Building a Rustic, Remote Cabin in the
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We decided this was the year to build our cabin in the woods.
We bought 74 acres of land in Northern Colorado in 1988 with the intention of building a log cabin. Our original vision was to cut logs, hew them by hand, and build a rustic log cabin from scratch. In 1989 we moved to Europe and did not return to Colorado until 1993. As time passed and we grew older, the idea of building our own cabin from scratch changed to an idea of hiring it done. For one reason or another, we never took the plunge.
Over the years we got into showing dogs and that absorbed our summers. In 1995 we built a new home in Fort Collins, Colorado. We would occasionally drive to the land for a picnic. After buying a motor home in 1998, we would stay in it on the land over an occasional weekend.
When we would drive to the land we always passed by a company in LaPorte, Colorado who builds beautiful log buildings. After some research, we chose them to build our cabin. The company is named LogKnowledge.
We selected a cabin plan from several that were proposed by John Fogelson at LogKnowledge. It is a simple 1000 square foot ranch style cabin with a large screened-in front porch.
We started thinking about all the things we needed to do and decide:
|We were able to visit the land one weekend this month. Winter access is often a problem. The cabin site is far from any utilities. And, despite the high taxes we pay, Larimer County does not provide winter access. (The back roads into the land from Wyoming are maintained and plowed during winter but not the 5 or 6 miles of road inside Colorado.) During our visit, we staked out an access road and the corners of the cabin. The photo shown here is of the cabin site in winter. There was about 18 inches of snow on the ground at the cabin site. It will be interesting to see if the stakes have survived the snow we've received since then. (Above is a photo of the cabin site in the Summer. Below, the site in Winter.)|
This month we finalized the "log shell contract" and made a down payment on the log cabin itself. It will be built on the LogKnowledge site, then disassembled, transported to the cabin site and reassembled. The target delivery date is 15 July 2000.
|We also spent this month working out the details of a modest solar power system. We decided to work with Jade Mountain in Boulder, Colorado. Since our needs for electricity are modest, they recommended a small system that will provide about 2000 watt-hours/day of electricity from 7 solar panels mounted on the roof of the cabin. Electricity will be stored in 2 batteries. An inverter will provide 117 volt electricity to switched electric plugs located throughout the house. We also have a generator we bought about 3 years ago that we can use to charge batteries or provide electricity if we deplete the solar system.
We plan to put the batteries in a crawl space beneath the cabin, with the controls located in a utility closet. The generator will probably be homed in a small storage shed located on a concrete pad behind the house.
Here is a photo of Rick staking out the cabin site in February 2000.
The land is very diverse. It has huge aspens that Rick cannot even wrap his arms all the way around. And, it has a wide variety of pines, firs, and spruce trees. It has open spaces of high prairie sagebrush. There are many beautiful rock formations as well as two year around springs and a beaver pond.
Getting to the land requires a 2 hour drive from Fort Collins, minimum. And, there are many ways to get there. You can drive into Wyoming and then South. You can drive through Red Feather Lakes. You can drive up the Poudre Canyon to Chamber Lakes and come in that way.
No matter which way you choose though, there are many miles of dirt roads which are often rough with washboard.
Indiana, our Champion Bernese Mountain Dog and patriarch of the family is shown here laying among the rock formations on the land. The cabin is being built behind the group of trees on the upper-left part of the photo.
There is much wildlife in the area. Elk, deer, bobcats, cougars, bear, squirrels, owls, hawks and even badgers and wolverines.
Hummingbirds are common, always seeking out the brightly colored items we bring with us on a picnic.
|Here is a photo of an unusual aspen tree -- it has two distinct trunks that join into a single tree! We call this guy "Dick, the Tree".|
|The drawing above shows what the cabin will look like. This side view is of the east side. The drawing below is of the front of the cabin that, despite what the drawing says, faces north-east.|
This month LogKnowledge started on the log cabin shell -- well ahead of schedule. (The photo shows the progress in mid-April.) Also, we've been busy gathering up the information needed to start the process of site preparation and permits. We've had to make up detailed maps to show people how to find the cabin site. We also went back through our records to find the detailed meets-and-bounds descriptions.
Sometime this month, we are to take the site manager to the site so he can get a sense of the grade of the land and be able to start staking and grading as soon as we can get equipment in there. We hope there is not too much snow so we can get access to the site.
|Late April 2000
On the 21st we went with Ron, the site manager, to see the cabin site. There was a little mud and snow, but not much and we got to the site easily. This is not a typical year!
Ron inspected the site and got elevations so we know how much grade there is. It is not too bad and should go easily as long as we don't hit any big rocks.
We'll need to cut a road to the site -- about 100 yards, but that seems to be no problem either.
Ron was able to put a lot of our anxiety to rest. He seems confident that we will be able to put in a septic system for waste disposal. He agreed to get someone to come up and look at the site and assess the ability to drill a productive well for fresh water. The cabin will be located where there will be no trees blocking the sun for the solar electricity system...
Ron is also going to arrange for a surveyor to come up and verify the lot lines and cabin location so we can submit plans to the land owners association and the county.
|At their current pace, LogKnowledge is running about 2 months ahead of schedule on the log shell. Just our luck. It snowed in the mountains last weekend and it is sure to be wet and muddy. Can the site preparation catch up to the log shell?
This photo shows the cabin in late April.
Things have slowed down a bit. There has been snow on the land in late May, so site access was difficult for several days.
