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Self Contained primitive ski cabin

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
My Lovely bride of 14 years and I purchased a one acre building lot that is 11 miles from the main lodge at Whiteface Mt. in New York. It is less than three hours drive from our home just south of Albany, NY

It is part of an association with some minor restrictions including:
Twelve inch overhangs on the sides
Twenty Four inch overhangs at the gable ends
Minimum 400 square feet
Log cabin, A-frame or Chalet style
Limits on tree cutting in order to preserve separation from neighbors

If we want a real house with a foundation and mechanicals, that is going to take quite a few years before we could even hope to afford to borrow the money for this venture.

My idea is, what if there was a way where the association would let me build the 'garage' first? This garage would serve as a primitive weekend camp for our ski trips. Three kids.

It needs to be self contained and be able to withstand the winter weather when not in use. My understanding from neighbors and friends is that

My google searches on self contained or primitive cabins yield - vacation cabins in Australia, survivalist sites and primitive freaks who built their cabins from twigs. Not what I am looking for.

I figured a square 20 x 20 log cabin with a sleeping loft on one side with the following features:
Wood stove
Generator hook ups - transportable
Kerosene heater - bring Kerosene up on the weekends
Coleman stove
Carbon Monoxide detector - battery powered.

Ideally the association would let me build an outhouse. Does anyone have experience with composting toilets or propane toilets?

Any ideas or insights or experience with this kind of enterprise? Am I off my rocker?

Thanks,
rob
post #2 of 29
I, for one, am not a fan of associations. My best advice would have been to read the association covenants from cover to cover and I do mean READ---before you bought.

In any event now is the time READ and comprehend why the association is there, (to maintain the roadways???) How long have they been in place??? How many changes have taken place in te covenants since they were formed??(that'll give you some idea what the intent of the assn really is) If, for example, there have been many changes that seem to suit the incumbent boards over time---you know you'll have an uphill battle if you want to do something down the road that the, then in place board, disagrees with---and that could end up being a moving target.

If they have been in existence for years without change--or only good quality well thought out, overwhelmingly approved changes---all the better---just make sure you read and know what you got into.

Good luck
post #3 of 29
You may also want to check zoning for the area. Zoning for the town or county may prohibit out-houses, a dwelling with no electricity or building a garage before the main dwelling is constructed.
post #4 of 29
I guess a weehouse is out of the question? I'm sure you find something that can help you get around the rules and regulations,
http://weehouses.com/projects/weehouse.htm
post #5 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by bklyntrayc
I guess a weehouse is out of the question? I'm sure you find something that can help you get around the rules and regulations
http://weehouses.com/projects/weehouse.htm
Any idea if this can be made with a pitched roof??
post #6 of 29
The homeowners association is the least of your problems. Anytime you construct a permanent structure, you will be required to obtain a building permit. If that structure is intended for occupancy, you must have county approved water and waste disposal facilites. This is basic sanitation and is normally part of the local health code. So the cost and approach depends on whether there is central water and sewer, or if you must provide a wel, septic/leach field and basic utility connections. This is normally required before a construction permit for a building will be issued. This area may allow properly constructed pit toilets or outhouses, but I doubt it. Start by contacting the county sanitarian or building department.

You may be able to circumvent the requirements for utitiies and basic sanitation by permitting and construct a garage. It is likely the garage would be requried to meet some minimum architectural standards imposed by the association; as well as engineering and constuction standards imposed by the building permit authority. These would be much lower standards than are normally applied to an occupancy permit. If you then occupy that garage, and a complaint was received by the county, they could condem the building for non-conformance.

The simple reality is that the association can stipulate minimum archetectural standards, but your most stringent requirements are enforced by the county, township or whatever permitting juridiction this is in. The association may have restrictions that prohibit camping, or the use of mobile trailers. Frankly, if these restrictions do not exist, a non-permanent structure or RV is your best approach, other than just getting a construction loan and doing this right.

The basic purpose of an association is to ensure conformity and compatibility of uses and architecture, and to maintain commonly owned assets (roads, greenspace etc) to preserve a common interest in maintaining property value and enjoyment of one's property. If you buy a parcel in an area with an association, you have an enforceable contract as part of your deed that can restrict how you use your property. If you cannot live with those restrictions; or if they impose unaffordable standards on you, the expectation is that you will sell or forfiet the property rather than violate those standards.
post #7 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirquerider
The homeowners association is the least of your problems. Anytime you construct a permanent structure, you will be required to obtain a building permit. If that structure is intended for occupancy, you must have county approved water and waste disposal facilites. This is basic sanitation and is normally part of the local health code. So the cost and approach depends on whether there is central water and sewer, or if you must provide a wel, septic/leach field and basic utility connections. This is normally required before a construction permit for a building will be issued. This area may allow properly constructed pit toilets or outhouses, but I doubt it. Start by contacting the county sanitarian or building department.

