This weekend we went to see In The Heights, the Lin-Manuel Miranda musical about a community of Lantinx immigrants living in Washington Heights in NYC, where he grew up. Although he’s more famous for his musical Hamilton, I’ve actually been a bigger fan of In The Heights for a few years now. I love the Latin dancing and singing which reminds me of the feel of community I experienced in the Canary Islands. One of my favorite numbers is Carnaval del Barrio, in which the entire community is experiencing a multi-day blackout during the hottest part of the summer, and everyone is languishing until a lone woman reminds them of their shared Latin heritage that is no stranger to the heat, and that they are proud people who stick together to get through tough times.
While their Washington Heights community share an identity as immigrants, they also have sub-cultures and identities based on the countries they are from, why they are there, what their little dreams are, their family situations, and whether or not they are documented. There’s a refrain in the number that I particularly love in which each group of immigrants proudly group by their country of origin:
P’arriba esa bandera (hey!)
Alzala donde quiera (hey!)
Recuerdo de mi tierra
Me acuerdo de mi tierra
Esa bonita bandera! (Hey!)
Contiene mi alma entera! (Hey!)
Y cuando yo me muera
Entierrame en mi tierra!
Raise that flag (hey!)https://genius.com/Andrea-burns-carnaval-del-barrio-lyrics
Raise it wherever you want (hey!)
Souvenir of my land
I remember my land
That beautiful flag! (Hey!)
It contains my whole soul! (Hey!)
And when I die
Bury me in my land!
There’s a phrase from a song I heard during Carnaval in Tenerife (in the Canary Islands) that sounds very similar to this. The refrain is “entierra me donde quiera / solo que sea en tierra chicharrera.” (Translation: “Bury me where you will, as long as it’s in “Chicharrero” land.” Chicharrero is a nickname for all things from Tenerife, named after the mackerel fish that is abundant there.) The idea of where you are buried being your true home is apparently ubiquitous in Latin cultures. 
For a Mormon equivalent of this “flag” sub-culture among the immigrant population in Washington Heights, it reminded me of a meeting a few years ago when our stake decided to do a Trek activity for the youth. Everyone in the meeting was invited to stand based on which company of pioneers had been their ancestors. As group after group stood up in the stake center (while I remained seated), it occurred to me just how provincial Mormonism still is. Finally, almost as an afterthought, those with no pioneer ancestry were invited to stand and (maybe half-heartedly) haled as “modern day pioneers” briefly before the meeting shifted more comfortably back to how amazing they all were for being descended from pioneer stock that they were now about to re-enact by pulling handcarts around a cell phone tower in the desert wearing uncomfortable underwear. As I pointed out, I was unable to feel like I fit in among my non-Mormon school friends (most of whom didn’t know anything about Mormons), but I was also unable to fully feel like I fit in among other Mormons, those with multi-generational roots, particularly when being pedigreed was touted as if one were a member of royalty. I was an immigrant in both places, even if my status was only known to me.
This concept of two (or more) identities that is woven throughout the musical is one that feels incredibly familiar to me. Immigrants often feel conflicted in embracing both their native culture and their chosen culture. Likewise, when I was growing up in an area with very few Mormons, I embraced my Church culture as my “true” culture, but I often felt like an imposter in my school culture. I stayed on the fringes, afraid of being found out and identified as “not one of them.” As an adult looking back, I can see how this fear of exposure led me to reject the community of school friends, to stay on the fringes, to keep myself to myself, to avoid investing in that community. A few years ago, when two of my school friends were in town and reached out to meet up, I realized that they didn’t know that I felt like an outsider, that I didn’t think I was really part of their community, that I was surprised that they considered me enough of a friend to invite to dinner. When I left, I planned to never look back. 
A few years later, I was talking with one of my non-religious high school friends who was reading my mission memoir, and he said he had a hard time imagining that the person he knew was the same person in the book. Rather than thinking I was my real self in the book, he saw the person he knew as the real me, and that the missionary me had to hide my true personality to survive in an oppressive religious culture. I’m still not sure which was the real me: both? neither?