The log shell is almost done. Now we are waiting on the site to be made ready. There is a lot to do! Excavating a road, excavating the foundation (we think we will use a treated wood foundation), drill a well, dig a septic, ...
Today is Memorial day (when I'm writing this). It is very hot in Fort Collins -- well above 90 degrees. We were at the site today for a picnic with 5 of the dogs.
Things are going slowly now. The survey is complete. But, we are being held up by permits. Ideally, we only want to pay the excavator to go up one time to do to road, the crawlspace, and the septic system.
We have the forms and foundations permit, but are waiting on the septic permit. It seems that problem is getting someone qualified to do a perq test for the septic system to go there.
The photo to the left shows what the view from the front porch of the cabin will look like.
Update! The perq test is done and the county inspector will be on site Wed 19 July. Due to much needed rain over the past few days, the excavator is a little behind, but will be on site next Monday, the 24th. We are still given a good chance of having Thanksgiving at the cabin.
During the week of 24 July, a lot has happened. A road was cut. The crawl space was excavated, as was the septic system. We witched a well site. We think the foundation materials (marine treated lumber) were delivered, and the foundation crew was to start work. We won't know for sure until we visit on the weekend.
Our pristine beautiful meadow is pretty ugly right now. Mostly dirt! This photo is taken looking South toward the front of the cabin. In the foreground is the leach field for the septic system, in the background is the crawlspace for the cabin.
|We've been doing a little shopping this month. We bought a great antique oak dining table. It is 54" round with five chairs. We also bought a combination dresser and wardrobe which should work for the two of us for a while. It is not antique, but looks it. It was made locally and if we need another we can have a duplicate made.
Lynne has found a great bed headboard and footboard that we may get next week -- then we'll need a mattress.
We are shopping for a sleeper sofa, too.
But, the shopping is about done once we have a bed and a sofa.
|This is the new road that goes to the cabin. We planned a right turn to hide the cabin from the main road and provide some shelter and privacy.|
|Below is the excavation of the crawlspace done on July 24th and 25th. The near corner is the South-East corner of the cabin.|
|We have tentatively picked out some appliances. All our appliances have to work on propane or wood. While we will have some solar electricity, it may not be enough for electric appliances.
We chose a Bradford White hot water heater. A Servel refrigerator. And, an Amana propane stove and oven.
We still need to select a furnace.
And, there is still a lot of work to do on finalizing the solar system.
We have also chosen the stain and chinking colors. We will stain the exterior of the cabin a dark stain and the interior a medium-light stain. The chinking will have a slight hint of brown.
|The porch is going on the cabin!|
It is very hot and dry in Colorado this year. Perhaps you've heard of the forest fires here and throughout the West.
Fire is, of course, one of our major concerns. Last weekend we witnessed the start of a fire that eventually burned about 70 acres along County Road 80C about 6 miles West of Highway 287. A motorhome's brakes burned catching the entire motor home on fire. It was quickly consumed, and burned so hot with so many sparks that it caught the prairie on fire. Several people, including a local fire truck tried to put the blaze out. But, it was too few people with too much wind and the fire spread up the mountainside. By late afternoon slurry bombers and a 20 person fire crew had the fire under control.
A few days ago, lightning started a fire in Sand Creek Park about 4 or 5 miles from the cabin site. It burned about 20 acres. Quick response from a fire crew (and Ron!) and some much needed rain kept the fire contained.
|The first week of August has been productive. The cabin shell has been stained at the LogKnowledge site.
And, the foundation and subfloor have been constructed. I don't know what the next steps are, but I think we are getting pretty close to erecting the cabin on site!
On the left is the foundation and subfloor from "behind" the cabin, below the view is from the front of the cabin.
The terms "front" and "back" have caused a lot of confusion. To us, the "front" of the cabin is the side with the porch that faces North-East. However, to others the "front" is the door closest to the driveway and through which we always enter and leave.
|We have a lot more "dirt" on the site than we had expected. We will have to do some aggressive seeding of natural grasses this Fall, Winter, and next Spring. Otherwise, we are likely to have a cabin floor covered in muddy dog paw prints!
Even though I've just complained about he dirt, we are lucky in a way. There is a lot of decomposed granite in the soil, so when it is spread out it is like gravel. We've used native decomposed granite to form the road base for the new road, and to provide a base for most of the area around the cabin. After a little rain, it should work just like gravel.
Nevertheless, we still have some areas that are not covered by the decomposed granite and can justly be called "dirt"!
|During our August 4th visit to the site, we took a stroll down the road from the cabin into the bottom of the valley. We own the land on both sides of the valley.
It is cool and green in the bottom, and the dogs love to run along the road.
In Spring, a creek runs through the bottom of the valley and some of the dogs like to go swimming.
Things are really moving fast! Today we got a call that the cabin was being disassembled at LogKnowledge and would be moved the cabin site the next day.
We quickly drove to LaPorte to get a photo of the disassembled cabin. Here are the logs on a trailer.
|Oh yeah! They come with instructions!|
The cabin was moved and set up on Tuesday. We took these photos on Wednesday afternoon.
We have discovered that the cabin has an address! It is at 100 Hidden Meadow Lane. The land owners' association was asked by the county to name all internal roads this year. So, we knew the association road that bisects our land had a name, but we didn't know what it was. The local propane company scours the building permits for remotely located buildings, then solicits business from the owners. So, we found out our address from them.