You may be able to circumvent the requirements for utitiies and basic sanitation by permitting and construct a garage. It is likely the garage would be requried to meet some minimum architectural standards imposed by the association; as well as engineering and constuction standards imposed by the building permit authority. These would be much lower standards than are normally applied to an occupancy permit. If you then occupy that garage, and a complaint was received by the county, they could condem the building for non-conformance.

The simple reality is that the association can stipulate minimum archetectural standards, but your most stringent requirements are enforced by the county, township or whatever permitting juridiction this is in. The association may have restrictions that prohibit camping, or the use of mobile trailers. Frankly, if these restrictions do not exist, a non-permanent structure or RV is your best approach, other than just getting a construction loan and doing this right.

The basic purpose of an association is to ensure conformity and compatibility of uses and architecture, and to maintain commonly owned assets (roads, greenspace etc) to preserve a common interest in maintaining property value and enjoyment of one's property. If you buy a parcel in an area with an association, you have an enforceable contract as part of your deed that can restrict how you use your property. If you cannot live with those restrictions; or if they impose unaffordable standards on you, the expectation is that you will sell or forfiet the property rather than violate those standards.
Sounds like you have done this before CR! Well said.
post #8 of 29
Thread Starter 
Thanks to all for the insights.

I must admit I am aware that association and town zoning requirements will need to be met. Maybe, secretly, I hoped I could weasel my way around them.

My question was not whether I could get permission, I assumed (go ahead and blast away) that I could...eventually.

I am more interested if anyone has knowledge/experience in developing/maintaining self-contained, primitive structures in harsh climates.

I like the micro house. I first noted them on a CNN post. At $75k, I can have a real cabin built.

In the end, If my family and I intend to use it as living space, then the C.O. cannot be dismissed.

Thanks again.
rob
post #9 of 29
I own a cabin that was built in the early 60s. This is a real cabin. Wood heat, no electricity or running water, and an outhouse.

My dad built it with mostly recycled or damaged materials. He was a sales manager for a construction materials company and was able to deal for services and get materials from two houses under destruction. It's about 1000 sq. ft. and he built it for less than $1500. It is post and block construction with a large brick fireplace and the only real repairs we have done over the years are to replace the deck twice and re-roof once, changing from aluminum to steel. This is in a climate with about 135 inches of rain yearly. The siding is hand split cedar from an old log that was down near the cabin. I would post a picture but I can't get my photos down to the size they need to be to post.

Why do you want to heat with a kerosene heater when you will have a wood stove? Wood works great. You have to wait a little longer for it to really start pumping but you don't have to worry so much about carbon monoxide. The biggest problem we have is mildew and rodents. The rodents are a problem with any house that isn't used all of the time but the mildew comes from the fact that the place isn't heated most days. I have been slowly eliminating much of the cloth stuff (matresses, rugs, etc.) to reduce the problem. I'm replacing them with foam matresses on plywood bases, they're quite comfortable. You'll just have to wear slippers if you want your feet warm.

Lighting is done with kerosene lamps and candles most of the time. We keep a Coleman lantern that we light up while we cook and wash dishes, but it's noisy so we don't use it for long.

The advantages of a primitive cabin are that power outages don't phase you, it's quiet, and forces you to rely on old fashioned ways of entertaining yourself. Also, since you don't have electricity, you don't accumulate technology and stuff that kids like to steal. Cabin break ins can be a big problem but we haven't had one in over 20 years. There's nothing to steal and we keep the shades open when we're gone to let everyone see what isn't in there.

I use the place in both winter and summer. It's near Stevens Pass, WA and I use it as an alternate to my home mountain, Mt. Baker. After a weekend in this primitive setting I really feel relaxed and refreshed when I go back to work on Monday.

