Sunday, January 15, 2017

2014 - Start the log cabin build

We broke ground on the cabin build in August 2014. The site we selected was up on the hill about 150 feet higher in elevation from the where we had built the RV cover. We needed to put in a different access road from the top of the property that required a new easement from the USFS, but this road provides the easiest access to that part of the 40 acre property.  We had considered many different types of structures for the cabin but ended up finding a hand pealed log cabin kit on Craig's list for a real bargain. The logs were Larch (also known as Tamarack), which are more dense than pine or fir and have better resistance to rot and insects. The previous owners had commissioned the build but ran into some financial issues and were unable to proceed with the build. We purchased the log kit from them, had it moved and reassembled on our property.  The cabin was smaller than what we had originally wanted to build (32-x24), but we could not pass up the opportunity.  To maximize our usable space, we decided to build it over a drive-in garage and add a 1/2 loft.

Cabin foundation with 9' walls

Craig's list cabin before move - logs weathered 6 years

Logs moved and assembled on new foundation

Logs were media-blasted to restore finish, added 12 pitch roof

December 2014 - Metal roof added just in time for winter. All closed in  

2013 First Construction - RV Cover

August 2013 - Started construction on RV Cover

2013 - After seeing the amount of snow from the first winter with the travel trailer on the property it was clear we needed to have a cover to protect the trailer from the heavy snow loads.  After considering several options we decided to build a 20'X40' covered structure with an additional 10' shed roof on one side to be able to place equipment.  The structure would be open initially so we could have full use of the trailer on a year round basis.  The orientation of the structure was such that we could have one side of the roof facing south so that we could install solar panels. We would put the additional shed roof on the north side and collect rain water. We would install a 12 volt power system with 4 150 watt panels, an inverter and about 1500 amp battery bank.  In addition we would install a small septic tank and drain field to connect the RV.   Under the shed roof, we would have a small equipment trailer (8X12) to store the battery bank, inverter, backup generator, and some gear that could be stored whenever we left the property.  We built the RV Cover in the summer of 2013 and was ready for the winter.  This setup worked very well, and we were able to stay at the trailer year round, even at times when the temperatures reached 10° below zero.  In the winter, we did
'dry' camping and winterized the trailer draining the water tanks, and water lines.  We were able to also store a small tractor, and our UTV under the RV cover to provide protection in the winter, as well as to store firewood for an outdoor fire pit.  We used this setup to stay during our weekly trips to the property from fall of 2013 to Spring of 2015 until the cabin was ready for us to start staying there.  The plan is that we will ultimately close in this structure and add two large doors for moving the RV in and out and to act as a storage building in the future.

RV Cover completed and equipment moved under

Hanging out at the trailer

2013 - First Winter using new RV Cover

2013 Winter - Hardest part was keeping access road open through winter

Monday, January 2, 2017

Our Off Grid Plan

Our original plan was to build a place to retire in comfort. Rather than head south to the beaches as a lot of our counterparts are doing, we decided we would rather to head back north to the mountains that we loved so much. As we considered where we would go, we first researched all of the places we loved, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and several other areas. We needed a place that was remote, but not too remote. We still needed access to towns to work, and for me an international airport for travel. We needed to have medical facilities within a reasonable distance should our health deteriorate. Additionally, we wanted the best value for our dollar in land values and something that was within our budget. As we looked at different areas, proximity to medical and airports, and land values, we soon zeroed in on North Idaho.  It was less than 100 miles from Spokane, WA which is the largest city in the region with an International airport.  The land we selected was 40 acres of timberland outside of Clark Fork, ID, about 25 miles east of Sandpoint, ID and about 75 miles NE of Spokane, WA.

The original plan was to build a large log cabin home on the property as our primary residence.  As we made the move from Houston, TX to Spokane, WA, we realized that this was not feasible. My wife's position was working for the State of WA, and it would be too far of a commute for both her and my travel. Due to these and other financial reasons, we had to downsize our project from a large fulltime residence to a smaller cabin. We would live in WA, and travel to ID to work on the cabin in our free time.  Eventually, we would be free to live all or part time in the cabin once it was completed and we were retired. In the meantime, we would use the cabin for family recreation.