Someone else knew there was a secluded "hidden" meadow there!
|The cabin went up in about 7 hours once they got the logs onto the site, which was not easy. They had to cut down more trees along the road in order to get the truck in.
You can see they have started on the roof. All backfill has been done, too.
August 13 update: The roof is on the South side. All rafters are in place.
Next week we should see the rest of the roof put in place as well as the porch. And, who knows what else?
|This week (14th of August) we've turned our attention to cabinets and the solar electric system.
We saw some cabinets we really liked at the local Home Depot. They are two toned, rustic, and not too expensive. We had a consultant at Home Depot design a very modest but workable kitchen countertop and cabinet layout. After the interior walls and the sheetrock in the kitchen are in place, we'll verify that the cabinets will work. If so, we'll order them and have them ready for installation.
I also contacted John Wood at Jade Mountain in Boulder to get restarted on the solar power system. The first step is to do a load analysis. To do that, we have to estimate the power consumed per hour for each appliance, then estimate the number of hours each day it will be used, and estimate the number of days each week it will be used. All this is entered into an Excel spreadsheet to calculate the size of the solar system (number of panels, number of batteries, and size of inverter).
In the panel to the right is a list of the electrical appliances we have planned for. By this list, we need about 2500 watt-hours of electricity per day. So, we will probably size the system a little bit larger than that.
The framing of interior walls is done. This includes the bathroom, the walls for the kitchen and a storage area in the middle of the cabin. The fireplace area has also been framed-in ready for the fireplace insert and the rock.
The joists are on the front porch now. The concrete pads for the front steps the back step and an 8' by 8' storage shed are all poured.
It has been rainy the past few days -- a welcome relief in the hot parched mountains. But, the rain makes outside work more difficult, too.
The solar electricity system has been ordered. We ended up with a system that pretty much met our budget and will be able to deliver about 4000 watt-hours of electricity per day! Lynne is happy that the toaster and hair dryer are still viable appliances.
I've bought some compact fluorescent light bulbs and am playing around with them at home. They provide great light for very little electricity.
|I re-measured the size of the kitchen area and found that we can add a little to our cabinet area. We could add counter space or a pull-out pantry.
Also, I used my GPS to "survey" the corners of the 2 parcels of land. We knew where most corners were because of existing stakes. However, I discovered that we owned some land we didn't know we owned -- and that we don't own some we thought we did! I'm glad I did the survey because now we won't trespass any more!
The next steps are to finish the front porch, cut out the windows and doors, and the plumber, electrician, and HVAC contractors will (we hope) start showing up the week of Labor Day.
A lot was accomplished this week. You can see from the photo that the windows and doors are now all cut to size and framed, ready for windows and doors to be installed.
Also, if you look carefully, you can see some ventilation pipes coming out of the roof. The rough plumbing was done too. The tub/shower is installed as are all the water lines, sewer lines, and propane lines.
The porch is still not done, although some progress was made. And, we discovered an error in the fireplace framing and it will have to be redone.
|This week, the first week of September, we finalized the cabinet design based on triple checked measurements. We are buying the cabinets at Home Depot, and they have arranged an installer from Cheyenne, Wyoming.
We also met with Ron to go over the electrical plan as well as appliances and many other small details that must be considered.
Everything is getting ordered -- the woodburning stove, the fireplace, and all the appliances.
Our goal is still to have our Thanksgiving dinner at the cabin. We'll see!
This photo shows the view out the dining room window looking West.
|This view is out the bedroom window looking North-East.
Notice the space left between the top window buck and the logs. This is for settling. The house is likely to "shrink" by about 2" or so as it settles over the next couple of years.
We got a bit of a shock this week when we received the prior month's bill for expenses. With the exception of one item, we are right on track. Some things have cost a little more, some a little less.
But, we were shocked by the cost of the building permit! We had expected something in the range of $1000, and it turned out to be over $4000. $2000 of the permit are for capital improvements to roads. This seems crazy for us to have to pay when we don't even get winter access to the land because the County won't plow the roads!
I've written a letter to the County asking for an exemption or reduction. I'm not hopeful, but I'll know that I tried.
|On Friday, 8 September we picked out stone for the fireplace. Actually, it is fabricated stone made at a small factory in Fort Collins. It is very realistic and is much lighter and easier to work with than natural stone.
The choice of cultured stone had an impact on the cost of the foundation -- it was lower since it did not have to support the weight of natural stone- about 3 times the weight of cultured stone.
We chose a mix of 5 colors of river rock. It should be ready in a couple of weeks. First, the fireplace opening has to be fixed, and the fireplace -- which should have been ordered on the 8th, must be installed.
This photo shows the cabin on 1 September.
We visited the cabin on Sunday, 10 September -- the same day the Broncos blew away the Falcons at Mile High Stadium.
The front porch, including the floor and roof is now done. Not much else is new.
The aspen are just beginning to change color. Some are already golden. The peak of color should come within the next couple of weeks. It has been so dry this year that it will be interesting to see how the aspen do.
The porch flooring is redwood -- a popular choice for deck material in Colorado.
We sat on the porch for long time enjoying the cool breeze and the view.
This week the facia was put up. It is a couple of levels of cedar. Cedar is also being used to trim around the foundation above the ground line.
The fireplace opening was resized to fit the fireplace insert.
