Hill House: A solution for the high cost
of living with some advantages that money can't buy.
A great demonstration of the Alternate Economy
Have you ever been to a nice quiet party that lasts all afternoon
and into the evening at a big comfortable house where people relax,
sit around talking, eat well, have a great time--then said to
yourself --why can't I live like this
Every day can be like this if you
create a living situation similar to the
Seven of us, (two couples and three individuals), live together
in what might be considered an ideal living situation. We share a
two-story 3000 square foot house in Oakland, California. Our per
person cost for living
inexpensive. (Less than $21 per day per person for
housing, utilities and food--2011
There is almost always someone at home so the house is cheery,
active and secure. Before we installed our solar panels and solar hot
water system, the cost of lighting and heating the home was divided
seven ways. Now with the solar set up
we are approaching zero cost for electricity. [That has changed, now two plug in hybrids are using all the electricity offsets from the solar panels-zero gas costs are more than worth it]
We share a high speed
cable modem connection through plug in and wireless network
. (25 cents a day per person).
Potential areas of conflict, such as the use of the three
bathrooms and large kitchen, are minimized because of differing
schedules and a well coordinated routine that allows everyone
privacy-yet utilizes the house and its contents to the maximum. The
large kitchen has been converted into the communal living room since
that's where everybody hangs out anyway. It has a large round table
of oak planks, sofas and comfortable chairs. The floor is rugged
hardwood planks on one end and bare structural plywood at the
other-now waxed-that was revealed when the linoleum and old carpet
was ripped up. The old "living room" is now a comfortable private
living area and study for one couple.
In addition to the kitchen living area, there are private
alcoves throughout the house and in various areas of the garden where
one can just get away and be alone if you want.
Built in the late 1950s, the structure, like most American
homes, embodies a tremendous amount of lumber, concrete and natural
resources. The even minimal-level of gas heat, lights, water and
other resources required to make the house comfortable and keep the
garden alive would be wasted with just one couple or even one family
living alone in the house. (That's the situation that existed for 45
years before we arrived) . However, with seven people and their
guests now enjoying the house everything is used to the maximum and
costs are divided seven ways.
For example, the kitchen with its heavy duty range and high
quality fixtures, all bought used from a restaurant supply house, is
utilized almost nonstop throughout the day. It helps to heat the
house in winter and there is the ever-present smell of baking and
cooking. There is almost always a fire burning in the kitchen
fireplace fueled by free construction wood or tree branches that
people pick up. The large garden is worked by all who enjoy it and
produces a substantial amount of produce. All seven people, or even
more, could if they so chose, live from what the garden produces. See
your own food page.
When anything is bought for the house it is heavy duty and of
high quality for maximum service and enjoyment. Used items are always
the first option. The sink hardly ever dries and the kitchen utensils
are in constant use. It's counter intuitive, but when things get used
frequently, and stored properly, they are easy to clean. With many
people using the "public" areas of the house and cleaning up after
themselves, these areas stay cleaner than if just a few people were
living there and the dust bunnies accumulated. The Mac in the alcove
by the kitchen is in use about 20 hours per day, every day, all for
the price of a unit that would, in most people's home, sit unused
most of the time. The keyboard is actually showing a wear pattern of
staining on the keys. This machine came from an office and was
free-and will be replaced at no cost with a better unit when that
becomes available at no cost.
When things are shared this way their cost per-use plummets to
almost nothing. When expenses are shared this way the time required
for each person to work to pay for them is insignificant.
If more people used homes
and pooled their possessions this way there
would be no housing shortage.
People can save a tremendous amount of money and can live without the
need to work two jobs just to afford a place to live and money to buy
seldom used "necessities" that sit around unused most of the time.
The two couples and three individuals that share the house have
their own period of time during the day when the kitchen is reserved
for their exclusive use. Other time it's open to all. Communal meals
at the large table are regularly scheduled several times a week.
