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Project Participants:

David Wright Associates, AIA

Off-Grid Vacation Cabin

Site characteristics or focus during construction or remodel: 

This cabin overlooks a rugged wilderness high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. This off-grid cabin is isolated and snowed in much of the year. It is used almost every weekend and is self sufficient for power and heating, as well as protected from fine, deep snows and vandalism. 

The design is patterned after the humble mountain utility buildings common to the region. The owners required a rugged fireproof high security cabin contrasted with a very bright modern interior. 

Construction Type: 

The structure is made from structural insulated panels which were prefabricated, then shipped to the job site ready for assembly. This considerably shortened the onsite construction time in this remote location. When a building project is many miles (and out of cell phone range) from the nearest supplies, it is convenient to have only a thousand parts to handle, rather than of tens of thousands. 

Outside the SIP walls are clad with zinc alum corrugated metal and the SIP roof is topped off with standing seam metal roofing for textural variety. The surrounding porch, which nearly doubles the usable floor area, is constructed of native douglas fir with ironwood decking. The detailing is intentionally simple and unembellished. Windows and gliding glass doors are secured with sliding shutters secured from the interior. One hidden keyed lock permits access. 

Site Use and Protection Measures Before & During Construction (LEED Cat III): 

Electric power is provided by solar electric panels on the roof with battery storage. Propane is used for cooking and as backup for passive solar water preheating and electrical generator. Onsite wood is used for space heating and may be used for water heating and cooling if desired. 

Indoor Environmental Considerations Used in Project (LEED Cat V): 

Inside, furnishings and detailing are Swedish Modern with laminate flooring, cable railings, and simple Douglas fir trim work. Clerestory windows and vent skylights lend extraordinary interior brightness, enhancing the winter light and accentuating the colorful, art-filled interior. 

Subjective Evaluation/ Design Considerations: How well has the structure achieved its design goals? What would be done differently the next time? 

The SIP weather skin is an excellent foil for the deep snows, heavy winds, and allows a single Scandinavian wood stove to easily and quickly heat the interior. 

Unique Details: 

Sliding door and shutter detailing, custom cable rail stairway, daylighting/natural ventilation strategy, and exterior metal skin detailing. This tough yet elegant cabin requires very little maintenance and provides maximum comfort, security and fireproofing in an extreme climate. The cabin was featured in the 2005 special Mountain Home issue of Tahoe Quarterly and the August 2006 issue of Sunset Magazine. 

PROFILE PROJECT: Off-grid mountain vacation cabin 

OWNERS: Mitchell family 

Size: 1,018 sq. ft. living 

DESIGNER: David Wright Architects 


Tags: New Construction
Passive Solar
Solar Photovoltaic
Building Performance
Structural Integrated Panels (SIPs)

Mail can be sent to: SiGBA P.O. Box 4245 Truckee, CA 96160

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