But, then we got a scare. We learned of a new rule in Larimer County requiring all fireplaces and wood stoves that burn solid fuel be EPA approved. This means a fireplace with sealed doors and a catalytic converter! NOT the kind of ambience we were hoping for!
The rule was effective 1 July, 2000 and our building permit was submitted on 10 July, 2000.
I support this rule for installations in urban areas along the Front Range -- but 50 miles from nowhere?
I started planning my "exception process" strategy by calling the County and inquiring about the rule and any exceptions. I learned that any permit applications received prior to 1 July were exempt -- and, that we had submitted a Footings and Foundation permit, separate from the building permit, on 14 June, 2000. We were exempt from the new rule!
We visited the cabin on Friday afternoon. It was raining during the drive and began to snow as we got above 8000 feet. It was breezy, snowing, and cold -- about 29°F -- at the cabin site.
Facias were complete and the soffit work was started, as was the ceiling of the porch. The crew is doing a beautiful job on these details and we'll get pictures on this site soon.
The electrician was hard at work doing the rough electrical work. We've elected to put cans in the ceiling in the bathroom, kitchen and above the fireplace. We plan to use compact fluorescent lights in them -- we'll see if that gives us enough light. We also have a few other lights as well as plugs (to code).
Rick will be going to the site on Thursday the 28th to work with the electrician on installing the solar electric system. We won't finish it that day, but should get a good start.
We got about 5 inches of snow in Fort Collins over the weekend, so we are sure that at least that much fell in the mountains. But, it is supposed to melt within a day or two and return to daily highs in the 70s.
It is October 5th when I'm writing this. A lot has been happening, although it is probably not obvious from the photos. The rough plumbing is done -- including the propane lines. The rough electric has been done. A lot of finish and trim work is done -- the ceiling for the porch, the screened-in area of the porch, facia and soffits.
I'm particularly anxious about the solar electric system. Parts have been arriving slowly. We didn't get much done last week because the rack for the roof and the batteries were not delivered. The battery order got lost and we are still waiting. We've mounted the control panel in the closet, and I've built a battery box for the crawl space. But, I'm still not sure how it will all come together. The roof mount rack was lost for a while but has been located. I need to assemble it and determine its measurements. Then, we can put extra blocking under the roof to secure it. I'm worried about conduit runs, battery box ventilation, wire sizes, weatherizing, etc. I'm sure it will all work out. I've located a couple of professional PV system installers in the area and will hire one to help me and Wayne (the electrician) get everything installed and going next Thursday (I hope!)
The roof was supposed to be installed over the next few days. However, it is very cold, rainy and breezy. It will probably snow tonight!
We bought light fixtures over the weekend -- something for over the mirror in the bathroom, a hanging light for over the dining table, and a ceiling fan.
Today, we got the well permit. So, we can finally drill the well!
The knobs for the kitchen cabinets arrived!
The outside of the cabin has been re-stained. It is now quite dark, but we like it. Staining of the inside is complete -- we chose a much lighter stain for inside.
Since there is not much to see in new photos of the cabin, here are some photos taken during our drive to the cabin on October 6th. It was cold, cloudy and drizzling in Fort Collins. And, there was an ice fog during the drive to the cabin -- but, about half way there, the sun came out, it warmed up, and there was not a cloud in the sky! Obviously these photos were taken in the cold and ice fogged part of the trip!
|Here is the panel of controls for the solar system. On the upper left is the AC out and Generator in, on the upper right is the charge controller, the lower right is the PV panel disconnect and battery connect, and the center left is the inverter. This system will provide 4KW of power, the batteries will store about 10KW-hours, which should provide about 3 days of autonomy.|
|We successfully petitioned the county to rebate some of the building permit fees since this is just a vacation/weekend cabin. We will be getting check for a couple of thousand dollars back soon!
The metal roof should be installed on Mon, Tues, and Wed (the 9th, 10th, 11th of October). I'm planning to go up on Thursday the 12th to finish the solar system installation. It would be great to get that anxiety behind me -- and, to have electricity from something other than the noisy generator.
Chinking was started late last week. The whole look is different with the chinking in place. I'll add a photo soon.
|It is not unusual to see Ferruginous Hawks, Redtail Hawks, Buzzards, Golden Eagles or Bald Eagles on the drive to the cabin. This Ferruginous Hawk was sitting on a fence post in Wyoming while we were driving in that way in mid October.|
|Antelope are also very common. Sometimes we see herds of 20 or more.|
I continue to beat on the solar electric system. The roof was done on the South side of the cabin a couple of weeks ago, so Jake and Curtis (the all-around carpenters that do everything from cut logs with chain saws to drywall, staining to trim work) and I got the UniRac solar panel mounting racks mounted on the roof. We spent a long time with a compass, levels, a protractor and a tape measure debating angles.
In retrospect, we should have positioned the cabin so that it faced 14° to the West of magnetic North (or true North). Then we could have mounted the racks "square" to the roof. However, the cabin points about 21° East of magnetic North, so the panels had to be mounted at about a 35° angle "unsquare" to the roof. The photo here shows what I mean.
Once the racks were mounted they seemed very flimsy given the weight distribution of the PV panels and the likelihood of high winds. So, I bought some strips of 1/4" thick aluminum and created diagonal braces. Perhaps I should have used channel or L shaped aluminum. I'll monitor the behavior of the racks in the wind and see if a change is needed.
The solar panels may destroy some of the "rusticness" of the cabin, but the electricity they provide will be welcome.