A few years ago, I was talking to a friend who had left the Church. He said that non-believers often stayed in the Church for social reasons, either to appease family members, to honor their heritage or forbears, or to access the benefits of the community. At the time I remember saying “But the community is the worst thing about the Church!” Now I realize that I was partly wrong about that. For those who belong, the community is their support network. It makes their life easier and more worth living. A high ranking leader I worked with at American Express once observed that Mormons were lucky because no matter where we moved in the world, we had an instant trusted community: people who would help you move, babysit your kids, or loan you tools or help you needed; it was like the prestigious international clubs in Singapore (and the steep member dues are similar!). For the most part, his observation is true.
But I was also right to say that the Church community can be the worst. There are things in a community that bring people together and things that tear them apart. Communities are built deliberately. In the musical, neighbors create families from among the immigrants. The abuela is not actually anyone’s grandmother, but she adopts the kids of the neighborhood, helping them grow into happy and healthy adults, hosting meals for the neighborhood, and reminding them all to pursue their dreams, to be patient, to have faith.
Communities don’t flourish without some degree of intentionality. When anti-social elements are deliberately fostered in a community, the community is going to have some toxicity that pulls it apart, ostracizing or harming individuals. In The Heights does a great job of portraying a true community, one that avoids these common traps that erode trust and cohesion. Some of these pitfalls to avoid include:
- Boundary policing / encouraging tattling on others. The musical includes a great song No Me Diga about how gossip at the local salon keeps the society together through concern for each other, and even if they are sharing salacious stories designed to titillate, the stories are still shared with fondness and love for the people involved, not in a mean-spirited or judgmental way. By contrast, a culture that rewards tattling by punishing the “accused” and elevating their accusers is not a community; it’s a police state. This is unfortunately the culture at BYU and in too many wards. It’s also the thinking behind occasional General Conference talks.
- Elitism. When some members of the group are elevated above others, without organically rising to the top, this creates social problems in the community. Making it clear that some are deemed more important than others erodes a sense of community. A hierarchy is not a community; it’s a business. Elitism is only rendered worse by nepotism, which often accompanies it. It creates an inequality in which some people have more power and visibility than others who are powerless, a refrain from the song Blackout that recurs throughout the musical to illustrate that outside of their community, many of these immigrants feel invisible or lacking power; they don’t qualify for the white, multi-generational elitism that is the norm in the US. Their community is the one thing that strengthens them all.
- Correlating individuals’ thoughts and values. When there is only one right way to think or to be, the community is not a collection of individuals sharing and caring for one another; it’s a place where everyone has to hide their real selves for fear of being found to be unacceptable. This also becomes an even bigger problem if elites want to organize the group to work together toward a shared aim that not all agree with.
- Echo chambers / group think. This is the “natural” version of the preceding problem. Sometimes a group (particularly if it’s hierarchical) deliberately tries to fit its members’ thoughts and values into a box, and other times the group evolves into something smaller, as people with “unpopular” ideas leave the group. Those that remain are more aligned, but at a great cost, and seeing the brutality with which others are discarded undermines the trust one can have in the community.
- Protecting predators. When some individuals (worse when they also have elite status and more power) are allowed to benefit at the expense of others in the group or to harm them without consequences, this also erodes cohesion in a community. Unfortunately, sometimes community elites and members, like antibodies that attack the body rather than a disease, aren’t good at telling the difference between culling predators and boundary policing.
- Lack of casual, natural social contact. At the beginning of the Carnaval del Barrio number, the community isn’t interacting. Each person is suffering independently, too focused on his or her own misery in the heat or the problems of businesses shut down, ruined inventory, gentrification and rising rents, and the loss of loved ones. The musical number brings these individuals out of their negative siloes and into direct contact with one another. They dance together, they look one another in the eye, they remember their shared heritage, and they rally together to get back to making their little dreams a reality and supporting one another. Historically, we’ve had some great programs to bring people closer: road shows, dance festivals, youth conferences, basketball games, camping trips, linger-longers. Without these casual contacts, people just can’t relate or get to know each other well enough to care and support one another.
