4.5.2014 – Saturday (revised 4/16)
What size is the cabin? That is the #1 question I’ve been getting the past few months. Looks like a good time go over some details on the design and dimensions of the cabin. The Ol’ man dug up the last remaining set of prints for the cabin allowing me a good look at them. The prints are roughly 90% accurate. However, there are a few notable changes.
- The front (large) porch roof is integrated into the main trusses; if the supports were taken away, the porch roof is engineered to be self supported even under heavy snow load. As a result there is a flat ceiling on the porch instead of the pitched ceiling in the plans.
- The stairs are not as steep as depicted. Either because of a building code or the unreasonably steep angle, it was modified during construction. The landing at the bottom is also only one step, not two. As a result, the closets intruded too far into the stair way and the floor of the closet was reduced for more clearance when walking down the stairs.
- The bathroom has a full tub/shower insert and the toilet is positioned next to the sink. Insulation was placed between the shower insert and the log wall to keep the tub warmer in winter.
- The small porch off the main entry way was added by the head carpenter and is not shown in the plan. The recessed light in this small porch and the shelter offered by the porch roof really add convenience in snow and rain.
- The two footings in the basement floor may be slightly left or right of drawn to accommodate our plans for finishing the basement as a game room.
Click each photo to enlarge. Having enjoyed the cabin for about 4 years now there is a surprisingly short list of design features that either I or the Ol’ man would dare change. An extra log in the wall would have moved the bedroom ceiling fans up just a little bit more and not added much to the overall cost of the cabin. A loft and two more solar panels on the pole make the design wish-list but were ruled out due to cost. Another wish list item ruled out due to cost is engineered basement floor trusses (would eliminate the two supports and keep all plumbing and gas lines concealed within the trusses – a benefit when we decide to finish the ceiling in the basement). The bathroom may have benefitted from an insulated toilet (it sweats from time to time) and a vent fan to evacuate the humidity from the shower – though there is a window above the shower). The cabin was constructed on a remarkably efficient budget due in part to the downturn in the economy. If constructed today, I doubt my blog would feature a log cabin, log sided garage, and a nearly finished basement. One choice the Ol’ man regrets is going with a oak veneer floor in the upstairs. It’s real wood with a factory finish over an engineered wood material. It looks nice, but we’re starting to notice some small deteriorations that would not occur with a solid wood floor. On the garage we should have put 8′ garage doors instead of 7′ doors for more clearance, specifically to better accommodate the side-by-side and full size truck. If we redid the garage it would have an extra row of block (2nd row), span a few more feet in width, and have a 9′ wide, 8′ tall main garage doors and a 7′ by 8′ high secondary door.
- The four large 57 watt CFLS in the garage (~3,500 lumen) are placed so that when both garage doors are open the lights are set back just enough not to be covered by the door.
- A hand winch is mounted to the wall with two pulleys to create an overhead hoist good for about 600 pounds lift. The crank style winch has proven faster and easier to use than a more expensive electric overhead winch.
- Ceiling height is 9′ 2″ overall.
- The wall LP heater can raise the temperature in the garage fairly quickly in winter (for skinning and quartering deer)
- There is a spare mini-fridge set up for freezing meat during the warmer months of deer hunting season
- Old kitchen cabinets have been salvaged and repurposed for shop storage
- Concrete slab is 5-bag mix with re-rod outside edges with wire reinforcements through slab and is 4 inches thick.
Knowing what we know now about concrete slabs, the Ol’ man would have built up an even sand base under the garage slab, used 1/2″ re-rod spaced every 2′ throughout the slab (instead of just wire), and used a 6-bag mix. Our soil is mostly clay and rock with a 12-18″ covering of black dirt and detritus. We removed the dirt and have an adequate sand base under the garage, but because the garage is not heated in winter and frost sets in, a carefully constructed sand base that has a uniform thickness would have increased our chances having a slab that won’t crack after a few seasons. The slab needs to float – that’s where a stronger slab with a thick, uniform base to float on is important. Currently we have a nice long crack in the slab. The cabin gets lots of airflow on top of the ridge, if we were in a hollow where condensation is common the slab would benefit from a vapor barrier and insulation underneath.
