Hole in the Woods 2007-2008

We first heard of the land through our friends to the north, Scott and Chris. After walking the land, we fell in love with it. We camped many places before deciding on a site and still preserving as much of the 'wildness' as possible. Several years before, we built a small shelter as a place to stay while working there: a covered deck screened in on three sides. We had a small "pond" off one side where the warblers came in to bathe. Seeing, hearing and smelling the land was a joy. Gene was able to borrow a backhoe [thanks Barn] to pull the stumps and dig gravel for the drive. The slab went in during a snowstorm in November 2007, but turned out well.

The house is a timberframe, post and beam style house. North House Folk School provided the training, timbers, and coaching to get the frame stacked on the land to dry over the winter '07-'08. Many thanks to Peter Henrickson for his knowledge and patience, Tom Healey for his encouragement, and Susan Scherer for her friendship and accomodation in Grand Marais. Gene got to know the GM campground well during the week long classes. Further description of the house.

Over the winter, work was in the wood shop and outside on nice days to finish the timberframe, dry and make boards for the house. The small wood stove kept it tolerable for people who like winter camping, at least. Electricity was from a diesel generator and worked well. The deer, snowshoe hare, and fox showed themselves, as well as ravens quarking, and one could still hear the barred owl at night. Astronomy devolved into naked eye and binocular viewing. Snowshoes are preferable to skis in deep woods.

frame1 frame2 frame3 frame4 roof
The snow was gone in April. With a timbercart, jin pole, block and tackle and old climbing equipment, the frame went up better than expected. The subroof went on, and we started to close in. It was a long but enjoyable summer putting up wood. Still part-time. Even so, living on the land was a joy. Waking up to the hermit thrush, watching the warblers with breakfast, and watching hawks fly over is hard to beat.

paneling inside1 inside2 stairway stairway

Putting in the walls outside the frame involved considerable design work, mostly on site. This is not a tract home. Seeing the paneling from the inside was beautiful and the view clarified what was to come. Early Fall found us putting in windows and doors [thanks, Scott], putting the foam on the outside, and doing a bit of insulation. We managed to get out to see a few freinds, also.

fire stove back gong on stove
Our mason, Eric Mosier made our site a priority as we needed the heat that winter. Although relatively expensive to install, the masonry heater was about the best decision we made in building the house. It is both beautiful and functional. The stone is Hissingrite, a metamorphic rock that is above the taconite in Aurora, and very dense so that it can store a lot of heat. The color is also the best radiator of heat. The concept is to burn wood at high temperature with the dampers open, thus burning most efficiently and with virtually no creasote. The heat passes through the long, contraflow chambers in the stove warming the stone which radiates for days after. One fire a day usually does it, best planned for dinnertime to use the bakeoven to make dinner. It works. We love it.
Karen, Star
the "office"

By this time, Gene was working part-time and, with wireless internet and cell phone, able to work from the house some days; enough to check work and deal with any issues remotely. This was a wonderful working environment and met the needs. The house was marginally habitable and Star and Bess got along well. We were pleased that even when we were gone for up to ten days in single digit weather, the passive solar kept the house above freezing.

On to 2009

This is a description of the house we used to design and build.

The revised plan is a 16 X 24 timberframe plus loft, a 12 x 24 attachment on the north, a greywater greenhouse on the southeast corner and an upperdeck on the west with ramp down, if feasible. The north, underground walls are ICFs and the timberframe is closed in with framed and insulated 6" walls. Exterior finish is 2" foam with acrilic stucco and a standing seam metal roof for maximum fire protection and longevity. The frame sits on an insulated concrete slab with thickened edge with shallow frost protection. Pex for in-floor heating is in the slab, with a separate zone for the bath/utility area which contains all the water; interior walls are insulated so that in the case of long absence the rest of the house could be left to passive solar heating, only; in the first winter, this space kept above freezing in single digit weather for at least 10 days, the longest measured period. The exterior finish is stucco, with a metal roof, both for fire retardation.

The design maximizes passive solar and uses salvaged, but completely usable high-grade, low E windows and doors. The "front", south-facing wall has five 4'x7'windows on the main level and a 4' x 8' upper window to create a "mini great room," Many large windows give an outside feeling to the inside and maximize being in the woods. Work areas face outward. Awnings shade windows in summer, not winter.

A masonry heater is center-west on the main level, facing the "mini great room." The kitchen area is on the north/inside of this space. The west side is an office/lounge area looking out west and warmed by the back of the masonry heater. Ceilings (subfloor for upper levels) are aspen from trees on land.

The loft covers all but a few feet above the great room, and has gliding patio doors on the east and west. The east portion is sleeping area and looks out three ways. The western portion is for study, storage, dressing. The door opens onto a screened deck for viewing /being outdoors during bug season, with ramp down, if feasible. Inside walls between timbers are pine paneling except for sheetrock/tile in the bath.

The western portion of the attachment contains the stairs up and the walls are lined with shelves for books. The door on lower west side opens below deck to storage area / airlock. Wood storage/drying is in wood shop, a separate structure to the north which serves as a solar kiln and woodwork space. Some thought has gone into a barn that could hold an observatory.

The main, east door opens to an entryway / mud room in the greywater greenhouse, and will have solar heating. Heat storage is a large, black water bag on the north wall and by hot air blown from the peak through the insulated gravel layer below the growing/treatment beds. Some additional heat is provided by pex from the solar collectors that runs behind the water bag and under the growing beds; this is secondary to residential hot water storage in the utility room. The greywater greenhouse design uses the growing beds to treat domestic grey water from the house that runs to a 300 gallon tank below the greenhouse; the daily grey water--perhaps 30 gallons per day on average--is pumped into the root level of the growing beds. An additional 700 gallons--the second portion of the tank-- from cistern overflow is available if needed. Composting toilets keep septic materials separate.

Water for the house is collected from the roof into a 1500 gallon underground tank abutting the north wall. A pump and pressure tank from the cistern is in the utility room. The cistern includes a settlement tank, and water can be further filtered. Water is very adequate with mindful use. Overflow supplements the greenhouse cistern until full, or is diverted to drainage area.

Garden space is terraced north up from the entryway and may be fenced in. Minimal grassy areas are maintained around the house for fire protection. Bird feeding area and birdbath is south and viewable from most parts of the house.