Solar System Upgrades

I recently experienced some issues with the cabin solar system due to a few weeks of mostly cloudy days combined with low temps. Due to the holidays I was unable to visit the cabin for a three week period and the batteries reached the system's low voltage disconnect state on Tuesday of the third week. I was also having a problem with the compressor on the refrigerator not able to start when it is cold. While these circumstances are atypical, I took the opportunity to perform a few ...

Cabin Control System

The past few months I've been working on a control system for the cabin. Initially I wanted an easier way to turn on and off the video motion detection when I arrived and left the cabin instead of having to boot up the laptop. I wanted to be able to switch it on/off it with my phone. Then I wanted to be able to view the snapshots remotely. And monitor the temperature in the cabin...

Well, you get the idea. The project as it stands today consists of:

  • 2 Control boards, ...

This and That

A couple of weeks ago I added a 5 cubic ft. refrigerator to the cabin. It runs on 12V directly from the battery bank and stays on all the time. It has a small freezer section that will make ice. It's nice that I no longer have to lug a cooler full of ice and food/drinks every trip.

I've been using the propane range and propane tankless water heater regularly. I especially like the water heater as I set it at a specific temperature and it will maintain that temperature. I currently ...

Cabin Security

It's been a few months since my last post due to a combination of factors but largely because of the despicable actions of thieves and vandals. The cabin was burglarized twice over the span of a few weeks. Nothing of great value was taken but both cabin doors were damaged and these incidents prompted a re-examination of cabin security. It's a cliche, but it really is the feeling of violation that's more traumatic than the loss of property, although having to clean up all the shattered ...

Cold and Snow

It's been unusually cold here this past week with overnight lows below 0 degrees and highs in the single digits. We've also had a good bit of snow.

My plan to use excess solar power to keep the utility room above freezing was still not working very well and I don't think it would have been enough to deal with temperatures below zero in any case. So I made an emergency trip to the cabin last Wednesday and moved a small propane heater I had in the mini-cabin over to the utility room. ...

Winter 2013

Not too much work done over the last few weeks so I've included some pictures I took yesterday of the onset of winter at the cabin, my resident rabbit, and a bunch of elk crossing the property.

One thing I have been working on is a method of keeping the utility room warm enough that the water pipes/tank don't freeze. This involves diverting excess solar power to an "opportunity load" in the form of some large resistors. The idea is that the charge controller will ramp up the current ...

Bed and More Solar Panels

I finished the kitchen cabinets a couple of weeks ago by installing the door/drawer handles, adjusting all the doors, permanently installing the backsplashes, and testing out the sink plumbing.

Last week I installed a new queen sized bed consisting of a basic frame I built, a futon mattress, and a memory foam topper. Much better than the twin bed.

I also installed two more solar panels. I have a total of six panels, with four now installed.

Countertops and Kitchen

Here are some pictures of the countertops I made for the kitchen. Laminate covered plywood with a bevel edge trim.

With the countertops, sink, and range installed, the kitchen is mostly complete. I still need to install the door/drawer hardware, the toe-kick for the cabinets, and adjust a few of the doors.

Though there are a few minor details that didn't work out quite right (i.e. one drawer won't open all the way because of the bathroom door trim), I think the layout works ...

Steps and Cabinets

A couple of weeks ago I built some steps for the front porch to replace the temporary steps that I've been using the past few years. The steps are 36" wide and consist of three stringers cut from treated 2x12's and cedar 2x4's for the treads. I'll probably add some railings at some point.

This weekend I spent three days at the cabin and installed kitchen cabinets. The plain white (cheap) doors make them look like laundry room cabinets but the carcasses and hardware are actually ...

Overnight Visit

I stayed overnight at the cabin this weekend. Didn't do too much work but got a few things done. Installed blinds in the loft windows, moved the twin XL bed over from the mini-cabin (the futon a friend gave me was very uncomfortable), and did some cleaning.

I used the shower for the first time and it was great. Plenty of water pressure and plenty of hot water after running the generator for about 25 min. Took a small grill out and grilled some brats for dinner.