An interesting question we get up in snow-country is why did we choose shingles over a metal roof. The shingles are rated for 30-something years (we’d be happy with 25). Aside from the cost premium for metal, we did not want snow build up. Metal roofs are well-known and advertised to shed snow. That’s a good trait if there is concern over the roof holding up under a snow load. Take a closer look at the plans and note the roof has a load rating of 50 pounds per square foot (psf). With some simple unit conversion, 50 psf is equal to 9.1″ of water, 9.9″ of ice, 118″ of fresh snow, or 30″ of compressed snow. At this point a snowbank sitting right next to the cabin or garage is more of an inconvenience than some snow on the roof. With snow butted against a structure we would have to worry about water intrusion when the spring thaw begins. We already get a small amount of water coming in through the row of block around the garage in the generator corner (we’ll be sealing this over summer). Additionally, the only metal roof that I’ve liked the look of imitates the physical shape of shake shingles. It is quite expensive.
I hold the main carpenter and cabinet maker in high regard because they utilized a style I would call “legacy construction”. They take advantage of historical principles of design that utilize strength and longevity, but whose construction is achieved through modern techniques. One example is the edge trim outlining the entrance to the hallway. The trim is a solid pine 2×2 that has been sculpted into an “L” shape. The trim sleeves the edges and is impervious to tear out. Using a single piece of trim where two separate pieces adjoining along an edge would be adequate, but forgoes the simplicity and durability of a single piece. The cabinet maker placed solid wood panels (3/4″ thickness) on the end of the counter and I still find things to admire about his joinery when I visit the cabin. He also constructed the L-shaped counter top in his shop, making it a single solid peace. Simple and durable.
There are plenty of posts going over details that I like about the cabin as well as some of the projects undertaken. To balance things out here is a list of what the Ol’ man and I really like about the design and construction of the cabin:
- Glass block windows in basement
- Vaulted ceiling in living room
- Carpeted bedrooms
- Tiled bathroom and entryway
- Free-standing wood burner
- Large windows in every room
- Window grids really dress up exterior
- Roman shades on windows
- Covered porches on both sides
- Tall ceiling in basement
- Egress window for basement (allows for sleeping quarters in downstairs)
- Half wall by kitchen opens up main room
- Minimal space wasted as hallways
- Garage set back so living room has view of maple ridge
- Cork flooring in basement is reasonably warm
- 8″ pine D-logs
- Placement of Inverter control panel and battery monitor in cabin
- 12V DC and 110V AC power supplies
- The gate! and the location
The utilities of the cabin were all added during construction. Because we cleared forest for the cabin we had the burden of drilling a well and adding a septic. Michigan building codes are great fun in this regard and now we have a septic that has the capacity for a 3-bed, 2-bath house for our 2-bed, 1-bath cabin that is occupied 120 days per year with an average occupancy of about 2 people. The septic is overbuilt (1000 gallon tank) so it can safely be considered low-maintenance. Our biggest concern is making sure that the drain field is kept tree-free and that tree-roots don’t cause problems several decades down the road. The well is 110-115 feet deep and utilizes an off-grid friendly 110V Grundfos soft start submersible pump. The pressure tank is a bit oversized additional water use when the power system is turned off and set to 30/50 psi to accommodate the 110V pump/well depth . This fall (2013) a water softener was added per Mother’s request. We manually recharge the softener since the power is not consistently on and our water use is relatively low. The propane tank is owned (not rented) and we shop around and pre-buy propane. The tank is 500 gallons and as far as use is concerned, it was filled mid-October 2013, and as of April 1, 2014 was at 40%. This will vary depending on how many nights the cabin is occupied in winter, but keep in mind that winter 2013-2014 was a record cold winter. The thermostat is set at 42-45°F for the winter months. When we stay we rely solely on wood heat. The new propane heater in the basement is also set at 42-45°F as a back up. Even though the plumbing is PEX material and the water is manually shut off when we leave, a cracked toilet from a freeze would still be a pain to deal with and neither the Ol’ man or I would like to test the freeze-resistance of PEX or risk freezing and exploding beer bottles and soda cans in the pantry.