Sometimes a dish is prepared by someone who specializes in it. Other
times everyone helps. It takes just about as much time and human and
fossil energy to prepare a meal for 10 as it does for 2 and, it's a
lot more fun because the cook gets more satisfaction and gratitude
for their labor and does it less frequently than cooking for just
A community based agriculture farm delivers a large box of
in-season organic produce weekly. (30 cents
per person/day). Between this and the produce from the
garden, most nondairy/non-protein food needs are met.
Most afternoons there is a pot of soup or stew simmering on the
stove that receives vegetables from the garden. This is nutritious,
quick and costs next to nothing. "Leftovers" don't get generated in
the house. There is far more seasonal fruit from the yard than can be
eaten, canned or juiced by any seven people. The surplus of apples,
avocados, peaches, nectarines, oranges, Asian pears, lemons, plums,
herbs etc. gets traded for other things such as bread from a local
bakery, eggs from neighbors' chickens, finished laundry, dry-cleaning or coffee beans from a corner
We put surplus fruit out on a bench on the sidewalk for
passersby to pick up. This builds a lot of camaraderie in the
neighborhood and gets folks into the spirit of giving and looking out
for each other. The large rough teenagers up the block have been
taking our surplus fruit home for a long time and look out for us.
We are teaching them how to raise their own vegetables and do fruit grafting.
We have a moveable bottomless chicken coop on wheels where the
birds clear and fertilize areas to be planted. More than enough fresh
eggs in return.
Coffee is made at 7 and 9 in the morning and later at 4:30 and
5:30 in the evening. Everyone's friends know that they are welcome to
drop in at these times. Often they bring food to share. One key to
this arrangement is that several people have small refrigerators in
their private area to supplement the large unit in the kitchen. (All
retrieved for free at the end of the school year from frat houses).
The first thing that was installed in the home when we moved in was a
high-quality reverse-osmosis water purifier. The cost of the used
restaurant unit was paid back quickly as coffee and cooking water are
of the highest quality and no one ever needs to buy plastic bottles
of water, rather they just refill them or pitchers from the purified
water spigot behind the sink. 4 people agree to fill containers
during the morning and the other three at night, this way the storage
tank rarely runs dry. The non-potable-filter backwash water
[about 3 gallons for every gallon of purified water] that is
generated by the unit is diverted to a holding tank downstairs and is
used to refill a toilet reservoir instead of water from the mains.
Cooking utensils are numerous and of high quality. Everything
is hanging in the open on its own hook or on pegboard. The dishwasher
is run twice a day on a regular schedule so that personal and
communal dishes can be included.
3 cars and 4 bicycles : There are 4 nice bicycles (2
electric) to share and one person has a small electric pickup truck
that anyone can use. Each couple has one car.
Gallon jugs of high quality shampoo, conditioner and hand soap
are ordered by the case from the factory and shipped directly to the
house. The washing machine runs 3 to 4 times a day with full loads.
The washing machine, shower/bath and sink water is returned to the
downhill garden to water fruit trees in the summer via a built in
gray-water system thus offsetting the high water consumption. Where the washing machine water drains down the hill the trees and
and vegetation are incredibly green and productive.
During the day almost all water heating is taken care of by solar hot
water panels placed on the roof. Showers are vented by a device that
uses water pressure flowing to the shower head to turn a turbine that
moves moist air out of the bathroom.
When our roof needed replacement we paid about 50% more for
standing-seam steel nontoxic epoxy industrial roofing with a fifty
year warranty. Composition
shingles (read sand and
toxic refinery waste compressed together that give off lead and
mercury which are neurotoxins that build up in the
soil), would have only lasted about 20 years and been
cheaper but who wants to eat vegetables watered by rain running off
that? After re-roofing we installed solar electric panels with a
capacity of 7 kilowatts. The gap between the panels and roof prevents
heat buildup in the summer.
metering, means that surplus electricity that the
sun produces above and beyond what the house uses is fed to the
electric grid and spins our
backwards, giving us "expensive" daytime electricity
credits for offsetting the "cheaper" nighttime electricity that we buy
back from the grid. Because of recharging an electric pickup and
several zap electric bicycles and the electricity used by seven
persons we have nearly broken even this year on buying electricity.