- Artificial communities and friendships. The Church preaches to “bloom where you’re planted,” which is a fine enough sentiment. Unfortunately, when your ward is assigned purely based on geography, any ward split or personal move breaks up the community that may have been building organically for a years. Likewise, many lament the forced nature of friendships based on ministering assignments; changes can disrupt positive, natural friendships, but also, you can’t create a friendship unnaturally that doesn’t work, particularly not when people are wary of voluntary spies and snoops among the membership. At times, the forced nature of these programs reminds me of the dance scene in West Side Story when community organizer Glad Hand (his name is a bit on the nose) forces the teens to pair up randomly by dancing in two circles and when the music stops, the person you are next to is your new partner. As soon as the music stops, the teens all quickly reach back for their preferred dance partner, and immediately the dance erupts into a Mambo fight between the Sharks and Jets.
I was listening to a podcast interview about the “extended brain” this week (on You Are Not So Smart podcast). The interview discussed the idea that we are limited in how we view our minds, that we think of the brain as existing in a box (our head) which is why we try to teach students by eliminating all distractions and context, forcing them to sit still and quiet and receive the knowledge the teacher is giving them from one brain to another. But this is not really how brains work. Our thoughts, values, feelings and ideas emerge as we interact with the world around us, as we move our bodies, as we exist in nature, particularly outdoors and as we relate to other people. Eliminating movement and speaking reduces how we think; we learn less than we can when we move and interact. True community allows our minds to be more effective and creative and enriches our lives; we are smarter when we use our brains and bodies together and when we interact with others socially. Unfortunately, too often our Church interactions are limited to sitting quietly or being in meetings, not engaging physically in activities that allow our minds and bodies to work together. Church meetings, despite being surrounded by other people, often feel solitary.
Within the US, the Church is a minority religion that wants to attain the status, power and recognition of higher-profile religions, able to exert their political preferences on society under the guise of religious freedom. That’s the opposite of the approach the immigrants demonstrate in In the Heights. Whenever they begin to despair of being powerless, one or two natural leaders in the group (often someone different) will remind them that they can work together to support and help each other, that their own individual dreams matter; they can fight for the members of their community. They don’t have to be in charge of the country or compete with one another for the top spots. They can instead be generous and act like a family, even if they aren’t one by relation. That’s a community!
- Do you find the Church community to be a true community? Why or why not?
- Is community enough of a reason to stay for non-believers? Would it be if the community negatives were eliminated?
- Which of these anti-social elements do you think are a problem in community-building for the Church? Are there others?
- Have you experienced the anxiety of a dual identity within a community? How did you work through it?
- What can the Church do as a whole or at the ward level to improve its ability to build communities that people want to join? Or can this only happen organically?
 It’s telling that despite the home pride, these characters are ultimately buried in their chosen home in the US, not in their native home of origin; this is intentional in the story telling.
 I explored this “Third Culture Kid” identity in more depth here.
 It’s one reason I’ve observed before that the Church is truest in the areas where it’s in the minority, not where it wields power. Organizations with power don’t need community to get things done.
 Sorry, Jets, but you don’t have Rita Moreno.
As I (and others) have pointed out, there are two kinds of active LDS: validity Mormons and utility Mormons. The utility Mormons stay active because the Church works for them and their families. The LDS community, network, and sense of belonging is a huge draw. And this draw has become more important in recent years as the validity Mormons have seen the Church take a hit on truth claim after truth claim (thanks Internet).
What does this all mean? It means that it is as important as ever for the Church to provide members a sense of community and belonging. And yet, most of us over the age of 40 look at today’s Church and don’t see anything like what we experienced as kids. Maybe I’m just too sentimental but I just don’t see it.
Thank you for a well-written and thought-provoking posting. I look forward to seeing the movie. I regret that the producer, who is of Puerto-Rican descent, has already felt a need to apologize for not sufficiently representing the real diversity of the neighborhood.
“..I’ve observed before that the Church is truest in the areas where it’s in the minority…”
I’ve never lived in the center place or anywhere close to it, and I have no historical pedigree, but I can see where you are coming from.
