Is there an ideal time to move to Silver Birch Village ?

Selective Focus Photography Pink and White Petaled Flowers

This is a very difficult question to answer and depends very much on the individual. For many people, watching their parents age out leads them to question themselves about how they want to live out their senior years. In many cases, our parents have waited too long to make this choice for themselves and are left with few options. 
Often, the children become the parents and are forced to make very important choices for their parents. Living in their own homes becomes unsustainable and there is the heart-breaking process of finding suitable living arrangements. If we leave these choices too late then they are often made for us. 
Silver Birch Village participants are active individuals who recognize that by sharing responsibilities rather than giving them up they will retain their independence longer.  We often don’t have the energy necessary to create this environment in our older senior years. 
Silver Birch Village is based on reciprocity: giving and receiving support from our neighbours. If you move in at a stage where you are unable to give as well as receive, you’ve waited too long. It takes time to build the relationships that bring about the give and take we will need as we get older. The following quote from a cohousing resident sums it up nicely: “You will get the most out of senior cohousing by joining in your fifties and sixties. I have an eighty-two-year-old friend who says he’s not ready for this yet, and unfortunately, he’s missed out on years of neighborly companionship. This is not where you go to end your life; it’s where you go to live. Physically, it’s a lot easier to downsize and move when you’re younger instead of waiting for a medical crisis and realizing you’re left with unappealing options. “State of the Art Cohousing by Alexandria Levitt and Charles Durrett (page 118)

Traditional Development vs. Cohousing Development

How does a traditional development differ from a cohousing development?  At Silver Birch Village we are not just building houses, we are building a community.  

When a traditional developer builds a complex, he does many of the same things that a cohousing group does, buy property, hire professionals as needed, get permits, arrange construction financing, hire a general contractor and so on.  Their marketing staff sells the houses.  What they would not do is:

  • Involve the future owners in designing the project.
  • Find a cohesive group to create a sense of community.
  • Establish a process for decision making and governance.

These are the main attributes which make Silver Birch Village different from mainstream housing developments. 

Most housing choices for seniors are not self-directed.  Generally, independent living or assisted living developments are owned by large corporations where residents do not have a say on most aspects of their daily lives.  It is an arrangement where all services are provided for a fee. 

Cohousing requires that a person participate in the running of the complex and engages in the community.  This investment in time and effort goes towards building a support system that will be there as we age.  This promotes healthy aging and goes a long way to counter the loneliness and isolation that many seniors feel in traditional settings. 

By valuing our combined skills and abilities, Silver Birch Village will become a place where independence is respected but at the same time there is a commitment to facing the ups and downs of aging together. 

If you are interested in finding out more about Silver Birch Village, join us for a 1 hour zoom workshop on April 28th at 11:00 am or 7:00 pm.  To register, email Ann at  

Cohousing and privacy

The residents of Silver Birch Village consist of a wide variety of people who choose to live in this community so they can age out in a place where they have built relationships with their neighbours and can count on them for a helping hand.  Sounds good in theory, but does that mean that you are giving up your privacy when you live in cohousing?

At Silver Birch Village, all residents are financially independent of the cohousing community, each home is privately owned.  The only money transactions in the community involve monthly dues for upkeep of the common house and occasional special assessments.  You own your own home; social norms provide a structure that protects privacy. Neighbors would not walk into another’s home without knocking.  

Cohousing developments are designed to assure individual privacy.  At most cohousing developments, each home has its own private outdoor space.  If you need some alone time you can relax in your own yard or balcony.  However, if you would like to enjoy a morning coffee with your neighbour, there is always a communal area where you can sit and have a chat.  The need for private time and public time is recognized and respected.  There are structures put into place to respect this.  For example, in some cohousing communities it is recognized that if someone is sitting on their front porch, they are open to interacting with others.  If you are sitting in your back yard, you are looking for private time. 

Social gatherings are not mandatory.  This includes common meals.  Every home has its own kitchen facilities. However, the larger kitchen in the common area is available for those who choose to use it.