Pics show ...

Finish Shower/Vanity and Plumbing

This week I finished the shower by caulking the corners and base with grout colored caulk. I also caulked around the vanity and installed a shower curtain.

I finished all the plumbing in the utility room. The piping may look overdone but the system allows everything to be easily drained, shutoffs for individual segments, and water flowing through the water heater to be output back into the tank so I can fully fill the water heater without wasting any water.


It's been a while since my last post but I have been doing some work at the cabin, primarily in the bathroom. The plan has always been to install a neo-angle shower in the back corner of the bathroom but after researching options, I discovered that good quality corner showers are very expensive (i.e. $1400+). I opted to go with a less expensive option, installing a 30x60 shower pan and tiling the shower walls. The pan was about $200 and the tile another $150. Eventually I'll install a ...

Spring 2013

I went out to the cabin yesterday for the first time since January. Everything was as I had left it. There was still some snow in a few places that don't see much sun.

The solar array was working great. The batteries were fully charged and the controller in float mode.

When I arrived, there were a few deer standing around the cabin.

I didn't do too much work, just some minor things to ready the cabin for overnight stays:

  1. Replaced the piezo igniter ...

Cold and Snow

I took a last trip out to the cabin for 2012 just before Christmas. I packed up and brought home all the equipment I didn't want to leave onsite all winter and cleaned the floors.

There was a good bit of snow on the ground but I made it in and out without trouble. It was a cold day, with a high in the single digits.

Fans and Blinds

Last week I painted all the downstairs window and door trim but the pictures would have looked the same as the versions with just the primer so I didn't post. I also installed some cedar baseboards in the loft. I just used 1x4 cedar planks that I planed down to about 5/8" and cut a chamfer on the top.

Last weekend I installed ceiling fans in the loft and first-floor. I also installed blinds on all the first-floor windows. I painted the bathroom door and installed a privacy ...

Heat, Lights, and Trim

Last week I finally finished with the heater connection, installed most of the solar equipment, and added interior trim on the downstairs windows and doors.

The heater seems to work well and the location near the stairs keeps the loft very close to the same temperature as the first floor. It's a 20,000 BTU heater and it does take a couple of hours to raise the inside temperature to a comfortable level when it's cold outside but once reaching the desired point, it doesn't run much, ...

Utility Room, Battery Box, and Heater

Last week I built a battery box using a single sheet of MDF I had on hand. It's insulated with 1" and 1.5" foam insulation and painted with some orange paint I had leftover from another project. It should easily hold four golf cart type batteries which I plan to use in the solar system. The purpose of a battery box is to a) keep things from coming into contact with the battery terminals like dropped tools and b) safely vent the flammable hydrogen gas created during certain charging ...

Utility Room and Random Other Things

I want to finish some more outside work before the cold weather starts in earnest so I've started finishing the interior of the utility room. I wired up the AC electrical panel, added insulation, and started sheathing the inside walls with OSB. I framed in a ceiling with access to the "attic". The "attic" is a very small space but provides a place to run wiring and piping more easily and neatly.

I also worked on a few other miscellaneous tasks. I installed the bathroom door, ...

Downstairs Ceiling, Walls, and Flooring

The last four trips to the cabin were as follows:

  1. Clean up, organize, and move all the tools/supplies that were completely cluttering the first floor. Applied a final coat of joint compound on the downstairs walls.

  2. Sanded all the walls and ceiling. Applied a "slap brush" texture to the ceiling.

  3. Painted the ceiling and walls of the main room.

  4. Installed oak hardwood flooring in the main room.

Loft Finish and Flooring

Saturday I put four coats of water-based polyeurethane on the loft siding. I used an Earlex HVLP sprayer I bought on sale about five years ago but hadn't used until now. The sprayer worked great and it took about 25 minutes to spray a finish coat. Because I used water based poly, drying time between coats was only two hours.

While waiting for the finish to dry between coats I started on a porch ceiling using T&G aspen siding I had left over from the loft. While not strictly ...