“…most of us over the age of 40 look at today’s Church and don’t see anything like what we experienced as kids…”
This is true. But isn’t it also true that many members back then thought the church was doing too much, taking too much time and money, and causing Latter-day Saints (well, they were Mormons in those days) to be insular?
ji: I saw that Lin Manuel Miranda had apologized for casting mostly lighter skinned actors, which honestly I DID notice in the movie. There were quite a few Puerto Riquenos in the area I grew up in, and those I knew were much darker skinned. Here in the west, I mostly see lighter skinned Latinos. In particular, in the number I mentioned with the flags, I expected to see greater skin tone variation. I think his apology will help others avoid the mistake in future. Overall, I still think it was important work, if imperfectly executed.
ji: The world has changed and the country has changed. It’s really not the Church’s fault that it has backed away from so much involvement in our lives. There are just too many competing uses of time (soccer practice, etc.). So while I don’t blame the Church for backing off, I am simply pointing out that because it is less invoved, it is less relevant (from a utility point of view). And so, I then have to rely more on the validity of the Church (truth claims) to stay active. And that’s not happening either.
ji, isn’t any community (and especially a very strong community) going to be at least somewhat insular? I suspect that if I moved to Washington Heights in the 80s or 90s, I likely would have felt the community to be insular since I don’t have any real connections to Puerto Rican and Dominican cultures and only speak Spanish rather haltingly.
Then again, I’m not sure that insularity is really a good or bad feature except and until that insularity prevents the community from growing (if desired) or preventing the drain of community members into the wider world. The Church has increasingly had to (or at least felt it had to) make adjustments to Church culture to continue the growth of missionary work and to stop the flood of resignations and/or inactivity of those already in the community.
I would also mentioned that the community ties that the musical highlights also often serve to stifle individualism as they sublimate non-conforming desires to the greater communal good so let’s not pretend that strong communities are always some unalloyed good.
Hawk girl is absolutely correct that there is a real loss of community in the modern Church. But that problem is not unique to the Church. In fact, the Church tried to fight it for a long time.
The lack of community has largely developed because the younger generations have increasingly turned inward into technology.
Before, wards would build community by producing road shows that would put people together working on a common ideal. Wards would have at least monthly dinners, parties, or camp outs were everyone came together as a community. Those wards were close and everyone felt a part of something bigger than themselves.
Now, people ignore the few ward activities there are in order to stay home alone and play violent video games, watch Netflix, or hit the like button on Facebook. No actual human interaction that doesn’t go through an electronic medium. This does not build community.
People who spend their time alone with modern technology cannot build a community. That has been proven beyond dispute during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, many are too young to remember what a Church community can truly be. They spend their time alone and then wonder why they feel isolated and unconnected.
As a Church, and a society, we must ask whether we are willing to take the time and spend the effort required to reverse course. Only if we do can we bring back “community” to our existence.
JCS, your timeline is incorrect.
I watched all my older siblings perform in road shows in the 80’s. When I was old enough to participate in the 90’s, they were gone. Ward activities started disappearing around the turn of the century.
The internet was not widely available until the 2000’s (served a mission in 1999-2001 and still wrote letters home; started at BYU in 1998 and still had to register for classes over the phone). iPhone came in 2007. Facebook was official in 2004 but not available to all until 2009.
Please try again.
Here’s my beef with the community: most friendships are not genuine. Like, you can talk about the weather, your calling, and your kids shared interests (because the real reason you are friends in the first place is because of your kids) but that’s it. I’m old enough now that I’m tired of talking about the weather. I want to be able to explore topics my Mormon friends won’t engage in, like systemic racism, how to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, why BYU’s Honor Code is broken, how much I hate wearing garments in the summer, etc. I want genuine relationships. For the most part, I’ve had to look outside the community for them.
For me, an old fart, social networking has been wonderful. I can stay in touch with my family that is spread all over America. It has allowed me to stay closer to my grandkids. And I now have friends around the world. Opportunities for connecting are almost limitless. With today’s transportation options, I can physically visit Internet friends.
Unfortunately, the Church has eliminated the fun stuff and kept the boring stuff. They need to have some sort of bonding (coffee even without coffee) get together on a regular basis. Maybe some home churching.
Community works for people who fit in, but it’s terrible for those on the fringes. For example, I had a visiting teaching companion who worked full-time until she had her first child. She told me that she learned about “mommy world”, a whole part of the ward she never knew existed because she was now part of the in-crowd who were stay-at-home moms. I never learned about that because I’ve always worked full-time and have no children. As a woman with no children who for a long time was single and who is now married to a non-member, they just don’t know what to do with me.