The electricians came up one day (the main electrician I'd been working with is Elk hunting for a couple of weeks...) and got all the conduit ready.
The batteries also arrived, and I have wrestled them into the battery box in the crawl space -- there are 12 of them at 113 pounds each.
I've spent some time trying to figure out how to actively vent the battery box. During charging, explosive hydrogen gas will accumulate in the box. Some installations rely on a passive ventilation system to vent the lighter-than-air gas outside. However, I want to use a booster fan.
So, I've been going back and forth with John at Jade Mountain on how to use an auxiliary relay on the inverter to power the booster fan when the batteries are charging. I think I've got it figured out. We'll see.
Deer hunting seasons starts this weekend! This young lady better start hiding better!
|Note the exterior chinking is done. The chinking is done by stuffing a solid cylinder of dense foam in between the logs, then covering the foam with a cement-like caulking.
Note also the windows are installed.
And, from the photo showing the solar panels above, you can see that the metal roof is on.
Today, I went to the site to interconnect the batteries, but there were no washers in the bag of hardware and the bolts were small enough I didn't think they were getting a good connection.
I measured for the battery box venting. I'll use 2" PVC that will climb from the box at a slow rise until it exits under the front porch. It will be assisted by a fan that pulls air through the battery box and vents it through the PVC anytime the batteries are charging. (There is a relay on the inverter that can control this.) This is necessary to avoid a build-up of explosive hydrogen gas while charging the batteries.
The infamous "battery box" is shown here. All the batteries are wired except two -- the wire supplied was too short. The yellow wires entering from the left are temperature sensors so the battery charger can adjust according to battery temperature. On the right you can see the battery box ventilation system. The "bulge" in the PVC is a fan that comes on when the batteries are charging. (Of course, there is a tight fitting lid, not shown.)
Today we learned that we needed to increase the height of the chimney by 4 feet. Apparently, the fireplace will draw best with a 16 foot rise in the chimney -- we had a 12 foot rise. Since we don't want to risk having smoke blowing back into the cabin, we made the change. That means more stone must be ordered.
Also, it appears we will need a well pump that is powered by 220 Volts. So, I'll need to order and install a step-up transformer to get from the 120 volts supplied by the inverter.
The costs keep going up and the probability of Thanksgiving in the cabin seems to be going down.
|November 23rd - Thanksgiving Day
We did not meet our goal of cooking our Thanksgiving meal in the cabin. Weather foiled our plans.
It has been a month since I updated this site, so there is a lot to talk about. I'll try to make it short.
The weather turned very cold during the first week of November. We got the coldest weather of the year in Fort Collins with highs in the teens and twenties and lows in the single digits. At our house it got down to about 3° one night. And, it snowed here and in the mountains. The weather put off many of the subcontractors so work got delayed. In the last week the temperatures have risen, some of the snow has melted, and people are back to work up at the cabin site.
The man who was doing the chinking rolled his pickup truck off a small cliff on the road to the cabin. He is okay and his chinking machine are okay, but the truck was totalled.
Here is what has been done:
A lot still needs to be done:
I'm hoping that most of this can be done at the beginning of next week and that an inspection of Wednesday the 29th could result in a certificate of occupancy. We'll see. I'm probably overly optimistic. I'm currently planning to rent a truck and haul furniture and supplies to the cabin on Thursday the 30th -- my Dad's birthday. Maybe we'll celebrate his birthday in the cabin instead of Thanksgiving!
Quite a bit of work will need to be done next Spring still. The external masonry, the screens for the porch, final grading, etc.
The pine wainscoating (stained) and the plank pine floor (unfinished) is shown here.
|Here are the kitchen cabinets.
As we get to the end of November, our new goal is to spend Christmas in the cabin. However, one more good snow storm and we could be unable to get to the site until next May or June!
The solar electric system nor any of the generators are powerful enough to run a floor sander -- so, we will probably need to pull a much more powerful generator up there.
And there is still no certainty on when the well pump service (Wayne's Well Pump Service) will go on site to install the pump and get us water. And, the plumbers won't go on site until there is water. And, the electrician doesn't want to make another trip until the well pump people are there!
|The solar electric system seems to be working properly. On Wednesday the 15th of November, I met Wayne (the electrician) at the cabin site. While he worked on inside wiring, fixtures, etc. I got on the slippery, snowy, cold roof (the temperature was in the teens) and wired the PV array. Jake had brought a full-body harness which I used and tied myself to the solar panel racks. It saved my life more than once. It was cold and miserable, but I got it done. For the first time, we were able to switch on a light switch and a light would come on. This is something we take for granted everyday -- but was like a miracle to me that day!
Now, most of the power tools run off the solar electric system. The batteries can be charged from the generator or the PV panels. Yesterday (the 22nd) the panels were generating about 28 Amps of current at voltages around 26 to 28 Volts.
|Here is a nice photo of the fireplace, hearth and mantle. The stone is a fabricated river rock in five colors. You would never know!
We hope we can get the floors done and the wood stove installed this week.
We know the propane company is stalling and now promising a propane tank and installation next Monday (the 4th of December.)
There is so little left to do to make the cabin habitable, and so much trouble trying to get it done!
|This photo shows the whole living area. There will be a sleeper sofa in front of the fireplace. The mantle still needs to be stained.