There were a lot of choices to make when building the cabin. As in the plans, we have 3″ of pink foam on the basement walls, and blown cellulose insulation in the roof (with vapor barrier). The garage is insulated with R19 fiberglass insulation in the walls and ceiling. We chose logs for looks. What we are finding is that the logs are relatively low-maintenance on the interior of the cabin (finished with a UV-protector) but the outside will require periodic maintenance with Sikkens. The logs also provide a thermal mass which is convenient in winter and summer. In summary, when the logs are warm they tend to stay warm, and when cool, tend to stay cool. We chose slider windows (instead of double hung) due to cost. Adding covered porches instead of a deck added cost but the shade in summer and the weather protection for the decking are two benefits we are currently enjoying. Most of our gas appliances are electronic ignition to avoid a pilot light. Since the cabin is not a permanent residence, we like to minimize the number of pilot lights on when we are not around. It also gives us control over the water heater so we can selectively recharge our hot water supply once a day. The stove is also electronic ignition but with a big downside. The stove has a glow-plug that stays on whenever the oven is in use. Power consumption for the glow-plug is on the order of 400 watts! Without power the stove will not work. Here is a previous post with more information on our appliance power use. Appliances that have pilot lights are the two gas heaters and the fridge. The fridge is made by Dometic and offers up 8 cu ft of space with a 1.6 cu ft freezer. Fuel use is around 2 gal/wk. We have a sump-pump pit but after 4 years have never had so much as a drop of water in it. The pit is drained out the side of the hill with a PVC pipe with a screened end. In winter we cover the pipe with foam insulation and cover it with a board and a brick. The 12V DC system is one of our favorite decisions. I’ve covered it before on the blog and it will be covered again. It’s’ that awesome. We presently have six 12V accessories:
- 2-fixture LED motion sensor spot light on garage
- garage LED workbench light
- garage service door LED light
- 12V automotive outlet charging station (4x sockets)
- basement gas heater fan box
- 3-fixture kitchen lights on timer
The 12V LEDs offer virtually no downsides. They run cool, use little power, and have roughly a 30 watt incandescent-equivalent output per fixture. The timed light in the kitchen is a great night light while the garage service door and bench light make arriving to camp after dark a bit more convenient. 12V LED was a gateway to replacing our existing CFLs with LEDs cabin-wide. The post off-grid system :: diagrams has been updated with the AC LED conversion. The upgrade was done in 2012 and we haven’t looked back since that time. The biggest advantage of LEDs (other than power consumption) is the instant-on nature. CFLs take far too long to warm up when used in exterior applications – especially in winter. The lighting quality and choice offered by LEDs is another advantage. See the post 12V LED lights :: observations for more on lighting spectrum.
Lastly, some thoughts on how to deter or prevent theft. Our previous camp was broken into and a number of curious things were stolen (frozen pizza, firewood sling, and some tasteful magazines from the 1970′s renowned for witty and intelligent commentaries on social and political matters). The break-in demonstrated the value of not keeping valuables at a non-permanent residence (guns, jewelry, hunting gear, electronics, etc…) I’m not going to discuss exactly what we do for security, but I have some suggestions. The number one way to deter theft is to always be at the cabin… or make it look like you are home. Motion lights can help, but if the locals are going to rob you they’ll know when you are home or away. In addition to lights, a garage where a car can be parked makes it harder to tell when you are home or away. Speaking specifically about a camp I’m not convinced strong locks make much difference. Any lock can be overcome with the appropriate amount of time or force. If on the end of a dead end or gated road, don’t advertise that there is a nice cabin at the end of it. I prefer a rusty gate and a weather worn Do Not Trespass sign. Also do not post the location of your camp on the internet and especially do not post GPS tagged photos (pretty much any photo taken with a smart phone at present). There is software for adding or removing GPS data from photos. I am very diligent about stripping location data from my photos before posting – I have been Geotagging since 2005. Trail cameras are another good security option. They are nearly impossible to find (especially if you have more than one!) and there is a good offering that allows cellular data connections at a reasonable price for remote surveillance. With our current state of technology, even the would-be-thief not burdened with an abundance of brains is likely to take a “Video Surveillance in Use” sign into consideration. A handful of companies make trail cameras specifically for catching license plates and now with true infrared flash it’s getting harder to get away with unsavory activities, even at night.
This post took a bit more research and time to assemble than most of my previous entries. It’s been in the works in some form or the other for over a month now. I’ve searched through old e-mails, my notes, and had at a least a dozen conversations with the Ol’ man on the technical details of the cabin and garage. As always, questions welcomed :-)
Revised for accuracy on 4/16/2014