I remember what solace my branch was when I went to college and had trouble adjusting. People offered rides to the airport, ChexMix, everything and I didn’t feel embarrassed about accepting because they were my people. I never made it to proper Mormon adulthood (for which I am grateful). But as a young adult in a family branch (one Eugene England had attended and his presence still felt) Mormonhood and community seemed one and the same.
Chadwick: The demise of Roadshows must have been a rolling blackout because the last one I participated in (as an adult–I wrote and directed it) had a Y2K theme, so it was very late 90s. There was, not long after (a few years maybe), a deliberate snuffing out of these beloved goofy forms of scrappy entertainment. A highlight of that final roadshow was our then bishop belting out “Comply With Me” (about Y2K regulations) to the tune of “Come Fly With Me.” Wish I still had a copy of that script, but alas, I think it’s been lost to time. There was another song about the four vitreous humors in there somewhere, too. Overall, though, the acting was pretty wooden. The scenery was literally made out of poster board. The sound system was impossible to hear, and the entire thing was pretty lackluster. When I was a teen participant (and also wrote two of them), we included ACDC’s Dirty Deeds. I didn’t think I could get away with Highway to Hell.
I’ve often wondered what it is like to grow up as a non-Mormon in Utah.
Sometimes when I visit Utah, I have a vague feeling that I’m in Stepford.
Growing up in UT, we had very little to do with our non-Mormon neighbors. On the one hand, Church took up so much time—meetings, home and visiting teaching, activities etc. On the other hand, it seemed the purpose of church members reaching out to non-member neighbors was often for the purpose of trying to convert them—a project. Then, when they showed no interest in the church, the reaching out fell off.
(Then there were Mormon kids I went to high school with, some who I never guessed were Mormon because they were the biggest partiers).
I’m sure the hard core members feel like the church is a community.
For others, not. It probably varies a little bit depending on where one lives—how big the “tent” is, though the tent varies not a lot, in my family’s experience having lived in 3 different states.
When we lived on the east coast, our neighborhood was a community.— helping out each other and socializing together,. The church, not so much, in part because of the immense ward boundaries. Our ward boundaries included at least 5 different school districts. Our kids were among the few Mormons in our school district.
The church community doesn’t feel like family. It feels like the “country club for Saints, ”
where there is a precise script and a choreographed dance one must follow.
I think the church needs to look at earth life as a journey where people will have different experiences. Enlarge the tent. The church culture does not necessarily have all the answers. Heck, we don’t even have all the questions. We ought to meet people where they are. Accept them. Love them. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Maybe that church member who doesn’t fit the “mold” has something to teach us, rather than the other way around.
Lastly, I would suggest we spend more time talking about Jesus than the “church,” and it’s mortal leaders. Too often it seems like a sales seminar rather than sharing the Gospel of Jesus.
“ Now, people ignore the few ward activities there are in order to stay home alone and play violent video games, watch Netflix, or hit the like button on Facebook. No actual human interaction that doesn’t go through an electronic medium”
I wasn’t a fan when my boys started computer and video gaming in the late 90’s—early 2000’s.
I saw that they had time limits and the games were age appropriate. They still played sports and did well in school—and hung out with friends. (Actually, sometimes gaming was the better choice than hanging out).
Fast forward today. They each have families and good careers,. They also live a few hundred miles apart from each other. But they keep in touch with each other—one night a week they game together. I am grateful for that communication medium, because I doubt they would regularly call each other just to chat.
There are pros and cons to everything. Anything can be done to excess.
Speaking of community. I hear there is a drought there. When we have droughts here we reduce water consumption as requested by government.
No watering gardens.
Turn off the tap when cleaning teeth
Take a bucket into shower to catch cold water before the hot arrives, and use it for flushing toilet or watering garden, or wash car.
Houses are required to have dual flush toilets.
How are the people who refuse to wear masks, coping with reducing water usage for the community good?
