Go Stake Your Claim

Building a better base camp

Jan 20, 2000
Outside Magazine

The Log Cabin

The LV Home

After sleeping in your tent gets old, consider these lean, green solutions to the search for shelter

IDEAL FOR: Woods and/or mountains
AVERAGE SIZE: 1,000-2,000 square feet
COST: $30,000 to $50,000 for a handcrafted 1,500-square-foot cabin
CONSTRUCTION TIME: Six to 12 months
DIY: Iffy. Serious homebuilding skills required.
A RECENT New York Times article reported on the rather disturbing trend toward 10,000-square-foot log "cabins" with DSL, hot tubs, and great rooms two stories tall. We'll take the rustic two-room version of old, thank you. As will Ron Brodigan, founder of the Great Lakes School of Log Building & Stonemasonry, near Isabella, Minnesota, which teaches aspiring log-home owners how, and why, to build log cabins. Using selectively harvested indigenous trees helps ensure that the house is enviro-friendly. Few dwellings are warmer in winter or cooler in summer. But the most compelling argument? "I have no scientific evidence, but people sleep better in them," Brodigan says. "The houses always smell good. Music sounds better in them. There's just some magic going on."
FOR MORE INFO: www.schooloflogbuilding.com, for details on DIY log-home building
IDEAL FOR: Hot, dry climates
AVERAGE SIZE: 800 square feet
COST: $80,000
CONSTRUCTION TIME: 12 to 18 months
DIY: Yes, but construction can be slow, since mud bricks and hay are finicky.
THERE'S A REASON adobe-and-straw-bale homes dot the Southwest, explains designer Ted Owens. His adobe abode, an 800-square-foot solar-powered cottage in Corrales, New Mexico, works with the high desert's hot summer days and cool winter nights—the thick walls collect and store heat when it's cold and stay cool when it's not. The sustainable materials are readily available in the region and are unobtrusive in stark landscapes. "Build small," he advises, "and put your money into details and quality." The modest size also aids in energy efficiency. Owens built a photovoltaic (i.e., solar) system that provides all of the house's electricity. "I am still awed, every time I turn on a light, that the energy making everything run was sunshine a few hours before," he says.
FOR MORE INFO: www.syncronos.com, Ted Owens's adobe-home-building Web site

IDEAL FOR: Sunny, arid climates
AVERAGE SIZE: 970 square feet
COST: $50,000
CONSTRUCTION TIME: One to three months
DIY: Yes, but consult with an architect to assist in planning and siting your house.
IF YOU'RE LUCKY ENOUGH to find land with a view, you might consider the LV home, a modern glass-and-aluminum shelter first built by designer Rocio Romero in Laguna Verde (hence the name), Chile. Romero, who now lives in Venice, California, set out to build an inexpensive, compact, and low-maintenance home. The aluminum, concrete, and plywood materials can be easily trucked to a site, require almost no maintenance, and provide a striking contrast to the surrounding landscape. Double-glazed windows and west-facing orientation maximize the solar advantage. And—how else to say it?—it's damn cool: The LV's elongated form, high ceilings, and continuous glass facade make the water, mountains, and whatever else may grace your land an integral part of the interior.
FOR MORE INFO: www.rocioromero.com, the designer's Web site

IDEAL FOR: Pretty much anywhere (but not engineered for extreme wind or snow)
AVERAGE SIZE: Each "unit" is 144 square feet; units can be combined for more space
COST: $40-$56 per square foot
CONSTRUCTION TIME: Two to four days
DIY: Absolutely. Unit Ones are engineered for simple assembly, no special skills or equipment needed.
THE NAME MAY ENVOKE military barracks more than recreational hideaway, but the Unit One, with its vast glass facade and roomy front porch, is the perfect portable shelter for any plot of land. Designed by Walther Prokosch, a prominent New York City architect, and made by New Hampshire- based Shelter Kit, Unit Ones are inexpensive and easy to build. Sold as precut kits specifically designed for assembly by the owner, the spartan, boxy wood-and-glass huts sit lightly on the land. The interiors are basic—natural wood and glass that maximize passive solar heating. Because these shelters don't require a complex foundation or even power tools to put together, and because they are shipped in compact bundles, they can be set up on the remotest land. Brilliant in their simplicity, the 12-by-12-foot modular structures can be linked to create an infinite number of shapes and sizes.
FOR MORE INFO: www.shelter-kit.com, which provides details on Unit Ones and other Shelter Kit structures

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