Eco - Cabin

Deep Energy Retrofit
 A guilt free get a way from civilization! 


The dream:  You have a cabin in the middle of no where, well, you can’t see or hear your neighbors.  There is an old dirt / grass / weed two rut road.  There are no utilities.  Water is from a hose in a spring up the hill.  You have no idea what happens after you flush, and don't want to.  You just bought yourself the nicest little Coleman generator for power.  It’s all you need to escape from civilization whenever you want. 

Well, when it's not freezing, roads ruts not too muddy......... 
Which is fine by you.  Since you aren't going to fix it up like a "real" house you are being really eco conscious. 


I don’t think so………….


I’d like you to consider that such marginal use of any property is a waste of the embedded energy and carbon, water and land development your get a way represents. 


I’d like you to consider that such marginal use of any property is a waste of the embedded energy and carbon, water and land development your get a way represents.  It’s like getting 1% interest on an investment.  Great that you get that $100 ck every July 4, but, wouldn’t you be happier getting the ck the 4th of every month?


That’s the moral high ground, now, what’s the REAL problem with only using your get a way when the weather permits.


Urbanite you are, you're probably not all that in tune with weather.  Around my little house in the country, it RAINS half the days of the year.  Toss in closing your get a way down in freezing weather and what’s left.  A few great weekends.  Hope you aren’t busy those weekends the weather happens to be great.


So, I suggest you modestly  improve your get a way to increase it’s usability.  If it's sitting there empty and usable, let others use it.  Sharing resources is enormously eco conscious.



Here’s what I’ve illustrated (it’s really long, it’s my first draft):

1.  You have to get there.  Pave that road so you can drive to within a nice walk of the cabin.  Sure, you could use an ATV, the two stroke engine is amongst the most polluting .  know to man, might even need to mix oil in the gas and burn that too.  Between pollution and additional resources needed to make the ATV, the road is the eco conscious choice.  A pave road allows others to visit and stay with you any time, it can be plowed extending the usable season, and recoated every 5 yrs it will last forever, eliminating crushed stone every 5 yrs or so to fill pot holes or cover the whole road, and / or cutting out weeds and saplings (or defoliating).  Run off can be used to produce fuel and soil.

2.  Apron in front of garage, ditto above, and wait a minute, what do I need a garage for!  The apron provides space for guest vehicles and stand off between tree line and PV array on the roof of your new….

3.  Garage.  Which is really a secondary use for your PV array.  The PV array supports form the garage structure, the panels are permanent replacements for the shingles.  Why not put PV panels on your cabin?  Did I mention stand off to tree line?  If it’s a cabin in the woods, if you ever want a tree within 100 feet of your cabin, if you don’t want your cabin to look like a glass clad sky scraper, then that’s not where you want your PV’s.

4.  PV array, can’t I use a little generator the few times I’m at my get a way.  Again, a nice polluting and really noise polluting waste of resources, as it will need replacement every few years if heavily used, and constant tuning no matter what (and yanking that start cord, forget the battery, leaving it out in the cold all winter will red line the battery, as will infrequent use).  Now if you really aren’t that far from the road, run in a power line to the garage / PV array, and your excess electricity fed back into the grid offsets your energy use and carbon creation!  Too far for that to be economical, no problem, lots of low energy equipment to make it possible to live off grid on battery backup, admittedly golf cart size batteries.

4.  Run off – from all that road and PV array / garage:  Dump into recharge basin lined with water loving plants.  Harvest, which is dead easy, anyone can cut and bundle grass and alike, then hang them in the garage to dry, to use as fire starters in a wood stove at your cabin.  You can also compost the growth yearly, there’s always a need for rich soil for plantings, flowers, etc..

5.  Keeping your get a way a get a way from civilization – you don’t want a road and garage messing up your get a way from civilization, I don’t, hence the crooked covered path between garage and cabin.  Very Zen or something like that too.  A way to unwind and slow down between your ride and ensure you arrive at your get a way cabin country slow.

6.  Solar tempered buffer space around cabin.  Actually, the number one item to build out as it extends use to 3 seasons, rain or shine, keeps much of your cabin from weathering at all, adds activity space – very useful for kiddies or friends.  This alone will double, or quadruple the time you, or others, can use your get a way and cut energy use in half.

7.  A wood stove, yes, if you don’t have one, get one.  Put it in the buffer zone, and that zone becomes even more usable, keeps your cabin warmer (you still will need something cold nights in the cabin, but will need it less).  The buffer zone can also be built to eliminate risks from wood stove (remember, some of the time you’ll have the door open to really enjoy the firelight!  You cabin is after all old hopefully dry wood!  Being so remote, you no doubt have access to ample amounts of wood from fallen trees, just think of youself as part of the circle of life, tree traps carbon, falls to forest, rots, realease carbon, you are replacing the forest floor AND off setting use of other fuels!  Net carbon saving.

8.  Notice the propane tank, I’d recommend it, just to make sure you can get a comfy 3 season use of the property, and a must for 4 season use.  You can even feed this into an emergency generator, burning much cleaner than a gas powered one.  This in turn could allow you to downsize your battery bank to say 80% likelihood of “working”, thus saving embedded resources represented in the 20% battery capacity you cut.  Propane is also great for cooking, HW, and limited aux. heating of the cabin itself!  


Just some ideas.

Nothing wrong with a simple rustic cabin in the woods, if that’s what you really want, enjoy, but please, truly make it rustic, eco conscious rustic, and not fall into the trap of generators, ATV’s, snow mobiles, plowing up dirt roads in winter, relaying gravel in spring, eventually running in power lines anyway, putting in multiple propane unit heaters, and everything else I’ve seen to make rustic cabins “livable” but no longer eco conscious. 

Cooper Union Green Building Design

Certificate Program


Information Please

Eclectic assortments of information I've run across on the internet
Do it yourself - Theory - Web Sites - Organizations
Click 'em and see what I found....

Sustainability Pays 


How Much Is Enough
Quick answers to your insulation questions
 Easy Energy


Click Here  



Course Descriptions and Reviews

1 - NYC Energy Code - 2 Days Intensive and Comprehensive

(Click Here)

2 - Solar Energy Design and Construction for Residential and Commercial Projects

(Click Here)

3 - Solar Energy Policy

(Click Here)

4 - Daylighting Design

(Click Here)

5 - Sustainable Design Principles:

An Engineering Perspective

(Click Here)

6 - Green Retrofit:

The Fundamentals of Gut Renovation

(Click Here)


Country House 

Eco - Architecture Test Bed

Location: NYS
Catskill Mountains
Upstate New York

Micro Climate: Extreme

-7000 Heating DD
-limited sun 
-deep in narrow valley.


Energy Conservation
Low Temperature Solar Thermal


Energy Update:

30% Reduction 

(Click here)






General Portfolio


Slide Shows


Evolution DD-CD

(Click Here)

Sketches - Details

(Click Here)


Project List

1 - NYC Townhouse 

(Click Here)

2 - Alumni Facility

(Click Here)

3 - PA Offices

(Click Here)

4 - NYC SCA Elementrary

(Click Here)

5 - NYC SCA High School

(Click Here)

6 - Scenic Overlook

(Click Here)