To me, community comes from spending unstructured time getting to know one another. My biggest lament from going from 3 hour to 2 hour church has been the elimination of unstructured time to chat with people. At least for me, opening exercises in Priesthood helped me get to know people a lot better. I also got to know several other YM leaders/YM parents from attending the monthly campouts when I was the Scout Master. I feel like I was able to make connections because I was able to just talk to people. When we trim out all opportunity for members to meet together in unstructured ways, we severely hamper community building.
The best unit I was in for community was a small branch with a huge geographic area. Everyone was accepting and welcoming. Since it was a branch, everyone was time constrained with their callings, so people were more understanding and helpful toward one another. Every 3rd Sunday, we had a linger longer after church. Usually, about once a quarter, we had church activities. This time allowed us to really get to know each other. The other inviting thing was that people invited others in the branch to their homes for dinner or activities. I was sad when we moved out of that branch. Practically the entire branch showed up to help us move. The funny part about all of this is that the branch was made up of people my parents’ age and their kids. We were a young couple in our 20s. Most of the people had kids our age. It’s amazing that we could fit in, but the members of that branch made the effort to include us. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for those people.
Geoff – I see no apparent personal modifications of H2O consumption in my neighborhood (SL County) although in Ogden they (quasi-government entity) plan to shut off “secondary” water in August.
Everyone is moaning about the “forced” friendships of ministering assignments, but be honest. Which of us would really reach out to someone we didn’t know and try to get to know and understand them? How about that family with the “Make America Great” bumper sticker? We are assigned friends because we won’t take up the mantle ourselves. I have spent the last year reading all the “I’m never going back to Church because I like meeting with ONLY my family” posts. Nobody really cares about the other ward members or the community.
Chadwich: “I want to be able to explore topics my Mormon friends won’t engage in, like systemic racism, how to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, why BYU’s Honor Code is broken, how much I hate wearing garments in the summer, etc.”.
Really? What if I want to talk about the latest book I read, or the new restaurant in town? What if I am a conservative? You only want to get to know me if I like the same topics and agree with your politics?
Gee whiz, I wonder why there is a problem.
My list was not exclusive of those things. I would love to hear about a new restaurant or your latest book. Or better yet, go to the restaurant with you!
My experience is that people talk about their kids, callings, and the weather. I crave more but am having a difficult time finding it. I’m glad your experience has been better.
I don’t think I mentioned my political affiliation. I’m also happy to discuss politics.
As a kid (late 80s-early 90s) I remember witnessing a shouting match between the bishop and the primary president over the use of the cultural hall. A large primary activity was supposed to take place at the same time as a church basketball game. Both had scheduled the space, but in the days before internet-based building calendars stuff like that happened occasionally. Anyway, the bishop won out (because patriarchy) and the game went on, while the primary activity was forced to relocate last minute by being shoehorned into crowded classrooms elsewhere in the building.
In hindsight, that was the beginning of the end. In the years thereafter, road shows and other ambitious activities were phased out (I was in the last cohort that got to do them in my area). By the time I was in high school, activities got really lame—thankfully I aged out of YM just before pioneer treks became a thing. We may long for the halcyon days of Mormonism, but we took for granted all the hard (often thankless) work that made those activities possible, and occasional hurt feelings and burnout that happened in the process. We can still find some degree of community in the Church, but I’ll seek other outlets for community as well. For example, I’m learning to form better relationships with my geographical neighbors (we don’t have any Mormons within a quarter-mile radius of my house) and appreciating more and more the value of cultivating good relationships in my neighborhood. When I was growing up, our neighbors were practically strangers to us because we were too busy with church stuff and they weren’t LDS.
I have a daughter in her 40s, who is by proffesion a federal police officer. (CIA and FBI combined). In her spare time she is second officer in a volunteer rural fire brigade, (which means she is in charge of the group every second week) and in the fire season can be deployed to a fire and asked to control 6 or 8 fire trucks with their crews, and aeriel water bombers to control a fire front. She has been sent to fires in other states as far as 3000 miles away to do this. She hasn’t lost a house yet.
For the last couple of years she has been a remote area fire fighter, in America called smoke jumpers. In Aus they don’t like there to be too much glory. She has to pass the same fitness test as the men, which is carry 50 pounds 2.5 miles in 45 minutes. Trains at least 3 times a week to keep fitness, and strength. There are 30 people in our state trained to do this.