Loft Siding

I've finished installing the aspen siding in the loft. It took a bit longer than expected. Next I'll add some finish and trim.

Loft Trim

Saturday I installed trim in the loft. I used cedar for the trim and the color matched the aspen siding very well. The windows took the longest but turned out well.

More Siding, More Rails, Tailgate, Rabbit

This week I mostly worked on the siding in the loft. I'm about 80% finished.

I also installed two more aluminum rails on the roof for solar panels. Originally I planned on installing two large 300W+ panels using the two rails but have since decided to use four somewhat smaller 200W+ panels, therefore the extra set of rails are required.


I found a new replacement Ford tailgate shell locally for $250. It's already primed and I'm going to try painting it ...

Interior Siding for the Loft

Last week I installed a junction box on the side of the cabin for the solar panels. The 8-3 wire from the utility room terminates in this box. I needed to finish running that wire before I could close up the loft ceiling.

Last Friday I picked up 900 sq. ft. of aspen T&G siding for the loft interior. We had some trouble loading the bundle onto the truck, resulting in a bent tailgate. We ended up hand loading the bundle, so in two days I unloaded the planks from the bundle, ...

Insulation, Cleanup, and Solar Mounts

Over the last couple of weeks I finished with the cellulose insulation, insulated the loft knee walls, cleaned all the dust out of the cabin, and installed the mounting rails for the solar panels.

The only areas needing blown insulation that remained were the areas under the three first floor windows, and an area in a bathroom wall cavity where there was some blocking holding the shower controls. I drilled a two inch hole in the top of each cavity and blew in the cellulose using a ...

More Insulation

I finished blowing cellulose insulation into the first floor wall cavities. Overall I am happy with the results. The total process took about 12 hours. The biggest drawback was all the dust now coating everything in the loft and part of the first floor.

Disappearing Cows, More Mud, and Insulation

A week after arriving to find the property overrun with cows, I returned and found they had all departed. Apparently they were just passing through, on their way to green pastures. I can't say I was disappointed.

I did some more drywall mudding, mostly on the inside corners, which seem to take me the longest. Currently I have two coats on everything, with one more to go.

I discovered the lockset on the utility building was jammed or something and I couldn't get inside. It ...

The Curious Case of the Cows at the Cabin

On Saturday I went out to the cabin and put another coat of mud on the sheetrock. I was surprised to find the place overrun with cows. Part of our property is fenced but the part where the cabin is located has no fence separating it from the adjacent neighbor who apparently owns the cows. I'd guess there were about a hundred or so.

Cabin: Finished Hanging Drywall and Start Mudding

Last Fall/Winter we hung most of the drywall but were about four sheets shy of finishing. Last weekend I finished up the area under the stairs, one bathroom wall, and a few miscellaneous smaller pieces.

A few weeks ago I noticed the box for the living room fan didn't have a wire in it so I was a little worried we had run it to the wrong spot but I was able to remove the box from the hanger bracket and find the wire and run it into the box.

The majority of two days of work was ...

Cabin: More Trim and Misc

Saturday at the cabin was cold and windy again, making work outside unpleasant and progress slow. I primarily worked on the cedar trim for the front corners. The front corner trim is complicated by the presence of the porch which required some creative cutting to make the trim reasonably attractive and weatherproof.

I also added a soffit on the utility room roof overhang. For the soffit I used two cedar boards with a gap of about an inch for ventilation. I backed the soffit with ...

Cabin: Some Work in the Loft

Last weekend was cold and windy with highs in the upper 40's so I worked inside the cabin on Saturday where I could run the propane heater. I finished installing the 1" rigid foam insulation in the ceiling of the loft and used spray foam to seal all the cracks and gaps. Working with spray foam is messy. The rigid foam is just to supplement the fiberglass insulation that will go under the cabin roof because the fiberglass is about an inch thinner than the space available in the ...