Another part of our plan was that this off grid cabin was to be a legacy build for our children. We wanted to build something that could be passed on to our children so that they and their families could enjoy the wild and peaceful wilderness as much as we do. We wanted to leave them something that we feel is more valuable than money, a sense of peace and independence.  As our children did not live in the area, we wanted the off grid cabin to be no maintenance and no ongoing costs , such as utility bills. The cabin could simply be 'locked up' and 'turned off' as needed.

It is an important part of our plan that our family gets to fully enjoy the property fully, even while we are in the process of building. We wanted our children to be able to come up to visit the property any time of the year to build memories and to contribute to the process as they are willing and able.  The first step was to put the 32' travel trailer on the property so there was a place to stay and have access to simple amenities, water, electricity, bathroom, etc.  , the second was to add some toys and equipment to assist in exploring the area and preparing the site for construction.  The RV could also serve as our base as we started to build the cabin.   Due to the high snow levels that the property receives, we decided to first build a frame structure to cover and protect the RV from the heavy snow loads in the winter. This would allow us to utilize the RV all year long as needed.  We installed a 12V Solar Panel system, a rain water collection system, and a backup generator for the first year or so that worked well. We always had AC power and water as needed.   We also planned on converting the RV cover to a fully enclosed storage building after the log cabin has been completed.

The next step was to select a build site for the log cabin. The property had only a single clearing, in which we parked the Travel trailer and build the RV cover.  The best build site on the property was up on the hill about 150' higher in elevation, but would require clearing of trees and building of an access road.  The cost of building a new access road  from the bottom of the property was prohibitively expensive, so a new access road (requiring a new easement) from the adjoining property to the north was built for a much more reasonable cost.

Once the cabin site was selected, we went to work on clearing the site, cutting down trees, saving the timber, pulling stumps, moving dirt. We also cleared out the path for the new access road, which was located over an old timber cut.

As to the cabin build, we selected a local general contractor to handle the build, from putting in the new access road, building the foundation, moving and erecting the logs, building the dormer and roof to final close in and metal roof.   Due to several issues with the general contractor and some of the sub contractors, we ended up cutting them loose after the cabin was dried in.   We continue the work on the cabin on our own from this point, which includes staining, chinking, plumbing, electrical, gas lines, heating, water system, interior framing and finishing work.

Even though we are building this cabin as off grid, it is not to be lacking in any normal amenities (TV, Internet, appliances, etc.) The design of our off grid cabin is such that we will have all of the power needed for any normal household useage.

For an off grid power system, the cabin will have a 48 VDC system, with a 4400 watt inverter. Solar Panels (PV), Wind, Wood Gasification, and a generator will all be used in the power system. The off grid power system will provide both 110 and 220 VAC. The generator will be multi-fuel and will have an auto start capability based upon the battery bank voltage. The 48 VDC battery is large enough to offer 5 days of continuous power without the need for external input (Solar, Wind, generator, etc.).  The cabin will be equipped with a satellite system to provide Internet access, in which the off grid power system can be monitored from an external source through an Internet connection.  The 48VDC power system will also be large enough to supply power to any other structures, storage buildings, water well, bunk house, etc. that may be built in the future on the site.

The cabin will also be configured with a security camera system which can also be monitored remotely through the Internet connection.  The cabin will have propane appliances, stove, refrigerator, hot water heater and furnace and will have an external 500 gallon propane tank in stalled about 100' from the cabin. For fire control, the area within 30 feet of the cabin will be cleared of brush and trees.  A pond will also be built about 75 feet from the cabin from the barrow pit built to provide fill material around the cabin. The pond will provide additional water for fire suppression if needed. The main heating system for the cabin will be a wood stove.

For a water source, the cabin will have a rain water collection system with a 1000 gallon capacity. One 600 gallon underground tank and a 450 gallon above ground gallon tank installed in the equipment room off the garage. The water tanks can also be filled if needed by use of a 200 gallon transfer tank which can be filled at a nearby spring if needed.  The water will be filtered as it is collected and before it is placed in the holding tanks.  An additional filtering will be provided by a reverse osmosis system. A water well may also be installed at some point in the future. It is estimated that the water table is at about 250'.

For waste disposal, a 1000 gallon septic tank and drain field will be installed.