We carted our portable picnic table up to the cabin, set it up in front of the fireplace, and had turkey sandwiches on Friday after Thanksgiving.
The well pump and pressure tanks were installed on 30 November.
The well is 320' deep, the pump is at 300'. Hydrostatic pressure caused the well casing to fill to within 75' of the surface. That means there is over 300 gallons of water stored in the well casing.
We installed two pressure tanks and one drainback tank. When the pump turns off, all water in the first storage tank -- the drainback tank -- flows back into the well emptying the pipes between the well and the house. This is to prevent freezing. (Although the lines are 6 feet deep.)
The other two tanks are pressure tanks that will, together, hold about 30 gallons of water at 50 psi. When the pressure reaches 30 psi, the pump comes on and refills to 50 psi again.
The whole system can be easily drained by opening a valve in the crawlspace.
Our latest dilemma is insurance. We have our homeowners, auto, motor home, and liability insurance with State Farm, so I figured they'd be willing to carry our vacation cabin too. Wrong! They refused to carry it. Our agent put us in touch with an Allstate agent that, after hearing our situation from the State Farm agent, assured him that they could carry us. Wrong! Now I am investigating a variety of local and independent agencies.
We are 25 miles from the nearest fire station (although there is fire fighting equipment located within the Sand Creek Park association.) That seems to be a problem.
I'm expecting to pay high premiums and have high deductible, but our main need is for catastrophic coverage and liability. This is a last minute disappointment.
UPDATE, December 7th!
A local insurance broker, Reidman Insurance, has provided us with coverage through Auto Owners Insurance. The deductibles and rates are as good as Allstate and State Farm originally quoted. This is a big relief! The application is in the mail.
The schedule looking forward is:
Monday & Tuesday: Final plumbing, final electrical. This includes hooking the water storage tanks to the household plumbing, installing the water heater, installing the sinks and faucets, and installing the refrigerator and stove. The heating contractor should hook up the forced air heater. And, the ceiling fan, solar system GFI, and remaining sockets should be wired and trimmed.
Also, Suburban Propane should deliver and connect the 500 gallon propane tank.
Wednesday: The wood cook stove should be installed. The cabin should be cleaned well.
Thursday: The wood floor will be cleaned and sanded then stained.
Friday and Saturday: No activity. We want the stain on the floor to soak in and dry well before there is any traffic. The cabin will be kept heated.
Sunday, 10 December 2000: We will move some furniture into the cabin!
Here you can see the various "utilities" that are behind the cabin: the propane tank, the well head and the storage shed which contains the generator.
I got a call from Jake on the 8th of December.
All internal wood surfaces have now been sprayed with a coat of "clear coat" -- a varnish or poly coating, I'm not sure. The slate is grouted. The propane tank has been installed. Suburban Propane from Laramie, Wyoming ended up delivering and installing the tank. They will also be the supplier of propane. This makes a lot of sense since it is only one hour from Laramie to the cabin, but 2 to 3 hours from Fort Collins. The heater is running!
The plumbers and electrician have still not finished. This is a big disappointment. They are supposed to finish early next week and we've planned a final inspection for Wednesday the 13th of December. However, there is a cold Siberian front coming in on Sunday that is supposed to drop temperatures below zero and deliver a lot of snow! Will it ever get done?
I've canceled the move of furniture this Sunday. I had some friends lined up to help...
It has been bitterly cold with highs in the teens and lows below zero -- here in Fort Collins. Up at the cabin site, no doubt it is even colder. And, we've had some snow.
Nevertheless, I heard from Jake today. He had been at the site all day. The plumbers showed up on schedule and, I assume, finished the plumbing -- with one small exception. We put an 18" deep vanity in the bathroom and they were expecting a 24" deep vanity, so the sink didn't fit. I hope that is a small problem with an easy fix.
Also, the inverter would not run electrical appliances -- including the heater. Jake says that it kept tripping off. The battery voltage was down to about 22Volts and I've got the low voltage disconnect on the inverter set to 22 Volts, so that is probably the problem. The main question is "is it reasonable to expect the batteries to have discharged to 22 Volts with 2 days of no charge, having run the heater fan off and on during that time, in temperatures that are probably in the high 30s (in the crawlspace)?"
They were able to get work done by using the generator. Maybe that gave the batteries some charge -- don't know.
I don't think I'll really understand the system and how to optimize it until I've lived up there for a few days.
Today was a big day.
A lot of the final trim work was done -- cleaning, touch up, etc. The electrical is almost finished. The generator is wired into the inverter through conduit, and is wired into the right inputs (we had to knock a hole in the wall to get access to the inverter wiring and change the input from a grid input to a generator input). Most electrical trim is done. The lights are all installed and working, the ceiling fan works great, and we installed a light and electrical socket in the shed.
We were able to heat the cabin with the wood stove most of the day (and it was in the teens outside with a lot of wind). The oven actually got up to cooking temperatures.
We also turned on the water and hot water heater. All sinks are installed and working. Even the fan in the bathroom is working now!
We are almost ready for inspection, but the inspectors aren't working again until after Christmas. The only thing missing is the refrigerator and propane stove. Ron was bringing them up in his truck today when it broke down. So, he didn't make it.
I met a guy who lives at Sand Creek Park year-around. He and his wife are building a cabin from scratch and living in a trailer at their site. His name is Steve. Steve lays concrete and his business is slow right now (he does flatwork). So, he offered to do some work around our place. Today, he shoveled the driveway to the cabin (there was about 8" of snow on it!) And he cut some wood for the fireplace.