She also gives plazma to the red cross blood bank every fortnight, and attends church when not otherwise occupied.
I think church is number 3 community for her, though I believe she is as likely to be exalted as anyone I know, as she dedicates her life to serving her fellows. I think she gets much more satisfaction from her other activities as they are much more service oriented.
For those of you who, as a result of climate change, are now living in a drought area, one of the main uses of water in a house is to flush toilets. On average each person will flush the toilet 4 times for #1 and once for #2 each day. A standard US toilet uses up to 6 gallons of water per flush. So 30 gallons per person/day. You can buy dual flush toilets which use 0.5 gall for a small flush and 0.95gall (mine uses 1.5 galls, but is 15 years old) for a full flush. By changing to an efficient toilet you can reduce water usage to 3 or 4 gallons per person/day. Remember this is water treated to drinking standard. There are also shower heads that use much less water. Water will become more expensive as it becomes more rare.
Geoff – Aus,
In reading an earlier post I saw you say you designed and built your home to be super insulted. Would you recommend any resources for the design portion? I hope to buy or build a home in a year or two, and would really like to reduce energy requirements.
Geoff. Your daughter sounds like an incredible person.
Geoff. From all of us, please thank your daughter for the wonderful work she does. As you noted, the SW USA is in a serious drought. Wildfires are already problematic. We understand the need for trained, brave firemen and women. Your daughter is providing a valuable service.
Apartment dweller, First if you can find an established house on a large enough block that you can sub divide a couple of blocks off you can get your block of land for free. The standard block here is 600 square meters and we bought a house on the back corner of a half acre block (2000 sq m) for $420,000. It cost us $80,000 to get council approval to create 2 more 600 square meter blocks, including roads and drainage, but each new block was worth $200,000 and the original house still worth $420k.
We sold one new block which paid for our house.
The floor is a conventional slab with reinforcing turned up into the walls, and insulated edges.
The walls of the house are “eco blocks” which are insulated formwork. http://www.polycon.com.au/ or eco-block.html or ://www.creativebuildingproducts.com/products/icfs.html. Not sure if this is similar https://faswall.com/green-build-photo-gallery/ Our finished wall is 3in styrafoam+ 6in concrete+ 3in styrafoam. The concrete is poured in one pour, though about 18in depth per loop, with a concrete pump, creating a monolithic block of concrete. There are plastic ribs in the foam every 8in to connect things like dri wall, and cabinets, they line up like studs. There is reinforcing as specified by the engineer.
The roof of part of our house has a precast concrete panels with then 4 in rigid styrafoam panel (insulation) then 4 in poured concrete on top then waterproofing. This part we can park a car on. This is because we have a steep block, and this part was originally going to be earth covered. The roof of the living areas have 10 in cool room panels http://bondor.com.au/equideck closest I can see in US is this but whether manufactured there or china? https://www.metlspan.com/products/cold-storage/cfr-roof-panel/ they only say 6in thick so not sure. Roof can be tied down to walls by placing threaded rod with nut and washer into wet concrete when walls being poured. My tie downs were half inch rods sunk 24 in into concrete. You may have to come up with a local superinsulated roofing system, or import it from Aus.
Plumbing and electricity are dug into the foam after the concrete is dry.
You would need a structural engineer (suppliers of wall or roofing could recommend.)
I have solar hot water, and solar pv but not sure how those go in your climate. Our electricity for a year is $250. This is our total energy import. We have solar clothes drier outside, and a sun lounge area we can put up a clothes line when clothes won’t dry outside. We get cyclones where it can rain for a week.
If you can have all you plumbing close together near the hot water system, that will also save energy. The kitchen sink gets used most often, so it should be near HWS.
Can I also suggest that you have a shower with 2 shower heads about 3 feet apart in your ensuete, so you can shower together, and get a naked cuddle every day.
Thanks for comments about our daughter. We are proud of her, as well as her sisters. Part of her fire training is advanced first aid. The first aid instructors enjoy using her as a victim because she has inherited “malignant hypothermia” from her mother. If she is given an anaesthetic she dies within minutes. They must learn when doing first aid to check for medical alerts. Her fellow fire fighters are aware of this and protect her by pointing out her medical alert.