Good luck on your project.
post #10 of 29
Rob,

The traditional basic options:
camper
rv
mobile home
permanent structure

You can get around the "garage is not an occupiable structure" problem by parking your camper/rv inside it and occupying that ("officially"). There are plenty of people that have built cabins by themselves by living in campers/rvs while building the structure. You can probably get a fair amount of leeway. But don't expect to weasel around zoning requirements without encountering complaints and the resulting problems.
post #11 of 29

building in adirondacks

Where you are building is in the Adirondack Park. Not only do you have to contend with the covenants of your HOA, but the State park also has pretty rigid guidelines designed to protect park. You might want to check all these out before starting.

Check out the July (maybe august) isssue of Country Living magazine. There is a small article about very small houses built with idea of 'emergency' housing for Katrina-like situations. Less than 500 sq.ft. with 2 bedrooms and a small kitchen/dining/living area. It had a pitched roof. Might be what you're looking for.
post #12 of 29
Just on the practical side, I frequently use a hill top cabin that has a living room of about 20X18 and has two small bedrooms. There are no utilities such as water or electric and there is an outhouse.

On the side of safety, how old are the kids? If they are small you will be going nuts every time you fire up the wood stove. When you put five people in a small area the space gets even smaller by the time you put in table and chairs and a counter for prep space as well as all the things you will have to haul up.

A generator is nice but keep in mind that they are still limited and heavy and you will have to haul and store fuel .... and you will have to have a second "genny shed" to house it as well. Run times for most generators are about three to five hours and they are not cheap. A kero heater as a back up is nice but probably not necessary if you have a good wood shed built to keep a pile of dry stock.

With a family of five, you will have to have a good sized vehicle such as a Suburban to get the coolers, luggage, fuel .... etc.

The outhouse ..... hoooooooooo boy! I have had some kids hold it till their blue eyes were turning brown. Some people just can't use an outhouse especially if they have to walk through a foot of snow or a wet drizzle.

Quite frankly, when I used our family shore home in the winter (electric heat), with the water turned off, I'd line the dry toilet with a few heavy duty plastic bags for "emergency use" and a few gallon milk jugs "for the guys" ... it worked.

To test your plan, block off all of your house on the next rainy day and see how long you all last in a 20'X20' area?

post #13 of 29
As you've probably gathered by now, the technical issues are not going to be your problem. You can build a cabin with a pier/post foundation (sonotubes or something similar), heat it with a woodstove, inhabit it on the weekends the way you might inhabita small boat, with a portapotty, a 12 volt electrical system, light it with kerosene lamps, put in a nice loft with ladder etc. You will probably feel nice and cozy in this basic cabin and may even come to regard your trips up there as a unique kind of adventure and it won't necessarily cost much to build. This is the kind of hunting/fishing/ski cabin people have been building for years. The real problem may be the state, local, and association rules, regulations, codes you may be required to comply with. Someone will be watching. Sometimes in rural areas the regulations and enforcement are very lax to non existent and you can build your Thoreauvian getaway because essentially no one cares what you do. For better or worse that kind of situation is becoming scarce today. I wonder what kind of structures and facilities are on the other lots in the association? One acre doesn't give you (or them) much isolation from one anothers' potentially bothersome eccentricities.
post #14 of 29
The newer pellet stoves have thermostats---It would be a lot nicer to come into your cabin with some heat--say 40 degrees, rather than an icy cold -10. Skied WF 2 yrs ago at -20 NOT WINDCHILL. I am sure you know this. That place is cold.

MAJOR thoughts must go into plumbing. Get good design that is very easy to shut off and then turn back on.


Instant (electric) water heaters rather than conventional.

Maybe you can get around some code by drawing up your plans for a GREEN home. Little to no electric. Your generator is "just in case" SO you put some solar panels on the roof AND run your generator.


I have used electric toilets--they burn the poop. I guess it takes a lot of ELE. I run on a trail that uses composting johns...there are a few up in Teluride on the mountain. THey seem to be just fine. Dont think you can toss paper in them... Will they work in -10 White Face? COST> Bet is it high. Much higher, my guess , than a standard septic. My two cents. If you are going to own this place and eventually build a home. SPend the money on septic and electric NOW---It is not getting cheeper and code may make it even more expensive. Or code--or the park--just might stop you from installing septic. Amortize the cost now.

Ok---Do you have any "left over" parcels you gave up? My wife and I are looking. We want a hunting cabin with acrege--same deal as you, but we intend to have a bldg there to start with. You can private message me
post #15 of 29
post #16 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by skiprob

I must admit I am aware that association and town zoning requirements will need to be met. Maybe, secretly, I hoped I could weasel my way around them.

