 35 units to achieve a balance between development economies and social dynamics. Communities of this size are small enough to know all your neighbors, but large enough to accommodate a diversity of people and distribute responsibilities.
Cohousing attracts a wide range of household types: single people of all ages, couples and single parents of infants, toddlers and school-aged children, couples whose children are grown, and young couples without children.
Are the units “complete” with kitchens and living spaces?
Yes, each unit is complete with kitchen and living space. Our two studio units, which are located upstairs in the Common House, combine living/sleeping space due to their smaller size.
What will the sizes of the units be?
We anticipate that the finished space in the units will range in size: studio (500-600 sf), one-bedroom (600-750 sf), and several types of two-bedroom (800-1000 sf) units. Most units will also have a large unfinished upper floor.
Will any units have bedrooms on the ground floor?
Yes, all units will have ground-floor bedrooms. We are designing the units for aging in place.
Will the units be attached to each other?
Yes, for savings of both first costs and monthly energy bills, most units are side-by-side duplexes and some are in 3-unit townhouses.
What makes the buildings “high performance” buildings? How will the units be heated and
cooled? Will they have solar panels?
The buildings will be super-insulated for energy efficiency and durability. Our goal is to be certified by the Passive House Institute, the “gold standard” of sustainability programs. The construction will be based on computer simulations of energy and the management of heat and moisture in the building envelope. This can reduce demand by as much as 75%. To eliminate combustion from inside the units, they will be heated and cooled electrically by small efficient devices such as ductless heat pumps. We expect to incorporate photovoltaic panels onto common facilities to provide some electricity. We also anticipate that the buildings will be solar-ready, though the reduced demand for electricity may require long payback periods.
Won’t high-performance buildings be more expensive?
With an experienced team, the cost of a Passive House certified building is no more than 3% above the cost of a conventional building.
Will there be private outdoor space?
Yes, each unit will have its own small outdoor space.
I like the idea of a smaller unit, but what about out of town guests?
As in most cohousing communities, the Common House will have guest suites that can be reserved for guests.
What will the common facilities include?
The Common House will include a large dining room, a kitchen, mailboxes, and guest suites. It is being designed, for example, with space for a workshop, and a community office.
Will there be space for members to grow some of their own food?
Yes. In fact, there may be several options for gardening.
What’s meant by “healthy” materials?
Healthy materials are non-toxic. A healthy environment is created by avoiding any materials that have been shown to have a negative effect on health. Our design standard includes excellent air quality in the units.
Where is parking?
Rachel Carson Ecovillage will be neighbor-friendly, and cars will be parked at the periphery of the development. By walking from their cars, residents are more likely to encounter their neighbors with a quick hello or a longer chat. The interior of the site will be car- free. Groceries can be transported in wagons kept near the parking lot.
Each unit will have one parking space. We are also organizing a shared car club. In the community’s parking lot, we anticipate installing electric car chargers. When available, residents can also take the university’s shuttle bus into the city.
The site will allow for emergency vehicle access and moving trucks.
There are a number of ecovillages and co-housing projects out there – what makes this one special?
The RCE is the only independent co-housing community on a college campus, providing access to a number of free and discounted amenities. The Eden Hall campus of Chatham University has a curriculum specifically devoted to sustainability and ecology, which provides excellent opportunities for collaboration on best practices in land management. Moreover, while the ecovillage is located in a lovely area of woods and meadows, it is only a half-hour from downtown Pittsburgh, one of America’s most livable cities, with world-class arts, music, entertainment, educational, and medical facilities, and a booming high-tech hub.
If you have other questions, please join us at an introductory meeting, where you’ll have a chance to hear from EcoVillage members and get the latest news.