Cabin: Spring 2012 Update

I continued work on the cabin this past weekend. It was my first trip since early December of last year. I'm always anxious about what I will find after not visiting for several months, imagining the roof having blown off in a winter storm, a surly family of bears taken residence, or some backwoods types cooking meth in the living room.

Upon arrival and inspection, I found everything exactly as I had left it, as well as no evidence our recent, admittedly less than harsh, winter had ...

Cabin - Misc Exterior and Start Interior

A few weeks ago I finished the porch roof, installed a fascia on the porch, and installed some cedar siding on the porch "gable" to block some of the sun/rain/snow. I also framed in the bathroom.

Last week, my parents were visiting and my Dad and I worked on the interior for a few days.

We started out by building the stairs up to the loft. The stairs are "winder" stairs and have one landing with a diagonal tread on the landing.

Next we roughed in the ...

Cabin: Gable Siding, Gable Trim, Porch Roof

I finished the siding on the rear gable. The only siding I have left is a few small pieces to go on the utility building gables which I'm waiting to install until I get the roof on. I caulked the front gable window and installed some cedar trim on the front gable so I'd be done on the front gable and could start installing the porch roof.

I installed four of the five steel panels on the porch roof and ran out of screws. The porch roof panels slide under the flashing where they meet ...

Cabin: Soffit, Flashing, and Gable Siding

Saturday I started installing the gable siding. Before installing the actual siding I had to install the soffit on the gable ends of the roof overhang, add flashing and sills to the gable windows, and install flashing where the porch roof meets the wall.

Installing the siding itself was time consuming because each piece of siding was cut to a different length and there were obviously a lot of angled cuts to match the roof profile. Also, having to continually climb up and down from ...

Cabin: Getting Tired of Siding

I'm really getting bored with nothing but siding. Luckily I'm almost finished with only the two end gables remaining. This weekend I sided the front and left sides of the cabin. The front went quickly once all the pieces were cut. The left side took a while though having the scaffold saved quite a bit of time. There were quite a few warped and twisted boards among the long pieces used on the left side but I found a good method of drawing them into alignment was to use long deck screws ...

Cabin: Even More Siding

Saturday I installed the siding on the side of the cabin with the utility room. Lots of small pieces and a few big ones at the top of the wall. The pieces at the top were time consuming because I had to move from utility roof to left side ladder back to roof to right side ladder.

Sunday I stayed home and cut and bundled pieces for the front of the cabin and about a third of the left wall.

I was planning on installing more siding on Monday but the forecast said rain off and on ...

Cabin: More Siding

I only worked one day this weekend and just put up some more siding. I finished the rear wall, not including the gable, and started on the side with the utility room. I also painted the door frame and installed a lockset on the utility room door, finished staining the porch, and added oil to the generator. It was really hot. Here are a few pics.

Cabin: Odds and Ends plus Siding

This past weekend I took care of a few random tasks and started installing exterior siding. Upon arriving at the cabin I discovered that the bird flying around the loft on my last visit was thankfully gone so the first thing I did was install the soffit on the remaining open eave to hopefully "bird-proof" the cabin interior.

My water tank arrived last week and I needed to put it in the utility room prior to installing the utility room door since it was slightly too wide to fit ...

Cabin - Utility Building II

This past weekend I installed sheathing on the utility building. I had enough of the Zip Systems sheathing left over for all but one side of the building. I used standard OSB for that side, covered in 30lb tar paper.

I also installed purlins on the roof of the utility building and cleaned up around the cabin. There was a large bird flying around in the loft that I couldn't get out. Hopefully it will fly out before this weekend. I really need to close in the one remaining open ...

Cabin: Utility Building

Over July 4th weekend I started building a "utility room" for the cabin. This 4'x8' building has one wall which is adjacent to the cabin but is essentially a discrete structure. There is no direct access from the cabin to the utility building, rather the utility building has its own exterior door. The purpose of the utility building is to house a water tank, water heater, electrical panel, battery bank, water pump, etc. The wall the utility building "shares" with the main cabin is the ...

