Nov 2, 2017: Montana Off-grid Eco Tiny House

I’m happy to report that I’m now back home at the Greeny Flat with my beloved Cintia. I had a great trip and a wonderful time with my son, Sam. We managed to make a lot of improvements to his house including adding about a foot of insulation to his attic on the day before I left. There’s still plenty for him to do but for now the house is much nicer, healthier, safer, more comfortable and significantly more energy efficient than it was when we started. So I feel like the trip was worth the time, effort, expense and carbon emissions it took to get there and back.

While I was there in Missoula I had the chance to catch up with an old friend, Kevin, who has built a wonderful little energy efficient mountain cabin for himself and his wife, Tina.

Kevin outside his eco tiny house next to the yurt he and Tina lived in for a couple of years while they built the house.

Kevin outside his off-grid eco tiny house next to the yurt he and Tina lived in for a number of years while they built the house

This was a particularly great pleasure for me because I first met Kevin when he enrolled in a ‘Green Building’ class I was teaching at the University of Montana. For his main project for the semester Kevin designed a little off-grid, self-sufficient cabin that he hoped to build for himself one day in the mountains somewhere near Missoula. At the time he didn’t have land but he certainly had the dream.

A couple of years later he had bought his little piece of the forest and came to me for advice on the design and energy efficiency details of the cabin you see in the photo above. Then he and Tina bought the yurt which they erected on top of an insulated SIPS panel floor structure to serve as a place to live while they built the house.

Inside Kevin and Tina's lovely yurt

Inside Kevin and Tina’s lovely yurt

I love yurts… they are such beautiful, minimalist structures. The criss-crossed slats you see in the photo above are the entire wall framing and are attached to a wire ‘ring’ around the top of the wall which supports the roof rafters.

The entire structure of a yurt is made up of small pieces of wood cleverly attached with steel fasteners and wire

The entire structure of a yurt is made up of small pieces of wood cleverly attached with steel fasteners and wire

The rafters, in turn, support a circular skylight in the centre of the roof which bathes the whole interior in beautiful light and provides a view of the sky.

It’s a gorgeous space to be in… for a while. But Tina and Kevin lived in this through three or four Montana winters when temperatures would get down below minus 20deg. Thankfully their yurt is somewhat insulated and can be kept very warm with a wood stove. But they didn’t have running water, their kitchen was a gas stove on a trolley and their toilet was a hole in the ground. (Tina said it wasn’t as bad as when she lived in Alaska and had to take a heated cushion with her to the outhouse to prevent her bum from freezing to the seat).

These are some tough people but still, I’m sure you can imagine how happy they are to have finally moved in to their cozy little cabin.

Tina's new bathroom complete with hot and cold running water, shower, sink, gas water heater and composting toilet

Tina’s new bathroom complete with hot and cold running water, shower, sink, gas water heater and composting toilet

The cabin could be described (very fashionably) as an Off-Grid Eco Tiny House. It has a footprint of 240sf (about 24sqm… which makes our 57sqm Greeny Flat seem like a palace) with a loft/bedroom over half of the ground floor. The floor and roof are built with SIPS panels (8 inches of foam with OSB glued to both sides) while the walls are timber framed, six inches thick and with an additional four inches of rockwool insulation wrapped around the entire outside. In retrospect Kevin says he should have used SIPS panels for the walls as well. They’re expensive to buy but would have saved him a lot of trouble and time for an equivalent level of insulation. The windows are UPVC frames and I can’t remember if they were double or triple glazed.

In general this tiny house is super insulated and very well air sealed which means they have to be careful to ventilate it correctly in the winter time. The cost for materials was about $60,000 (plus a LOT of hard work) and they’re very happy with how it turned out.

It’s hard to photograph such a small space but the series of photos that follow give a pretty good idea of what it’s like inside. I’m very grateful to Kevin and Tina for inviting me up to see the finished product. It’s very much their baby and I feel like I’ve been involved since the conception in my Green Building class. But if this is Kevin and Tina’s baby which they’ve raised from the ground up, it’s now fully mature and ready to take care of its parents (as children tend to do).

The cabin is primarily heated by this tiny little wood stove in the full-height living room

The cabin is primarily heated by this tiny wood stove in the full-height living room

The kitchen isn't quite finished yet but Tina wasn't keen to spend another winter in the yurt while Kevin completes the cabinetry so they moved in anyway

The kitchen isn’t quite finished yet but Tina wasn’t keen to spend another winter in the yurt while Kevin completes the cabinetry so they moved in anyway

A loft above the kitchen and bathroom serves as the bedroom

A loft above the kitchen and bathroom serves as the bedroom

There's a nice view of the forest from the bedroom window

There’s a nice view of the forest from the bedroom window

A 1.5kW solar and battery system supplies all of their electrical needs including pumping water up to a holding tank at the top of the hill

A 1.5kW solar and battery system supplies all of their electrical needs including pumping water up to a holding tank at the top of the hill. They use propane (LPG) for heating water, cooking and keeping the house from freezing when they’re not home

In Montana water tanks have to be buried or they freeze solid and the water line (which gravity feeds from here down to the house) has to at least six feet below ground

In Montana water tanks have to be buried or they freeze solid and the water line (which gravity feeds from here down to the house) has to be at least six feet below ground

The ultimate luxury is their 'Cowboy Hot Tub' consisting of a horse trough, wrapped in insulation and heated by a tiny little wood chip heater

The ultimate luxury is their ‘Cowboy Hot Tub’ consisting of a horse trough, wrapped in insulation and heated by a tiny little wood chip heater

Congratulations Kevin and Tina for pursuing your dream and creating a little mountain paradise of your very own. Next time I visit I look forward to staying in the yurt and lying (or squatting) in the hot tub with Cintia and a glass of Pinot Noir while gazing at the stars through the trees…. I can hardly wait.

1 comment to Nov 2, 2017: Montana Off-grid Eco Tiny House

  • Kevin McManigal

    Andy, it was great to have you out!! You and Cintia are welcome anytime. If you give me two hours notice, I can have that hot tub ready to go. It’s quite cozy for two. Just bring the wine! Thanks for all your help over the years; I see your influence in many of the fine details out here.

    Cheers mate! Kevin

Leave a Reply to Kevin McManigal Cancel reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>