Building a Cabin with Friends: An Evolving Co-Ownership Idea

Sunset from our newly acquired land.

Sunset from our newly acquired land.

Alex and I have been going to the Methow Valley for years. We've enjoyed skiing in the winter with family, camping with friends in the summer, running the Sunflower Relay marathon, and sampling tasty baked goods from the Mazama Country Store. Like so many people, we were attracted to the area's stunning beauty and ample opportunities for outdoor recreation.

We fantasized about having a home base for our adventures in the Valley. Like our house in Seattle, it would have to net-zero-energy, generating enough solar electricity to power and heat itself. This was all well and good, but it was a dream that seemed out of reach, something to put off until retirement.

That changed when we started dipping our toes into the sharing economy. We began by renting our old biodiesel Volkswagen through a service called Relayrides. We did the same with our house on Airbnb, and then we started a sailboat co-op with seven friends through a service called Jointli.

We quickly realized that sharing things was not only much less expensive but that it developed and deepened friendships and helped us build our community in the process. With our newfound co-ownership and sharing experience, our Methow cabin dream didn't seem so out of reach.

Be Prepared for Challenges

Now, all of this is not to say that sharing is always easy or comes without complications. We've had our share. While overall, our forays into this area have been overwhelmingly positive, they have come with major investments of time and effort. We've had to improvise, invent, research, and, at times, mediate. Along with exploring the technical side of net-zero-energy building, one of our motivations for starting this blog is to share our shared-ownership experiences and any nuggets of wisdom we've managed to acquire along the way.

Keep the Ownership Structure Simple

One lesson we've learned is that sharing a resource, especially a valuable one, is complicated in itself so it's best to keep things as simple as possible. Our original idea was to try to build a cabin with seven to ten ownership shares. However, we quickly realized that the process would be much easier if we limited ourselves to a smaller group.

Find the Right People

Our friends Dave and Lisa were the perfect couple with which to tackle a project like this. Dave and I went to high school and were on the crew team together. We reconnected when Alex and I moved to Seattle back in 2011, and Dave and I discovered a shared interest in green building. Lisa is a sustainability powerhouse, devising and managing numerous ecologically focused programs for Washington's Snohomish County. Alex, with her background in social work, has the facilitation and communication skills that are so critical to an endeavor like this. 

Get Started

After several scouting trips to the Methow Valley and much help from our real estate agent, Frank Kline, of Coldwell Banker Winthrop, we found the perfect building site, in the Methow Valley View development on the edge of the town of Winthrop. We set up Artemisia LLC and engaged an architect, Ten Over Studio, to come up with concepts.

Building a house on vacant land is inherently un-green, and by initiating this project, we know we are taking on a great responsibility. We felt that our goals for a home that would conserve natural resources and have a small footprint meshed well with the stated goals of the development, whose covenants have provisions for protecting wildlife, encouraging green building, and ensuring that structures blend in with the landscape.

Next Steps

We hope that by sharing ownership of our cabin among friends, and then sharing it with the public at large through nightly rentals, we will make most efficient use of our home base in the Valley. We also hope that by sharing our experiences as co-owners and as developers of a net-zero-energy home in this blog, we can inspire others to do the same. Thanks for following along. We'd love to hear any questions or thoughts you might have.