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.

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