My question was not whether I could get permission, I assumed (go ahead and blast away) that I could...eventually.

I am more interested if anyone has knowledge/experience in developing/maintaining self-contained, primitive structures in harsh climates.

Thanks again.
rob
So what does the HOA say? It should be spelled out in detail. Same with zoning.

I do have experience with primitive housing. My camp is in an association and it is summer only in nature. The roads are not plowed and the central water is shut off. The water for 35 camps comes from one well and a water tower.

We all use piers and they are 4' deep. One guy does all the contrating and he over builds due to the mountain conditions. I could give you his name. It would be hard to find someone with his expertice. He also would know way more than most on this type of stuff.

If you were to go with a generator, you could use a battery system for simple needs. Use the generator during early evening to prepare meals (micowave). Design plumbing so it can be shut down easily and also in a location where it could be left on with minimal use of heat (propane).

A Clevis Multrum (sp) may be something that zoning would allow. Also, for a CO you can some times install electric heat (need to be on the grid). The idea would be not to use it. But you could use it to maintain minimal heat for plumbing.

You'll need a well. How do you get the water from the well to the house without electricity?
post #17 of 29
Thread Starter 
Wow! So much offered and to consider. Thanks.

The outhouse will only be a problem for my wife. Hence propane or composting toilet. My 5 YO daughter goes to all her brothers' soccer games and has used every porta john in three counties. I don't think my boys poop ever.

The development was zoned pre-APA (adirondack park agency) and is grandfathered in. Accordingly, building codes are much less restrictive.

The development/association is Ausable Acres. Not much on the web. The deed covenants and architechtural guide are very limited and reasonable. The primary purpose is to preserve the wilderness setting as much as possible. Besides what I noted above, no trailers and no vinyl siding. Small lawns, gardens and tree clearing to allow for building ventalation are okay. Let me know and I can forward copies.

Roads are dirt and plowed by the town. Electric is at the road as is the water (private system). We have to dig our own septic/leach... These are the mechanicals I want to avoid in order to save $ and get something in place sooner as opposed to after the last one is out of college (wishful I know - My expectations have lowered so much, I only hope that they will be able to feed themselves after I am gone).

I love the pellet stove idea but the hoppers appear to be electric powered.

I contacted the realtor who sold me the lot; who is also my college roomate's cousin (serendipity); and who is also on the association's architechture committee. I told him what I was thinking and asked him to shoot it down. He said it sounded fine.

We would have to carry everything in and out.

COLD is right on! I'll ask one of my neighbors to start a fire for us while we are on the way up.

Warm regards,
rob
post #18 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by LCS
Where you are building is in the Adirondack Park. Not only do you have to contend with the covenants of your HOA, but the State park also has pretty rigid guidelines designed to protect park. You might want to check all these out before starting.
Put another way, you're inside the Green Line, and will have to deal with whatever regs apply there.

** Just read the last posting, and great that you're grandfathered. And thank god it's not in the Ausable Club, you'd never get permission to do squat.

Is this in Keene Valley?

Get to know a builder in the area, buy them beers at the brew pub in LP, and get some knowledge transferred. As others have suggested: check your R&Rs/Covenants, local zoning/occupancy permit requirements, and start from there.

It's such a beautiful area, you're lucky. and the burgers at the Elm Tree Inn are great on a cold winter day.

-David, who is beginning to miss Winter in the PNW!
post #19 of 29
I found this on the web for the jailhouse lawyers out there. This sounds like your place....
http://www.shampenyrealestate.com/ausable_acres.html

