Monday, April 18, 2011

Building a Cabin

While I write this review I am sitting my apartment building's laundry room, with Toshiba notebook computer, drinking chilld tap water from an old Bek Se Ju (for those that don't know, I am a huge fan of Korean Bek Se Ju [pronounced baek say joo] which is made from rice, sweet potatoes and 12 traditional herbs). I think the bottles are great for drinking water out of.

Also in front of me is Snuggle fabric softener 'Fresh Rain' and Purex 2X Ultra Concentrate. I have no complaints about their cleaning ability, stain fighting power, softness-fying or the nice smell I get when I pull them from the dryer.

I find the laundry room a nice place to sit and write blogs on my notepad. Its relatively quiet and secluded, the only sounds being the constant whirring, ka-thunk ka-thunk and splashing sounds of the washing machines and dryer. They're strangely melodious.

What I want to write about today is that sense of tranquility and calm you get in being in such a nice quiet place. Some people might start to feel bored or anxious, but I think its an excellent opportunity to unwind, relax and get away from the other sounds of living in downtown Toronto... the sounds of trucks going by, police sirens, fire truck sirens (I live near a fire station), construction, traffic, noisy neighbours and so on.

Now there is other ways to get away from such sounds...

#1. You could go camping. In which case I recommend Canadian Tire if you want to go buy a tent and other supplies / camping gear. I should note however that I am a firm believer in the "less is more" style of camping. You pack as few things as possible, only as much as you can easily carry up a steep hill while getting whacked in the face with branches (I did this back in October 2010 with my girlfriend at the time, loads of fun!) without getting yourself hurt. Food/water, a source of heat, sleeping bag, toilet paper, tent... you know, the bare essentials! Anything more than that and you're not really camping.

#2. You could get a cottage, ie. Muskoga Cottage. My sister and her husband got a cottage last year and although I have yet to visit it I do know its on a river near Georgian Bay, which allows them to go kayaking whenever they feel like it.

But here is the thing... I would like to do one better than both of these... I would like to someday buy a chunk of land in Northern Ontario (and the land up there can be pretty cheap depending on where you look) and BUILD a shelter, eventually a cabin up there.

I am going to break this down into a number of stages so you can get a better idea of what I am talking about...

#1. Build a basic shelter to live in, the first step you want to do so you have a place to live while working. You could use a tent, but I think that would get pretty cramped over time and isn't really much protection from moose or black bears. Therefore an actual wooden structure, regardless of how crude it is, sounds much better to me.

My method would be to build something akin to a cedar log fence, but in the shape of a square or hexagon. Build it up so its 8' tall and then peak the roof inwards like you are building a pyramid. Then cover interior with mosquitoe netting. Then use whatever you have available to reinforce the walls, roofs and so forth until you have a shelter which will adequately keep out the sun, rain and insects.

#2. Build your Outhouse or Bathroom NEXT. I say this because I'd argue this is probably the most important place in your would-be-cabin-away-from-it-all.

When building your bathroom you will want to have a rough idea of how the rest of your cabin should be designed (with rooms for future additions).

In my case I want my cabin to be combination of stone, wood, cement and glass. I want mortared stone to be the main part of the building's structure. I might use some commercial roofing along the way to speed up the process or metal panels on the sides if I can't get lots of stone to do the job, but that is still the long term goal.

The beauty of stone (I think) is that is doesn't have to be used in straight lines like brick or wood is. You can make rounded walls, as thick as you want them to be, different colours of stone, the flat sides facing outwards or even the rounded sided facing outwards. I actually prefer the rounded look, the bumpy quality of it.

Inside the bathroom you want to think in terms of several things...

A) Plumbing, you will need a clean source of water. The proverbial water barrel with tubes might work for some people, but others might want to have a professional plumber come in and install everything like its a normal house.

B) Drainage, some place for your leftovers to go that won't cause a huge stink with the neighbours. A pit in the ground filled with water is typical of what most outhouses use.

C) Pottery / Ceramics... I bring this up because I think this is an excellent way to both decorate your bathroom and make it easier to clean. Handmade pottery can be used for the sink(s), toilet seat, and shower/bathtub tiles.

Or you might decide to bathe in the local river, pond or lake... in which case try looking for some environmentally friendly soaps.

#3. Build the ground floor and walls next. In theory you could build over and replace your existing shelter, or be building a whole new place to live. Either could be ideal depending on your plan.

Again I think stone and mortar would be an excellent method of accomplishing this. Other people might prefer to use wood or other materials, but I like the permanency and reliability of stone. True, it will be tough work to quarry, lift and mortar all that stone, but just imagine your biceps by the time you are done! It would be a great weight loss program!

When doing this you should also be concerned about building a fireplace and chimney. Myself I would be tempted to design this in a way it can be used for cooking, baking and even as a kiln for pottery.

#4. Lastly you will want to build a roof, one which hopefully lets the light in, but can withstand the weight of snow in the winter. For me I want to build a steep peaked roof so the snow slides off frequently and doesn't get a chance to build up to any thickness. Also, I want to use as much space as I can to put in glass roofing windows / sky lights to get as much natural light in there as possible. In the summer I can draw shades or soap up the windows to keep it cool inside, but for the rest of the year I want the inside to be brightly lit and as warm as possible.

I firmly believe that you can find for free, salvage most of the materials you need, buy used materials, barter, pay some hippies to help you build it, etc... You don't need to resort to buying everything if you have the Do-It-Yourself Mentality.

#5. Adding Insulation...

I firmly believe in the idea of adding buffer zones and continuing to insulate a home more and more. The idea is to eventually make it so insulated and cozy on the inside that you don't even need a fireplace. You can do this cheaply, by finding ways / materials to cheaply insulate (heck you can even find printable coupons for things that can help you, but again I am a traditionalist... my preferred method would be to simply keep adding more stone to the walls. Mortar and stone are both cheap, so you can keep adding to the structure, making the walls thicker, adding entry sections, buffer zones, additional walls, etc.

I also like the idea of having a greenhouse as part of the cabin. This could be built like a glass pyramid, using very little other materials, and connected to the rest of the cabin... This would then provide both food, heat and a place to relax.

(Heck, you could LIVE inside a greenhouse if you really wanted to... I would just advise putting lots of thick plants around the sides so the neighbours can't see in so easily. The greenhouse could also be used to get rid of your bathroom drainage...)

#6. Electricity...

Assuming you actually want electricity this is where that peaked roof comes back into play. Stick a windmill turbine up there, attach it to some batteries, maybe add some solar panels... voila! Enough power for a toaster, a small microwave and a laptop computer. Need more than that? Add a larger solar array or build a waterwheel that can be put in the nearby river.

The Finale!

At the end of all of this you've just managed to make a place, a home possibly, where you can live comfortably away from the stress of the city... you will be "off the grid" in terms of electricity, and combined with your greenhouse and some gardens pretty self sufficient in terms of food. Depending on where you bought the land the land taxes will be pretty cheap too.

Some people might even design their cabin to look more like a Buddhist temple, using designs for traditional Asian cabins which use thick paper for interior walls, windows, etc. Definitely an excellent place to enjoy the tranquility and harmony with nature.

Below is a traditional Korean cabin which was built by some friends of mine in Jeonju.

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