Intregal Urban House (IUH) by Helga Olkowski, Bill Olkowski, Tom Javits and the Farallones Institute Staff
The Integral Urban House: Self Reliant Living in the City

is a comprehensive guide to achieving a completely sustainable urban lifestyle by creating a mini-ecosystem where residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, rabbits, and fish, recycle 90% of their waste, solar heat their hot water, and use a variety of other alternative technologies—all on a 1/8-acre city lot. Long considered the bible of urban homesteading, this book is the result of four years of living with and refining the systems of the Integral Urban House in Berkeley, California—a collaborative project which combined the collective skills of the members of the Farallones Institute to develop a center for creating and testing experimental, ecologically stable and resource-conserving living systems. With its vision of an intimate connection between the urban habitat and ecological principles The Integral Urban House will inspire and empower people to act within their own communities to create places where they can live more sustainably.


SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2007 The Integral Urban House

Through a series of coincidences, I have been exposed to the work of Sim Van Der Ryn. One of the projects he was involved in was the Integral Urban House in Berkeley. Most of the work, I believe, was done by Helga and Bill Olkowski. Here, finally, is a book that describes converting an existing house. I still find myself looking at this house and getting frustrated because it seems so hard to get the energy and material flows harmonized in a house that is already there. I'm just not as handy with the power tools as I would like to be. Ideally, I would rip off the entire south side of the house and retrofit it with passive solar. However, I know that if I did that, the house would simply fall in. And we are nowhere near the position of hiring a passive solar designer and builder come in and do a remodel.

So, I think I'll begin by building a small, attached greenhouse. The Integral Urban House even has plans. Small, affordable changes, done one at a time, is the only way we can rescue the vast stretches of suburbia. If I weren't so involved in being an at-home-dad, I'd probably be looking for a ecological design program that focussed on what can be done for the poor. It doesn't make sense to abandon what we have to build new, "green" communities.

We're still heating with wood. Someone pointed out in a comment a few posts back that wood produces more particulate pollution. That is true, but wood could be argued to be carbon neutral, since only the carbon sequestered by the tree goes back into the atmosphere, and on a well-managed woodlot, there would be a new sapling in that tree's place to resequester the carbon.

Unfortunately, the wood we buy is probably from mesas being clearcut to make room for developments. At any rate, the wood comes from unmanaged forests and not woodlots. One woodstove in our 1700 square foot house has been keeping our house warm enough with the temperatures down to the lower twenties. I think the polyurethane roof we put on last year is partly responsible for that.

Anyway, check to see if your library has The Integral Urban House. It's out of print, but there do seem to be some copies floating around out there. Our local library had it, and I ordered a copy from Powells.


November/December 1976

By Julie Reynolds

Away out here in Berkeley, California—in an aging semi-industrial neighborhood—an enthusiastic group of "doers" has come together to restore (and display to the public) a 100-year-old Victorian house. What's so unusual about that? Nothing . . . except that the stately dwelling—now known as the Integral Urban House—has become one of the country's most innovative and successful "urban homesteads".
Half a dozen IUH residents grow their own fruits and vegetables, raise chickens, rabbits, and fish, recycle 90% of their wastes, solar heat their hot water, and conduct a variety of alternative technology experiments . . . all on a 1/8-acre city lot!
"The Integral Urban House exists," explains house resident Charles O'Loughlin, "to serve as a model for a more ecologically sound urban habitat, and to provide urban dwellers with physical and conceptual tools for creating a more self-reliant lifestyle." In other words, the IUH staffers want to show by example how city folk can "live better for less" . . . while doing a good deed for the planet at the same time.

The Integral Urban House is a project of the Farallones Institute, a non-profit organization founded in 1969 by a group of northern Californians interested in low-impact, non-resource-intensive living . . . among them Sim van der Ryn (now the official California State Architect) and Bill and Helga Olkowski (authors of Rodale Press's City People's Book of Raising Food).
The Institute's members bought their two-story Victorian building in 1974 and remodeled it inside and out during the following year. Now the structure is no longer just a house but the nucleus of a mini-ecosystem in which rabbits, chickens, fish, honeybees, plants, microbes, and people interact in a flourishing example of interrelated self-reliance.
As it happens, the IUH is not only a small ecosystem but an educational exhibit for the dozens of interested spectators who visit the house every week. (Folks who stop by during "open house"—1:00 to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays—can enjoy an intensive 45-minute tour conducted by Charles O'Loughlin, Tanya Drlik, or Tom Javits. Or, if they prefer, visitors can simply browse among the house's books and inspect various displays while their children play with the bunnies out back.)
"Most environmental 'education' consists of an afternoon at the zoo or a wildflower walk," remarks house manager Tom Javits. "Here, environmental education is geared toward getting people to apply sound ecological concepts to their own lives."