No house trailers, is that the same as an RV? It doesn't sound like they're going to be very flexible, and I think your best bet is to see if you can RV it until you build, but of course there's that 1 year from plan approval to built rule, so they won't let you piece-meal it, or bite the bullet and build a small A-frame with septic and electric that you can add on to later.
Good luck, and don't forget to buy lots of rounds for the board before you propose your plan....
post #20 of 29
Your association's architectural guidelines forbid the use of house trailers or mobile homes. If an RV is not a mobilr home, I don't know what it is. Your best advice is to stop wondering and familiarize yourself w/ both the town's regulations and the association's. I notice the association's regs allow pier foundations, call for a minimum of 400 sf, appear concerned mainly w/ appearance, say nothing of water or sewer or electric. The town's may be more stringent. Best bet is to become familiar w/ the restrictions and make a good faith effort to comply or don't even bother. You may have a surprising amount of liberty w/in the restrictions and people will (hopefully) be impressed by your effort to comply with what they require. What would concern me is rather the lack of specific requirements which could suggest arbitrariness on the part body responsible for approval. You might wish to get to know some neighbors and get a better idea of what is considered acceptible. One of the arguments in favor of pier foundations, by the way, is minimization of site disturbance. A full foundation requires excavation beyond the perimeter of the house, room for machinery access and damage to the root structure of existing vegetation. Coniferous trees with their shallow root systems are especially vulnerable to root damage. A septic system will require a fair amount of land clearing and excavation. If you do have to go the full boat, w/ water, sewer, consider a minimal semi "basement" only where the incoming water line enters the building in order to protect it from freezeup. If small and well insulated, an electric water heater and possibly a very small baseboard should be sufficient to keep this space above freezing. Try to run all your plumbing connections back to this space w/ a "home run" type plumbing system that allows you to easily and quickly drain your plumbing fixtures there. Composting toilets are one way to go that do not require water use for flushing. You might also inquire about a seasonal arrangement regarding plumbing that you drain and turn off in winter. This may satisfy everyone's concerns while allowing you to camp in the place with minimal facilities in winter. It's possible in fact that others in the development do this. Definitely include a screen porch in your plans if you intend to use the place in summer, along with a few adirondack chairs.
post #21 of 29
The "V" in RV stands for Vehicle. It is a self propelled unit. A mobile home is a structure that can be moved, but it can not move itself. It's a silly distinction but it's less silly than trying to figure out whether to call an SUV a car or a truck. A closer blur would be some of those tow behind "campers" that are almost as long as mobile home.
post #22 of 29
As for "campers" I think your architectural guidelines allow them to be parked on the site as long as they are not being used. Mobile homes are not allowed and so the intentions of the guidelines would seem to be clear but you might want to nose around a bit and chat with people to get a better idea as to what is considered acceptible and what is tolerated. Both the guidelines and the other set of requirements mention successful litigation so that may give you an indication of the association's seriousness. For what its worth, my best advice would not be to enter this arena with a contentious attitude. Why get off on the wrong foot with your neighbors? Of course that's just my approach. You may want to do a bit of homework though before risking lengthy and unnecessary disputation and possibly litigation. These associations are sometimes quite political and a little goodwill can go a long way in such circumstances.
post #23 of 29
skiprob,

Have you looked into prefab/modular homes? A lot of the manufacturers of those will just put up the shell, and you can finish it yourself. That way, all you'd need to do is prep the site, have them put it in place, and you can spend a few years finishing it yourself. I'd guess you could probably do this very cheaply. I bet they even have designs where you can start small and easily add on later as your budget allows.
post #24 of 29
These tiny houses are very attractive, and two or more can be linked together.

http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
post #25 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ice Queen
These tiny houses are very attractive, and two or more can be linked together.

http://www.tumbleweedhouses.com/
Those are great. They even have one that's 500 sq ft, which would be big enough for skiprob's minimum requirement. They look very well designed. My guess, though, is that they may be a bit pricey for the size.
post #26 of 29
Nice! Actually less than $10k if you pick them in in Sabastopol (otherwise, $4/mile).
post #27 of 29
I am currently looking to buy acreage in the mountains and have a plan in place to build after acquiring the property. My brother frames houses for a living so I got great advice from him. I looked at a number of blueprints with him and decided on a design that I could build in three stages. I would suggest you take a similiar course of action. It is far cheaper in the long run to add on to an existing structure with septic and utilities already in place than to add these later. This approach will allow you build a much nicer, coherent structure in the long run. It will also cost less as the additions are already planned and thus will be less problematic. Simply look for a design that has a four or five hundred sq foot section. Getting to know builders is an excellent idea. Usually my brother worked non-stop during the summer building very large houses (5000 sq ft.+) and in the winter they would do smaller houses and additions. I would suggest taking a year to think about it. Having a plan that will take twenty years to accomplish is better than rushing to put something up that you may not be happy with later, as your equity accrues and your earning power increases.
post #28 of 29
What James said makes sense to me. Also, indoor plumbing could save your marriage.
post #29 of 29

Cool thread. The indoor plumbing definitely helps with the ladies (wife and daughter).

 

Here's everything I know on the topic:

 

The Cabin

 

Building the Cabin

 

The land was purposely bought just outside the reaches of an association.

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