Learning Sustainable Neighborhood Design from Prairie Hill

Decorah  – On Tuesday morning in T-Bock’s lower level, 30 people gathered as part of the Winneshiek Energy District’s Energy Breakfast series to learn about “cohousing”, a Danish intentional living community, from longtime Decorah resident Craig Mosher.

Mosher recently moved from Decorah to Iowa City where he became a founding member of Prairie Hill Cohousing, a new eight-acre development that uses intentional design to support members’ shared values of having: a low carbon footprint, multi-generational community, socioeconomic diversity, common spaces, shared resources, privacy, and access to alternative transportation.

“We’re talking about trying to build both community and the sense of privacy…. We live in our own private homes but we’re in a community that is architecturally designed to bring people together,” says Mosher.

All sixteen units and the common house at Prairie Hill are developed by the members of the community, who strive for LEED certification. LEED is a rating system designed by the US Green Building Council to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design. To achieve this, units are built with sustainably sourced materials, are designed to be energy efficient, have healthy stormwater runoff, and have access to alternative transportation.

All new developments on the property run without fossil fuels and have solar panels that take advantage of the local utility’s net metering policy to provide electricity year round. The units do not have geothermal “because it did not prove to be cost-effective” says Mosher. Instead, the HVAC system utilizes warmth of sunshine through south-facing windows, heat pumps, simple ceiling fans, and wall-mounted heating/cooling units. The development is connected to the grid.

Mosher is one of four families currently living at Prairie Hill.

“We’re trying to get as diverse a community as we can and it’s tough because we’re talking home ownership…and only a certain segment of the population has the resources to do that…”  says Mosher.

The community offers unit sizes from 600-1600 square feet, shared tools and resources, and shared common spaces including a children’s room, guest rooms, workshop, gardens, and natural space.

“Just 3 or 4 days ago Marcia and I were sitting on our front porch talking with our friends in the building and other people dropped by and we had this whole conversation and that’s what it’s about.”

Mosher expressed that he would happily support a group of people interested in exploring similar developments in Decorah. After the presentation concluded, there were many questions from attendees and continued conversation.

Find slides from Mosher’s presentation including photos of the project, building process, and a map of the Prairie Hill development at energydistrict.org/breakfast.

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