Cabin: Porch Roof

Weekend before last, I added water and ice shield to the porch roof and installed 2x4 purlins. The purlins will allow me to use a ladder on the porch roof when I install siding on the gable. The steel roofing will eventually be attached to the purlins in the same manner as the main cabin roof.

I routed a series of notches in the bottoms of the purlins to allow water to pass through and not get trapped.

I also stained the porch's cedar decking with a UV blocking ...

Cabin: Porch

This past weekend I finished framing the porch roof. Initially I was going to leave the roof off until the siding was installed on the gable end because I would need to be able to rest a ladder on the roof to install the siding and that would be impossible with a metal roof. I changed my mind and decided to finish framing the roof and add a layer of sheathing, a layer of water and ice shield underlayment, and the 2x4 purlins. The sheathing and underlayment will protect the decking from ...

Cabin: Porch

Finally had some good weather this weekend. Sunny and warm. The temperature reached 80 on Sunday an I was wishing it were cooler.

After installing a flashing where the ledger attaches to the cabin I laid about 2/3 of the 2x6 cedar decking at which point I ran out of deck screws. The screws are sold by the pound so it was difficult to estimate how many were needed. The cedar decking comes with one rough side and one sanded side but because I didn't hand pick the wood several of the ...

Cabin: Porch Framing

Continuing work on the cabin's porch over Memorial Day weekend turned out to be a frustrating experience. Persistent rain all weekend combined with temperatures in the 40's and windy conditions managed to thwart any consistent construction effort. I was able to try out a new propane heater I bought in January which kept the inside of the cabin a comfortable temperature. On Saturday I built and installed the beam and attached the ledger to the cabin. The beam was built up from three 2x8's ...

Cabin: Spring 2011 - Porch

I finally got started on the cabin again this spring after a long delay due to bad weather, vacation, and illness. I feel like I'm getting a really late start this year but looking back at last year, I didn't finish the foundation until July 7th and I was able to get a staggering amount finished before winter. So I'm really ahead of schedule compared to last year.

I hadn't visited the cabin since January and was concerned about the condition it might be in after the harsh winter but ...

Cabin: Finish Roof

While it may not look like much has been accomplished over the last few weeks, this past weekend a fairly major milestone was passed. The roof of the cabin is finished and the cabin should be completely weatherproof, just in time for winter.

Last weekend I finished the fascia and all the gable flashing and installed the ridge cap. Mostly this involved constantly climbing up and down one of three ladders and moving ladders around.

Cabin: Gable windows and some roof work

Over the last couple of weeks I finished sheathing both gable ends and installed the two gable windows. The windows are 24"x48". I probably could have used larger windows but I already had these.

I started working on the fascia and remaining flashing for the steel roof. I'm using some fiber-cement siding panels for the fascia, painted to match the roofing. It was the right width and should be low maintenance.

Cabin: More roofing and gable sheathing

This weekend I finished installing the steel roof sheeting and installed sheathing on one of the gable ends.

Cabin: More roofing and gable framing

Nothing really new this week, just more progress on the roof. This weekend I finished installing the steel roofing panels on one side of the roof. When installing sheathing two weeks ago, we left a two foot gap unsheathed at the peak of the roof to provide easier access when installing the steel roofing. I installed the next to last piece of sheathing and purloins on the unfinished half of the roof. I also framed the other gable end.

Cabin: Steel Roofing and Gable Framing

Took Saturday off to watch football. On Sunday, I got 2 of the 12 steel roofing panels installed before the wind picked up too much to handle the panels. Spent the rest of the afternoon framing one of the gable ends. Each gable end will have a 24"x48" window.

Cabin: Roof Framing and Sheathing

My mom and dad were visiting the past ten days so I enlisted their help in working on the cabin roof. We finished the framing and sheathing but weren't able to install the actual steel roofing. Work was slowed considerably by prevalent high winds as well as the labor intensive nature of the work itself.

The roof has a pitch of 12/12 which provides 7' x 16' of full standing room in the loft area. The roof rafters were constructed using 12' 2x8's attached to a non-structural 2x10 ...