It is great to have someone in the area year-around to keep an eye out and to do these kinds of chores that I can't get to yet.
Lately I've become intrigued with the idea of getting an old pickup truck with a snow plow and keeping it up at the cabin. The truck would be very handy for hauling wood, trash, (and getting some furniture up there), and the snow plow could be very useful in the winter! Lynne doesn't like the idea, but I'm annoying her by looking around anyway. I'm going to test drive an '84 Ford F150 with a plow tomorrow...
Here you can see the kitchen area with all appliances installed. I'd like to get a butcher-block table to put in the middle of this area and provide some additional counter space.
|Here is Indy playing Santa. You can also seen the railing around the steps at the front of the cabin. They will be stained to match the cabin exterior next Spring.
Merry Christmas everyone!
December 28 & 29
Finally, we got a chance to spend a couple of nights in the cabin and use it as it was intended. However, we did so illegally.
We had a final inspection done by a county inspector on Wednesday the 27th. We didn't pass. There are a few problems. 1) The propane tank was installed uphill of the cabin -- it must be downhill so any propane leak will not flow downhill toward the residence. 2) We have not gotten the okay from the wildfire mitigation people, so I need to schedule an inspection from them. 3) We don't have a final electrical inspection.
Still, we went up on the 28th to spend a couple of nights.
On Tuesday, Rick bought an 84 Ford F150 4X4 pickup truck with a Northman snow plow. We got a good price for it and the pickup will be handy year-round and the plow will be an essential tool for the winter. Lynne has nicknamed the truck Beastie (said with a Scottish accent.) We drove Beastie -- loaded with supplies -- and the Tahoe -- loaded with dogs -- up on Thursday afternoon. We actually needed the plow to get access since the road had 2-foot snow drifts in places.
We turned on the cabin: turn on the propane, light all pilots, start the generator to charge the batteries, turn on the water, build fires in the wood stove and fireplace, turn on the heater, bring in wood,...and cooked our first meal -- spaghetti with bottled sauce -- in the cabin.
After eating, we went outside to walk the dogs. It was very dark with no moon. And, it was cold, dry and clear. We have never seen so many stars. The Milky Way was very obvious. There are no lights to interfere with star gazing, and the altitude, temperature, and dryness of the air all help. It was awesome!
We blew up an air mattress (which was a favorite place for the dogs to lie), and had a good nights sleep.
The next morning, Rick put chains on Beastie and started plowing the roads near the cabin. He was unable to tighten one chain as much as he wanted, and sure enough, it was loose enough that it hit the brake fluid line on the left front wheel and broke it. Actually, you don't really need brakes with low 4-wheel-drive, but Rick decided to get it fixed anyway. He called our emergency road service and got the name of recommended shops in Laramie. A couple of hours later, the tow truck showed up and left with Beastie -- headed toward the Chevy dealership in Laramie.
Lynne started a stew -- cooking it on the wood stove, but had to interrupt dinner to drive Rick into Laramie to pick up a repaired Beastie. Driving back was very dark and a bit scary -- 30 miles of dirt roads that are not well marked or maintained.
When we got back, Lynne finished the stew (it was great!) And we simply sat in front of the fire and talked for hours -- no TV, no Computer, no Telephone.
The next morning we both felt bad with colds, so we packed up, shut down the cabin systems, and drove back to Fort Collins.
Well, it is the 4th of May 2001 when I am writing this. I haven't done a very good job of keeping this site up-to-date. But, not much has been happening. All construction has stopped for the winter and the only activity at the cabin has been occasional visits for a day or maybe for a weekend.
The weather this winter has been "normal" -- certainly wetter and snowier than the past few years, which is good. But, it has kept us from getting access any time we want.
Still, we have been able to visit the cabin for a day or even for a weekend several times.
During our visits we have hung some curtains, added some rugs, brought up more supplies, and even hung a small cuckoo clock.
We have found that the cabin "works" very well. We can pretty much heat it with the wood stove. The fridge and propane stove work well. We have no problem with water. The shower is super with plenty of hot water. And, the solar system seems to be working very well.
We have spent as many as 3 days in cloudy weather and still had electricity (without using the generator). Of course, we conserve under those conditions and use oil lamps, wood for heat, etc.
We went up to the cabin on the 20th of April for a long weekend. It was cloudy, but dry and warm. (The week before we had to hike into the cabin because the snow was so deep we could not drive the last few hundred yards!)
We had a great time. We walked the dogs, put together a puzzle, talked a lot, ate well, and slept well. I even took the plow off Beastie (shown to the right) assuming we would not need it any more.
But, when we woke up on Sunday morning there was 6-7 inches of fresh snow on the ground and it was snowing at a rate of more than an inch an hour!
We had to make a quick decision. Should we pack up quickly and try to get out to civilization? Or, should we stay and probably get snowed in for 2 or 3 days?
We would have stayed -- it was so quiet and beautiful -- and, we had plenty of supplies -- except dog food! We had 7 of the dogs and no more food.
So, we packed quickly. I put chains on the Tahoe. And, at a crawl in 4 wheel drive, we made our way out of the mountains, over the plains of Wyoming and into Laramie. A drive that usually takes about 40 minutes took us over 3 hours.
