Magazine article Sunset

The Nature of Escape: A Vacation Home That's Self-Sufficient. (Energy-Wise)

Magazine article Sunset

The Nature of Escape: A Vacation Home That's Self-Sufficient. (Energy-Wise)

Article excerpt

"I wanted a combination of Greek temple and Indian long-house," recalls photographer Fred Housel about the design of his vacation home in Washington's San Juan Islands. What he got was a 1,200-square-foot house that marries age-old building principles--sensitivity to site, the use of strong, simple forms--with 21st-century energy efficiency and sustainable design.

Making several level changes as it steps down the slope, the house comprises three small gabled cabins connected by enclosed breezeways. Each cabin contains one of the main areas: the master bedroom to one side; the kitchen-dining area and living room in the middle at the lowest level, facing southeast toward the water view; and a second bedroom on the other side.

The straightforward design helped simplify construction. This was important since many of the building materials had to be airlifted to the site by helicopter--no regular ferry serves the small island and there are no roads, utilities, or nearby docks. The rear of each building ties to a continuous footing, while a post-and-beam foundation levels and supports the rest of the structure, minimizing the amount of concrete that had to be mixed on site.

The site's isolated location also dictated many of the home's self-sufficient elements, including an array of six photovoltaic collectors with battery storage and an inverter, a rainwater collection setup with its own filtration, a composting toilet, and a woodstove.

Housel's muscle power is needed for splitting wood and lugging 10-gallon tanks of propane to the site. …

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