Adding toys and equipment

Added a storage trailer and Rhino UTV

Now that we had the RV trailer in place, it was time to start adding toys and equipment. Over the course of the next year, we added a generator, covered equipment trailer, a Yamaha Rhino UTV, a snowmobile, a backhoe, a dump trailer, some kayaks and  a 20' cargo container. Additionally, we started planning our move from TX. We took the first trailer load of equipment including a tractor with a front end loader, box blade and mower on a 20' trailer, 1800 miles from Houston, TX.   The move north took a total of three trips.

Moved equipment from TX to property

From the beginning, we knew this process of moving to Idaho and building our Off Grid cabin would take a long time. We wanted to make sure we also took every opportunity to explore and get to know the area around our new home and enjoy the outdoors.  With each trip up to the property, we combined work with play, explored the area such as hiking the Scotchman's Peak trail, one of the best hikes in Idaho, Kayaked in lake Pend O'reille, and explored USFS roads and trails, picked huckleberries, snowshoes and snowmobiled in the winter.

Added a couple of Kayaks

Added a towable backhoe

Hiking up Scotchman's Peak


Our new neighbor

First Adventure - Setting up an RV

                                                32' Travel Trailer - November 2011

One of the first things we did after the purchase of our property was to purchase and place a 32' travel trailer on the property so we would have a place to stay and work as we visited and planned out our development strategy.  We needed to select and place a travel trailer up on the property before winter set in but there were some tricky logistics involved. We were still living in TX at the time and had limited windows of opportunity of when we could visit the property. We had actually visited the property in January 2011, closed on the property in the spring and made our first official visit in the summer to scope out the property and find the property corners.  It was not until November that I was able to get back up to visit the property. In the course of less than a week, I had to find and  purchase the RV, get it delivered to the site, and wrapped up  before the first snow.   This was about a week before Thanksgiving. I remember it was dusk during the first snowfall as we were bringing in the trailer to the property. I also remember a moose greeting us in the roadway at the entrance to our property as we were bringing in the RV looking at us as if to say, "what do you think you are doing here?".  It was a mad rush to get the RV onto the property, unloaded, and get out before the snow got too bad.  In the rush of trying to get the trailer unloaded and setup, I didn't realize I had dropped the keys to the trailer somewhere in the snow, where they were to remain until we came back in the spring/summer.

March 2012 - Snowshoe hike in to property

In March of 2012, I scheduled a trip up to the property with my daughter Krysta that I thought would be the spring to get the trailer setup. After all, there was no snow in the valley and I expected we should be able to drive right onto the property and to the trailer.  we were very surprised to see the amount of snow still up at the property level. We were unable to drive the rental car on the USFS road to the property and had to snowshoe into the property. When we finally reached the trailer we were surprised to see about 3 feet of snow still covering the trailer.  We had to dig out to get to the storage hatch, in which my daughter had to crawl through to get inside the trailer, as the trailer keys were still buried in the snow somewhere around the trailer.   We eventually managed to get inside the trailer after an exhausting 2.5 mile hike through the snow and digging an entrance to the trailer.  Exhausted, we had some lunch inside the trailer, realized that we were not going to be to unwrap the trailer and decided it would have to wait until our next trip up in the summer. 

Getting ready to snowshoe to property

March 2012 - Not quite the spring we expected

I realized very quickly that I had a lot to learn about the specific characteristics of the property, the amount of snow and access to the property.  I would soon meet some our off grid neighbors, who would prove to be very helpful in keeping us up to date as to the snow levels and access, so we would not be surprised in the future.   All in all, it was a great adventure for my daughter and I and will provide a lot of stories and laughs at my expense in the future.

My next trip up was in the April 2012, in which I finally got the trailer setup for use.  I also realized that I did not want to have the trailer exposed to the heavy snowloads in the future and began to consider what type of structure would be needed to cover and protect the trailer before the next snow season.

April 2012 - RV unwrapped and setup

Starting our OffGrid Journey

In 2011, my wife and I started our Off Grid journey with the purchase of 40 acres of remote timber property in Northern Idaho, adjoining the Scotchman's Peak Wilderness area and the Kaniksu National Forest.  This blog will detail our off grid journey and the lessons we have learned along the way in building our Off Grid cabin in the wilderness.  We hope you will enjoy reading our experiences and gain some knowledge and insight for your own Off Grid journey, wherever it may lead you.

My first visit to the property in January 2011

Shelly on our first visit. This is the spot for the cabin!