Some people see their daily walk as a chore, they need the motivation of a walking partner or group to make the time for it.  Cohousing makes it easy to reach out and find a walking partner. For others, taking a daily walk is their private time, a type of meditation.  There is no obligation to include a neighbour in this activity. 

In the Silver Birch Village community, there will be a high level of formal and informal interaction. Many couples have different personality types and needs for alone/group time.  If one person is more outgoing and the other is more private the cohousing model accommodates both of their needs. Residents can choose how much they engage in order to find the right balance between their privacy and the community. 

The point of cohousing is to build such a community where people are there for each other. Living at Silver Birch Villages requires a desire to actively live and participate in that community.  This does not mean that you give up your privacy.  The varying needs of the members of the community are respected. 

If you are interested in finding out more about cohousing, join us for a one-hour information session.

When : Wednesday, April 28th

Session One: 11:00 am with Janet and Carmen

Session Two : 7:00 pm with Peter and Ann

To register, contact Ann at

The sources used for this blog are the books Senior Cohousing : A New Way Forward for Active Older Adults and State-of-the Art Cohousing:  Lessons Learned from Quimper Village. 

Building to Passivhaus Standard

Our group is now at the stage where we will begin to focus some of our energy on the design process for our new homes. We have had some discussions about this, and as a whole the group knows that they want our Cohousing units to be attractive, functional, compact and energy efficient.

Our current approach for energy efficiency is to build to the Passivhaus Standard. This standard was first developed in Europe in the early 1990s, and has grown in popularity worldwide. There are now tens of thousands of homes, schools and commercial buildings that have been constructed as Passivhaus buildings.

There are five main features of all Passivhaus buildings:

  • Super-insulated Envelopes
    The quantity of insulation in floors, walls and roofs is much higher than in conventional construction. Insulation levels are two to three times the levels called for in our current building codes. Walls in our area of the country would typically be 20″ to 24″ thick.
  • Airtight Construction
    Much of the heat lost from a conventional home is the result of air leakage. Air that can move in our out of the building through cracks, gaps and improperly sealed air barriers can waste heat and cause drafts and moisture problems. A Passivhaus building will be two to three times more airtight than homes built to standards like R2000.
  • High Performance Doors and Windows
    Doors and windows are chosen for their high levels of air-tightness and insulation. Windows are triple-glazed with argon or krypton filled spaces between panes of glass to reduce heat loss.
  • No Thermal Bridges
    Thermal bridges are the construction details that have solid materials that join the inside and outside of your home. Those details allow heat to “wick” its way from the heated inside space o the cold outside. Careful details in Passivhaus construction eliminate these sources of heat loss.
  • Heat Recovery Ventilation
    Living in a house built to high air-tightness standards means we need to ensure proper ventilation to remove stale air and moisture; and to replace that air with fresh outside air. This is done by continuously exhausting inside air to the outside. At the same time, fresh air is continuously drawn into the home. This may seem like an energy-waster, but this process is done using a Heat Recovery Ventilator, which extracts the heat from the air we are exhausting and moves it to the cool outside air we are bringing in. Modern heat recovery ventilators can recover 90% of the heat that would normally have been wasted.

What are the Benefits?

  • Low Heating Load and Operating Costs
    Homes built to the Passivhaus standard are 80% to 90% more efficient than standard construction. Passivhaus homes are so efficient that they do not require a furnace, boiler or other heating system. The only heat source required to keep your home comfortable is the heat generated by you, your appliances and the sun that shines in your windows. The backup heating system for very cold weather is usually a tiny electric baseboard heater that uses about the same energy as a hair dryer.
  • Eco Friendly and Sustainable
    As our world grapples with the issue of climate change and fossil fuel consumption, we welcome the opportunity to be part of the solution rather than contributing to the problem.
  • Comfort
    The Passivhaus standard results in a home that is free from drafts and temperature swings.
  • Excellent Air Quality
    Continuous ventilation and heat recovery means that we will have much better air quality in our homes. Indoor pollutants, moisture and humidity and cooking odours are quickly removed and replaced with fresh air.
  • Quiet
    The high levels of insulation and quality windows and doors; and the high standards for fans and ventilations equipment mean that the inside space will be very quiet.
  • Resilience
    Worried about extended power failures? A house built to Passivhaus standards will remain comfortable, even if power or fuel supplies are interrupted for extended periods of time

