A GearJunkie employee built an experimental eco-retreat in 6 acres of forest, connected to the IMBA Silver Level Mountain Bike Touring Center in Cuyuna Lakes, Minnesota.
During the winter months in northern Minnesota, the solar arcs are low in the sky above the 46th parallel. Through the south-facing windows of a recently completed cabin, the sky angles align for maximum solar heat.
GearJunkie employee and real estate developer Tom Puzak was built using innovative and upcycling materials over a period of 14 months and completed the construction of the cabin last month.
The Wattage Cottage has a foot thick walls, a massive solar panel, and 5,000 pound batteries to store energy and power the house.
Mountain bike trails and wilderness right outside the back door
It’s off the grid. But the cabin has a modern kitchen, underfloor heating, a gas fireplace, an espresso machine and almost all the conveniences of modern life.
The house has no connection to the outside world – unless you count the cellular Wi-Fi service that Puzak uses to monitor and control all aspects of the house.
Off-grid ‘Eco’ cabin
The walls have no wood. Instead, Wattage Cottage uses graphite-infused styrofoam, which is about a foot thick for the structure. These SIPs (structurally insulated panels) are manufactured off-site and stacked flat on a trailer truck and sent ready for gluing.
Fifteen large solar panels supply the cabin with electricity. They power dozens of upcycled batteries bought at a hospital that no longer needed them as an emergency backup.
Prefabricated SIPs Create a foot thick insulation walls
The cabin has a 5 foot overhang that shades half of the south-facing windows in summer. In winter, however, the overhang still allows the sunlight to warm up as it runs at a much flatter angle due to the cabin’s location above the 46th parallel.
Located on hilly, forested land, access to fresh water required a well drilled more than 500 feet into the bedrock below the house.
It is an arrangement with two bedrooms (plus sleeping loft) and a bathroom. The design emphasizes the quality of the space, said Puzak. Natural light shines on the walls and is intended to “create unique moments that occur throughout the day”.
Puzak and his family plan to live in the hut part of the year and also rent it on platforms like Airbnb for mountain bikers interested in a trail-connected base.
Remote but high tech off-grid home
Modern kitchen in a network-independent design
Puzak said he designed the hut as a demonstration of how houses could be built in 50 years.
“Technology has advanced much faster in the housing sector than the pace at which builders are using it,” he said. “It is difficult for manufacturing builders to adopt new ideas when the average home buyer doesn’t know what’s possible. That creates a race to the bottom, an all-out war for the price per square foot. “
Off-grid homes like this are rare in Minnesota, where winters are long and temperatures stay below zero for days. The cabin was created with insulating properties that are roughly three times better than the average home, Puzak said.
For example, if you turn down the thermostat in winter, it will take approximately 72 hours for the indoor temperature to drop below 55 degrees from its normal room temperature of 70 degrees.
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Cuyuna Lakes: Paradise for mountain bikers
And then there is cycling. The Driving out the back door is world class, including hilly terrain that is hilly and scenic.
The closest trails are the Cruser’s Kettle and Yawkey Mine trails, which are the most advanced in the area. Rocks, berms, tables and gaps shape the routes. Easier single trails and paved bike paths are just 1.6 km away.
Built on the edge of the Cuyuna Wilderness
As a serious mountain biker, the location was crucial. Puzak looked for land next to the hilly kettle moraine area that would soon be the advanced 10 mile loop. The land is about 3 miles from downtown Crosby / Ironton but only a few pedal strokes from the trail.
As for the name, Puzak said “Wattage Cottage” was lovingly borrowed from former professional cyclist Phil Gaimon.
Phil’s cabinIn the mountains of Southern California, it is used as a place for high-altitude training to increase your cycling fitness by watts. Puzak’s cabin is also used for this, but more appropriately, it’s powered by a 5,000W solar panel. He hopes Phil doesn’t mind.