And, when we got to Laramie around noon, we found that ALL roads were closed. We could not get home by any route.
|Above, you can see the road leading away from the back of the cabin. Below is a photo of the Tahoe loaded and ready to go and a photo out the front of the Tahoe -- miles and miles of snow. At times we couldn't even see the road!|
So we checked into a Motel 6 and spent the day and night in Laramie. We bought some dog food (can you imagine 7 big dogs and 2 people in a small motel room during a blizzard?) and got everyone fed. (We had pizza.)
Early the next morning only one road had opened, but it was the road between Laramie and Fort Collins, so we headed home.
The next big challenge is to get Log Knowledge up to the cabin site to finish the interior work. The exterior will need to wait a bit longer.
Wow! I was just going over the web site in preparation to update it and see that my last entry was in May, 2001! It is August 9th, 2001 as I write this. Activity during the summer can be summed up pretty quickly though.
The cabin is done. We have completed all inspections -- including a final inspection -- and have a Certificate of Occupancy. There are a few minor things that LogKnowledge must follow-up on, and it has been very difficult to get them to finish! This seems to be the case with new construction. I am withholding payment of their final "contractor profit" amount until I'm satisfied. We have two big problems left: there are still missing window screens, and, the roof leaks.
The leak in the roof is so bad that water just pours into the utility area when it rains. Water soaks the wall, the floor, and the propane heater.
The good news is that we have been able to spend some great weekends at the cabin.
We moved furniture in early in the summer and that really helped make it a "home".
We've enjoyed the screened-in front porch more than we ever imagined. It is like another room, and during summer when the temperatures are in the 80's, it is great to sit out there and enjoy a summer breeze without the bugs.
We've had a lot of birds, including hummingbirds. We hear the coyotes at night. We've seen deer in the meadow. And, yesterday there was a moose that walked right by the cabin!
Among the critters are some pack rats. They have decided to nest in the engine compartment of Beastie. Every time we go up we destroy the nests, but they have begun to chew on wires. So, the pack rats must go. I've (reluctantly) begun to poison them, but, of course the dogs easily find the sick or dead rats. I guess this may be a perpetual problem.
This summer has been a little wetter than last summer so we have not had the extreme fire damage.
You can see from this photo that the exterior rock on the fireplace is done.
Now, the chores begin!
I've spread some native wild grass seed mixture (along with a few wildflowers) to begin growing back a "meadow" and to prevent erosion. We've begun hanging some antique tools and pictures. But, there is so much to do!
I put a cellular phone antenna on the roof and bought a 3W booster. We now have excellent telephone reception from the cabin -- a relief in case of an emergency.
We need to cut, split and stack more firewood in preparation for winter. I want to change the angle of the solar panels from 45 degrees to 55 degrees or so. We are getting plenty of electricity in the summer, so the increased angle should give us more insolation (sun exposure) in winter and will help shed snow better.
We always arrive with a list of chores, then tend to simply sit and watch the birds, or the clouds, or the trees, or put together a puzzle.
Here is a picture of the moose that visited on 8 August. Ron had a digital camera and quickly shot this and the following two photos.
|September 11, 2001
We planned to spend the entire week of 10 September 2001 at the cabin. It is so remote and so quiet, it provides a real sense of serenity and peace. Often, the only "unnatural" sounds we hear for several days in a row are the sounds of jet airliners flying way overhead. We had never gotten into the habit of listening to the radio (all we had at this time was the radio in the truck and a weather radio). So, we knew nothing of the events of 9/11 until a friend phoned us later in the week. It was only then that we realized we had just experienced something we will never experience again -- several days of complete silence. A silence that we'd like to dedicate to those whose lives were lost in a trajedy beyond imagination. We've often said that the world could end while we were at the cabin and we'd never know. Now we know how true that is.
|Before we knew it, it was Fall again! And, this year we got to fulfill our fantasy of having Thanksgiving dinner at the cabin. Here you see a photo of the turkey we cooked in the wood stove! We had all the trimmings, too.
The Fall color was not very good this year. A lack of moisture late in the summer and then some very cold weather ruined the aspen leaves.
Before we knew it, it was Winter again! Of course, the dogs love it in the winter.
We've bought a boom-box to provide music and let us keep in touch with the world...
|It can easily reach windchill temperatures of -50 degrees Farenheit. On this day, the temperature was in the teens and the wind was blowing very hard. I have a hand held weather station called a Kestrel, and I often use it to measure weather data.
Winter access has been a real problem this winter (2001-2002). We did not visit the cabin very often for a variety of reasons. One of our dogs (Indiana) had surgery on vertebrae in his spine, Rick broke his wrist, we had a litter of two puppies, and when we did try to get in we were often stopped by snow drifts.
|For a good portion of the winter we left the propane on and heated the cabin to a temperature of 45 degrees. So, we did not have to "winterize" by shutting off the water, draining the pipes, etc.
However, Rick eventually did winterize because we were not spending much time there and because we were using more propane than expected. We may have to upgrade to a larger propane tank if we want to leave some heat on in winter.
But, it is good to know that even on the shortest days of winter there was enough electricity to power the gas forced air heat.
|As we enter April, 2002, we are getting excited about being able to visit the cabin every weekend again. We've got lots of plans. Rick wants to spread more grass seed to prevent erosion and cut down on dust and dirt. It would be great to build an outdoor barbecue and put a picnic table under the aspens. Of course, we need to cut and split more wood. We want to put some bird feeders on posts on the west side of the cabin...|