Learn More about Passivhaus Construction

Cohousing and Consensus Decision Making

In my previous blog I equated cohousing to the old model of village life where people knew their neighbors and helped each other.  Sounds good but who manages this village and makes decisions about how it is run?  The Silver Birch Village group uses the Consensus Decision Making process.  In this post I will resume this process by pulling together the main ideas of the Rhizome guide to Consensus Decision-making from

Consensus decision making is one of the cornerstones of our group.  We were trained in the use of this model in a facilitated workshop. In this model, consensus is not unanimous agreement, it is unanimous consent.  We come together to make the best decision for our diverse group.  We share the common purpose of building and maintaining Silver Birch Village.   

For this process to work, all members must be willing to be a part of the group and trust that the others are as well.  All opinions hold equal value, and all members of the group must be open to hearing these opinions.  When making decisions and choices all members must look for the wider group. 

Consensus decision making is not a simple majority, the goal is to avoid majority/minority decisions which can lead to rifts and resentment in a group.  It therefore requires a deeper sense of shared values than most decision-making models.

Unity is at the core of the process.  This is very different from uniformity.  <Consensus asks people to be flexible in seeking the highest common factor.> It strengthens the group and helps to build relationships within the group. 

Consensus Decision Making works well when these tips are followed for setting the agenda. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you making a proposal?
  • Having a discussion?
  • Making a decision?
  • Consider: What? So what? Now what?

 When voting, the Silver Birch Village members use a card system.  Green means you agree, yellow means that you can live with the decision even if you have certain reservations.  The red card allows you to block a proposal.  A member can only use a red card 5 times in a lifetime.  A block indicates that the group needs to back up, amend the proposal or return to the broad discussion and look for a new proposal.  Usually if there is strong opposition, the group will work together to find a solution that is acceptable to all. 

Consensus decision making is hard work.  This hard work is building the foundations of Silver Birch Village.  If you would like more information about our group, join us for a one-hour orientation workshop.  

When: Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Optional Times:

Session One: 11:00 a.m. with Janet and Carmen

Session Two: 7:00 p.m. with Ann and Peter

To register, please email Ann at

Upcoming Events

The members of Silver Birch Village meet on a monthly basis to continue our planning for the purchase of our land, and the design and construction of our complex.

If you think you might be interested in Cohousing and would like to meet, please contact us. Pandemic restrictions means that we are meeting via Zoom, but we’d love to meet with you, even if it’s virtually.


Introduction to Cohousing Zoom Meeting

You are invited a one hour Introduction to Cohousing information session via zoom with the choice of a morning or evening time slot. Join us to learn more about what our group is all about and the exciting things we have been doing to move our project closer to completion!

When: Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Optional Times:

Session One: 11:00 a.m. with Janet and Carmen

Session Two: 7:00 p.m. with Ann and Peter

To register for the session, email Ann at

Senior cohousing and intentional community

For many people, growing old and aging out independently in your own home is seen as the gold standard.  We have all seen the commercials of the happily retired couple who with the help of a reverse mortgage plan on living out their golden years in their own home.  The Covid 19 pandemic has caused us to reevaluate this common idea about successful aging.  As we became more isolated during the pandemic, the importance of community and being connected to others became very evident to me.  I am retired but my husband is still working.  Being alone at home during the pandemic made me experience what it would be like to be elderly and living alone without the ability to stay connected to friends and family. 

 I already knew that loneliness and a lack of social connection were a huge stress on an individual and this stress can translate into physical and mental illness.  Being connected to a community helps to create social connections and keeps us strong.  It helps us stay resilient and cope with the inevitable ups and downs of life at every stage and even more so as we get older. 

What are the obstacles to staying connected as we age out in single family homes?

