Cully Grove, a multi-generational, solar-powered garden community in northeast Portland.

2015-06-13 17.41.50 Cully Grove

An opportunity to do some house-sitting in the house of Ruth in near-by community of Cully Grove had opened up so the stay in the Guest house at Columbia Ecovillage was a brief one night.

Cully Grove is a sixteen household community made up of duplexes and triplexes. They had been fortunate to retain a number of the existing trees including an old very important oak tree which gave the community so much of its initial first and lovely impression and its aesthetic.

Ruth was more than happy to offer her house for a number of days in return for watering her garden in the unseasonably (!!) and extremely concerning hot weather. Everyone was talking about the lack of rain. The forecast was saying no rain until September. The beautiful gardens of Cully Grove were suffering and Ruth had been worried about going away.

Her two-storey apartment is 1534 sq feet (142.5 sq mt) with a front and back veranda and garden on three sides. Inside is dark and cool even on such a hot day. She manages by closing up the windows and blinds early and opening up in the late evening to let the night-time coolth flow in.

The tour of the community, it’s well tended and flourishing productive gardens and the Common House and other buildings on the property included the storage spaces for people who didn’t have a basement.

Ruth said the community is very energy efficient and she herself pays less than $75 USD per month ($101 AUD) for all utilities. Everyone pays their own bills – electricity and gas, hot water on demand, summer solar on demand … mini splits.

She said it gets hot in Portland and lately, particularly. The previous weekend it was over 90º F ( 32ºC) but the weather of the Pacific North West lately has been very hot and dry at a time when they usually have lots of rain. People are worried.

“Although there are days of scorching heat still to come, the ongoing early-summer Northwest heat wave has already earned its place in the history books, setting dozens of June record highs and several all-time heat records.Importantly, many of the records weren’t just daily records.  …… a slew of Northwest cities set new records for the entire month of Screenshot 2015-07-18 00.41.45 Weather mapJune. Some cities broke their previous June records two or even three days in a row. …. As impressive as this heat wave has been in terms of monthly records, the gold standard for a summer heat wave has to be the establishment of new all-time records. That’s not easy to do in June. Even though June brings the summer solstice, and with it the highest sun angle and longest days of the year over the contiguous United States, the atmosphere usually continues to warm up well into July as it absorbs more heat by day than it loses at night. That balance usually doesn’t flip to the negative side until later in the summer months, and that’s why the hottest recorded days in most U.S. cities have been in July or August. ……… at least six locations in the Northwest bucked those odds and either tied or broke their all-time record highs.” (1)

It’s hot.

At Cully Grove they share pets and Ruth enjoys walking next door’s dog. They each water the shared garden between them too. The water comes through one connection and they each have their own meters. They also have a well and most of the garden is watered from this.

Ruth and many members of the community have done Radon testing in their homes. Radon is a gas that comes through certain rocks and is the number one cause of lung cancer in the US. You can’t smell it or taste or see it – only test for it. Ruth’s testing showed a positive result so she has installed a fan that moves air up and out to eliminate the problem as much as possible.

2015-06-16 15.41.42 Cully Grove 2015-06-16 11.51.50 Cully Grove chickensIt was very pleasant sitting on the front veranda deeply shaded into the afternoon observing the community whilst writing on the laptop, A mother and child were working on an art project on the table outside the Common House. Over the way the household had visitors and were talking enthusiastically before taking them off on a tour of the property

2015-06-13 17.43.56Nearby was a little temporary chicken coop. These half grown chicks – about eighteen of them, were a different lot from the other housed in another part of the property. These were the pride and responsibility of one of the member households there and were great pleasure for the parents and children alike.

Here are Terry and Ruth in the Common House.2015-06-13 17.49.42 Terry and Ruth

Walking distance from Cully Grove were a number of shops including an organic bakery that sold good coffee. A local café was a good place to work with great coffee and really good music too. A poster on the door promoted a Tiny House event by a group called Living Cully. Unfortunately by the time they returned the phone call, Seattle was beckoning and time had run out.

2015-06-13 17.49.27

Before leaving however, there was time for a hastily arranged presentation about Murundaka which received a lot of interest from the other visitor to Cully Grove, Berlita, who was considering moving interstate into co-housing and was installed in the Guest Room testing it out first hand at Cully Grove.

2015-06-18 08.50.26 Cully Grove, Portland Vision, Values, MissionQuite a few people were away enjoying the summer ‘heat’ but a few of the residents, including Cully Grove’s founders, as well as several members from nearby Columbia Ecovillage, came to the Common House and a really wonderful conversation ensued.

Partly it was about the difficulty they experience in America selecting people to buy into co-housing which is on the one hand not really possible but on the other, is if you go about it the right way.

People are realising that they need to strongly educate buyers that to come into a community the members will have to be engaged in the responsibilities of managing, maintaining and being pro-socially inclusive and engaged.

These are the Values they are committed to as per their Vision Statement:
“Respect and care for other people and the earth.
Appreciate the value each person brings to the community.
Cooperate in decision-making and conflict resolution.
Respect privacy, individual choice and diversity of opinion.
Encourage personal and community growth and service.
Connect to the larger community of neighborhood, city and region.”

It seems that cohousing developments everywhere strive to build sustainably and Cully grove is no exception. The following details taken from their excellent website indicate the lengths they have gone to in order to achieve their sustainability goals.

Green Features and Unit Amenities
Most homes are attached (ie giving less exterior surface to heat and cool)
Heating systems:
In-floor radiant heat in 14 homes
Hot water system in lightweight concrete
    Whole ground floor and upstairs bathrooms
    Water heated by tankless, on-demand water heaters
Mini-split heat pump in 2 homes and common house
Renewable Energy Systems:
Solar hot water for all homes
Photovoltaic (PV) systems for all homes
Air Quality: whole house heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) heat incoming air with outgoing air
Insulation well beyond code:
R-31 in walls – blown-in fiberglass fills stud spaces better than batts
R-49 in attic – cellulose with plywood decking over for attic storage
Wall details:
Double 2×4 studs in 2×8 walls provide thermal break
Advanced framing – 24″ stud spacing uses less wood and allows more insulation in wall cavity
Spray foam insulation fills all cracks
Tile or stone entries
Marmoleum baths and common house flooring
Engineered oak on first floors over in-floor radiant heat; solid oak above
Durable materials:
40 year white roofing on the homes reflects summer sun
Green ecoroofs roofs on carports
Metal roofs on common buildings
Homes are on city water with sub-meters for each unit to provide feedback on usage
Yards and gardens use water from on-site well
Appliances meet or exceed Energy Start standards and
Homes exceed High Performance Home standards
Full basements B in 11 of the 16 homes, providing minimal heating/cooling load for 1/3 more living space on the same footprint
Zero VOC paint for all interiors
Low VOC sealer on all interior trim and doors
Fiber-cement siding
Rain screen system (allows air flow behind siding)
Layout and construction preserved many existing trees
Meandering sidewalks along street frontage preserves mature deodar cedar tree
Substantial garden areas
Fruit trees and berry vines – many salvaged and/or grown in-house
Retaining walls from boulders excavated on site
Storm water swale for runoff from driveway/parking area
Shared storage for garden equipment
Shared indoor bicycle storage
Shared workshop space
Parking spaces deeded separately from units (buy only what you need)
Parking spaces prepped for electric vehicle charging stations

Note the Sod Roof (Green eco-roof) on top of the car-port.


About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
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