That is we are paying next to nothing for electricity and electric
transportation. The true opportunity cost of the money we spent on the system is the loss of the paltry taxable
interest that we could be making on the money that the solar system
cost after the State rebate.
After we compost and recycle we often don't even fill one
garbage can per pickup. Every week several hundred pounds of coffee
grounds and vegetable waste are brought home for the compost heap
from juice bars and coffee houses that we're going to anyway, so no
extra fuel is used. Add the scrap firewood used in the winter and the
house is actually a net importer of solid waste while it exports food
Toilet paper and dishwashing soap are bought at Costco. All
seven people share one membership. (1. 3 cents
A few negative things: It
is difficult to just sit and be alone for hours in the house although
there is a little teahouse retreat at the end of the garden. The
water bill is rather high as the usage for seven people, guests and
the drip irrigation for the garden raises the per gallon cost of much
of the higher consumption into the second price level.
boron-free laundry soap (Oasis brand) that must be used for reuse of
the washing machine water in the garden greywater system is more expensive than
normal detergent although the phosphates and other chemicals in the
water plus the dirt from clothes act as an incredible fertilizer.
key to the harmony of the household.
Our Agreed upon rules and
*No resident or guest may smoke anywhere on the
*No music, radio or TV may be played after dark loud enough
to be heard by any other resident or neighbor, nor may any be
played during the day that is loud enough to be heard through a
wall. Headphones really do work!
*There is a radio in the kitchen that may be tuned only to
FM classical, jazz or public radio. Any person may turn the
radio off for whatever reason
without need for explanation if they feel like quiet when they are in the kitchen. Because of
this power, people seem to become more accommodating and leave it
on. There is no TV in the kitchen communal area. Only one person
has a TV, and they rarely watch it anymore.
*Each person has a built-in plywood storage cubbyhole
located in the kitchen. This is where all their non-communal
kitchen-use personal property, tools,and papers must be stored (or
in their room). This is sacrosanct. One may place somebody else's
items in the proper cubby, such as their mail, but no one may
remove them except the owner. It is agreed that any property left
in the communal area outside of the cubbyhole may be used by
anyone for any purpose within reason. No one leaves junk sitting around for this reason.
There are similar cubbies in
*Each person has their own private 200 square foot patch of
garden within which they may do anything they please as well as
the enjoyment of the large communal garden with communal vegetable
patches and fruit trees, The one ground rule: everything is
organic-no sprays or slug baits or artificial fertilizers.
Everyone uses the compost heap. Food items for compost that are
generated in the kitchen are placed in a half -gallon milk carton
with its top opened up. This is emptied every afternoon. We tried
the fancy ceramic compost holders with lids and realized that the
milk carton set up works better and doesn't break if you drop
*People are expected to immediately clean up after them
self. This means no hair balls in the shower trap, no dirty
dishes, and no messes on the floor etc.
* Everyone has their own private chair in the common area
that they have rights to whenever they enter the room. This may
seem silly but we found it to be a powerful thing. Anyone may use
it when the "owner" is not there.
*One thing that makes life much easier in this house is that
there are no children and only one dog.
* Everyone takes off their shoes upon entry and washes their
hands in the little sink next to the door. Far fewer colds and flu
Who gets to live here?
People rarely ever move from Hill House. All the residents have
been found by word of mouth and are friends of other people. The
actual method of selection is the old English club system: When it
comes time to choose a new resident every one is given a white ball
and a black ball. A container is passed around and people can
secretly place a ball. If one or more black balls appears when the
container is dumped out-the person under consideration is not
If a person is accepted they have three months probationary
period during which time any person can vote them out anonymously by
dropping a black ball in a locked voting bin. One can't fake personal
habits for three months-the truth always comes out.