As we get older, it gets increasingly difficult to stay connected to our community if we are living in a single-family dwelling. We depend on a car to socialize and access friends and family.  As we age and lose mobility, it becomes increasingly difficult to get out there and meet people.  Our northern climate makes it hard to get around.  Our health starts to fail, and we lose the ability or the motivation to get out there and stay connected.   Cohousing is a way to counter these significant obstacles to healthy and resilient aging. 

How can Cohousing help you to stay connected to a community?

In a senior cohousing development, everyone owns their own home.  The units look like anything you would see in any other development.  However, it is unique in that people who live there are there because they are interested in intentional community.  There is a large common room where shared meals take place on a regular basis (once a week).  The intentional community make it easy to find companionship when you want it but also affords you the level of privacy you require.

The understanding is that in the community, people take care of their neighbors: checking in on someone who is recovering from surgery, doing errands for others. The intent is that everyone knows one another, participates on various committees necessary to keep things running smoothly.  It is a return to the old model of village life where people knew their neighbors and helped each other. 

When is the right time to plan for the stage of my life where social connections will become difficult?

The time to prepare for our 80’s and 90’s when mobility and staying connected become an issue is in our 60’s and 70’s while we still have the energy and motivation to create the bonds of community.  If you plan in the early stages of your old age you can be proactive and create the environment of reciprocity, mutual help and co-care that you want to age out in.  If you wait until you are in your 80’s or in a crisis, these choices are usually made for you. 

Getting in on the ground level of a cohousing community is a way of being proactive and planning for your future <old age>. 

If you are interested in finding out more about the Sudbury Senior Cohousing group and their Silver Birch Village development contact us.

Consensus Decision Making


After researching how other Cohousing groups operate, the members of Silver Birch Village have adopted Consensus Decision Making as our way of making decisions. This system is widely used by people around the world working towards a more just and equitable community.

Basically, Consensus Decision Making is a group decision making process designed to be inclusive and have all members of a group heard. It is a creative and dynamic way of reaching agreement between all members. We will use consensus and be committed to finding solutions that everyone actively supports, or at least can live with.

It works best when there is:

  • a common goal
  • commitment to consensus
  • enough time allotted for discussion
  • a clear process

Consensus Decision Making works well when these tips are followed for setting the agenda. Ask yourself the following:

  • Are you making a proposal?
  • Having a discussion?
  • Making a decision?
  • Consider: What? So what? Now what?

The following is a guide for the consensus decision making process to be used at any meetings conducted by the members of Silver Birch Village.

  1. Introduce and clarify process and agenda ensuring equal understanding of, and access to, the discussion.
  2. Broad discussion will include open minded and inclusive discussion to hear diverse voices and opinions while empathizing with concerns.
  3. Find a proposal that looks for common ground for the whole group, not just the mainstream.
  4. Discuss the proposal with intention to co-operate and strengthen the proposal finding the deepest level of unity.
  5. Make a decision while respecting those who wish to stand aside and welcome any block that upholds group integrity as a test for unity.
  6. Implement the decision and share the responsibilities while supporting the development and sharing of skills and knowledge.
  7. Reflect and evaluate by taking the time to evaluate and learn, while restoring group harmony.

When voting on issues that require a decision of the group, it is important to have a scale that people are comfortable using. The coloured card system helps to alleviate repeating and helps moves the vote forward once called.

Gradient Scale 1-3

  1. Enthusiastic Support: decision moves forward. (Green Card)
  2. Lukewarm Support: Support with reservations and individuals may choose to   abstain. (Yellow Card)
  3. Strong Objection: Block (the individual who blocks may  be given an opportunity to bring a new proposal to the group. Individuals will be allowed to use a red card to block only five times in their lifetime.  A red card would only be used in the rare occasion where the voter absolutely could not go along with the decision.

Minutes are taken at all meetings and will reflect all voting and the outcome of any decisions that are made.

You can read more about Consensus Decision Making here:
Consensus Decision Making Short Guide
A Practical Guild for Consensus-Based Decision Making
The Basics of Consensus Decision Making