Cabin: Loft Subfloor

On Saturday I replaced one of the loft floor joists because it had too much crown and installed the subfloor. I used 3/4" OSB for the subfloor. Getting it upstairs by myself was a challenge but ultimately not too bad using a rope and ramp. I couldn't detect any bounce in the floor, even using 2x8 joists. Next up, the roof.

Cabin: Windows, Door, and Second Floor Framing

Last week I finished taping the seams on the Zip Systems wall sheathing and installed the front entry door. This past weekend I cut out and installed the first floor windows. There are three windows on the first floor, plus the window in the door. I limited the number of windows somewhat to provide more wall space for cabinets and storage.

Yesterday I finished framing the loft floor. The first floor ceiling height is 8 ft. and the loft floor is framed with 2x8's leaving a ...

Cabin: Wall Sheathing

Not much to report from this past weekend. I drafted some help in the form of my friend Troy and we installed the rest of the wall sheathing (14 panels) and managed to get a tarp over the entire structure. I tented the tarp up at the center using a board clamped to a ladder to hopefully shed any water.

Cabin: How to raise walls in the most frightening way possible

How to raise walls in the most frightening way possible:

  1. Make sure you're working totally alone.

  2. Make your walls 11 feet high with 2x6 studs 16" OC. Install some sheathing before raising for added weight.

  3. Build your own wall jack from a 16' 2x6, a $12 hand winch, a gate hinge, and a garage door pulley.

  4. Try to pick a moderately windy day.

Building and raising the first wall went well until it was ...

Cabin: Finish floor and miscellaneous

I only spent one day at the cabin site this weekend, mostly doing miscellaneous chores. I did finish the floor which involved adding the remaining bits of insulation, installing the last 4x8 sheet of subfloor, and trimming the subflooring. I also filled in the gaps between panels with floor patch and put on a coat of exterior latex primer to protect the floor from weather so I wouldn't have to keep wrestling with a 20'x30' tarp in the wind. Here's the finished floor:

The ...

Cabin: Floor - Two days in the sun.

Day 1: Saturday (High temperature 95 degrees)

On Saturday I installed the floor joists:

Day 2: Sunday (High temperature 96 degrees)

On Sunday I added plywood strips in the bottom of the joist bays, held in place with 1x2 strips to form a bed for the insulation. I then added the insulation, followed by 3/4" OSB T&G sheathing. I miscalculated slightly on the amount of insulation needed so I still have one piece of sheathing ...

Cabin: Foundation Attempt #2 - If at first you don''t succeed...

Unhappy with the first attempt at pouring piers for the foundation, yet not wanting to start over from scratch, I decided to reinforce the existing piers by pouring a concrete "shell" around them. The shell is 12"x12" square and reinforced with four pieces of 1/2" rebar placed vertically near the corners. I also made sure to pour to the height of the bottom of the beam brackets so in most cases the new pour covered the top of the existing piers. For the new pour, I again built plywood ...

Cabin: Foundation Attempt #1 - Results

Here are some photos of the results of the foundation attempt. These are the piers with the forms removed. Since I am unhappy with the results I had planned on starting over from scratch but am now considering a less drastic option. Stay tuned...

Cabin: Foundation Attempt #1

The plan for the foundation of the cabin is to use a "pier" foundation. In my particular case, I planned on four concrete piers per side, supporting two built up beams 16' in length. The beams will be 6"x10". The floor joists will be cantilevered 8" over the beams so the piers will sit fully under the floor and allow for easier skirting.

Due to the size and weight of the beams, it will be necessary to build them in place on the foundation piers. My primary concern was my ability ...

Cabin: A few more pictures of the site

Here are a few more pictures of the cabin site from the road entering the property. The cabin will sit atop the rocky area.

Cabin: Site Selected

I have more or less selected the site where I'll build the main cabin. It's among the few trees on the property and the ground is solid rock so I won't have to worry about the foundation moving.

You can see the rocky area the cabin will sit on.