Communal living lends itself to wonderful interactions and at
the same time can cause friction. This is why it is essential
to have the above, or at least some, criteria and voting system to
prevent obvious problems before they occur.
Problems that have been avoided at Hill House through the use
of these criteria usually involve filthy bathrooms, dishes piled in
sinks, barbaric overnight guests appearing at the breakfast table,
disappearing stuff, skipped rent, long tales of woe when you just
want to be left alone etc. Many of us have experience this in other
room mate/shared living situations. We will not tolerate it again-so
we're very careful about who gets in.
Here's some statements that gave us the
willies and kept the applicants from even
"We're artists-and as artists
do--we smoke sometimes".
(What else can you get away with because you're
"I'm a single mom and I have
three lovely children that need a village to raise them..."
(While I'm staying at
"I'm a Feng-Shui consultant. Can
I trade my services for rent?"
or the other
"Could I trade massage
therapy for rent?"
"We are 2 women musicians, I have a 8
month old baby (read
nonstop noise) and
my "friend" has a dog who is very gentle and is completely
Will he pay rent?)
He won't tear up the place and
he just loves the baby."
bite the crap out of anyone that gets too close to
" im not into major drama
minor?) im kinda
sober but i don't care what my roommates do. im a pierced
and tattooed rrriot girl. im kinda messy in my own
everywhere else too).
You get the idea. There are many infantilized adults out there that use counterculture as a lack of
Those little red bars you're seeing on the green background are an
optical illusion and they will
go away. Bad house-mates never seem to go away
-- that's why we're so selective about who gets to live here.
The beauty of the above set up is that the procedures of
regulating who gets to move in can be used by anybody in any setting
with different criteria.
Our Monthly Expenses divided among all seven
$2720 Mortgage. Because owner gets all the tax advantages of
interest write-off, she pays all property tax and insurance
$70 water approximately
$60 garbage, includes recycling.
$60 cable Internet access...cable soon to go up, we're going to
dump it and use neighbor's wifi with their permission. [No, that is not illegal. They chose to leave it open for others to share]
Or, let the neighbor piggyback on ours with a little token payment.
$100 four land line phones. Will drop as some opt for own cell phone.
$60 monthly community agriculture vegetable delivery
$900 food for communal meals and sundry expenses. This is dropping.
i.e. More neigbors trade their backyard chicken eggs for our fruit
Utilities, Gas- about $200 month in winter and $60 month in
summer. averages $130 month. Electricity about $150 a month year round.
Total monthly costs $4410 shared by 7 people= $630 per person per month or
about $ 21 per day per
person for all housing and
essential food costs.
You could probably live by yourself that
cheaply- but it would be in a shack in the middle of nowhere and
would not be in a convivial household in a major urban area near
transportation, universities and the other features of the Bay
What does "conventional living "cost in the Bay
2003 prices: $70,000.00 for family of four to "just get
Their cost at Hill House would be: $30,240 per
year. [4 people x $630 month x 12 months] 43% of the
There are no vacancies. But what's to
stop you from setting up
your own version of
Please Note: For privacy
reasons we no longer grant interviews or want publicity.
We had several inquiries from
the media to do a story about Hillhouse. (Read
"create news Filler Between
Spent the whole day working with the
people who were very nice, thought it would get the word out about
what we're doing and then we saw that the final edited story was an
inane short little snippet that showed nothing of the details
enumerated above and discussed little of our philosophy and this was
sandwiched in between a car commercial and a one for some kind of
Back to the
Overcoming Consumerism Index
Click here to tell a friend about The
Overcoming Consumerism website
to the Alternate Economy Page.
Some other shared housing links
Cohousing Association of the United
States This is
building planned houses that work together
N Street Community
Co-op, Eugene, Oregon.
an interesting website about a place and state of mind in Washington.