Eco-Friendly Living: A Low Impact Home

Pete and Arlene Charest share their experiences with eco-friendly living by building a low impact home.

| August/September 2000

  • Diagram: The six 4 inch by 4 inch by 12 foot PT support posts rest on concrete deck blocks. This was a reasonable compromise with practicality, but any structure in windy areas should be modified with a firmer foundation.
    Diagram: End view. The six 4 inch by 4 inch by 12 foot PT support posts rest on concrete deck blocks. This was a reasonable compromise with practicality, but any structure in windy areas should be modified with a firmer foundation.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • A hideaway cabin that anyone can build for $2,000.
    A hideaway cabin that anyone can build for $2,000.
    PHOTO: ROBERT LAWSON
  • 181-030-1leto

  • Framework for the Thunderhouse low impact home.
    Framework for the Thunderhouse low impact home.
    ROBERT LAWSON
  • Diagram: Top view of Thunderhouse building.
    Diagram: Top view of Thunderhouse building.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Though small, the cabin provides beautiful views of the forest.
    Though small, the cabin provides beautiful views of the forest.
    ROBERT LAWSON
  • Chart: Low Impact Home tools and materials.
    Chart: Low Impact Home tools and materials.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Diagram: Side view of the Thunderhouse low impact home.
    Diagram: Side view of the Thunderhouse low impact home.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • All trusses in place. This photo shows the structural importance of the center 2 by 4 floor support. The 4 by 8 plywood sheets fasted to the frame are not only an inexpensive outer wall but also add strength.
    All trusses in place. This photo shows the structural importance of the center 2 by 4 floor support. The 4 by 8 plywood sheets fasted to the frame are not only an inexpensive outer wall but also add strength.
    ROBERT LAWSON
  • A hideaway cabin that anyone can build for $2,000.
    A hideaway cabin that anyone can build for $2,000.
    PHOTO: ROBERT LAWSON

  • Diagram: The six 4 inch by 4 inch by 12 foot PT support posts rest on concrete deck blocks. This was a reasonable compromise with practicality, but any structure in windy areas should be modified with a firmer foundation.
  • A hideaway cabin that anyone can build for $2,000.
  • 181-030-1leto
  • Framework for the Thunderhouse low impact home.
  • Diagram: Top view of Thunderhouse building.
  • Though small, the cabin provides beautiful views of the forest.
  • Chart: Low Impact Home tools and materials.
  • Diagram: Side view of the Thunderhouse low impact home.
  • All trusses in place. This photo shows the structural importance of the center 2 by 4 floor support. The 4 by 8 plywood sheets fasted to the frame are not only an inexpensive outer wall but also add strength.
  • A hideaway cabin that anyone can build for $2,000.

Building an environmentally friendly, low impact home.

Our six-acre lot is secluded in the untamed and litle-populated section of Florida, where Sarasota and Desoto Counties meet under a thick canopy of towering Slash Pine, Sable Palm and ancient live Oaks draped with Spanish Moss and Resurrection Fern. County environmentalists call these types of hardwood stands surrounded by wetlands Messick Hammocks, and spots like these are declared natural treasures when they're found. We purchased this property with nature in mind, deciding some day to build a low impact home that could give something back to the wildlife around us. For now, we have a small secluded cabin tucked between the trees.

We'd had some experience toying with home design, as our livelihood came from selling customized barn and shed plans (a business that was to quickly boom for both of us).

Eventually we became so busy that we needed a hideaway cabin to which we could flee during the cold winter months. Buying a secluded piece of Florida property and designing a functional, unique camp building to live in while planning a low impact home became our focus. Pete built a scale model of a box tipped over on its edge, with one point up, one point down and poles supporting the other two. Everyone laughed when they saw the model sitting on our kitchen counter that fall (there were frequent comparisons to birdhouses), but their doubts disappeared as soon as they saw photos of the little camp we called "The Thunderhouse" that was taking form in the Florida woods.



The Thunderhouse had to meet several requirements: it had to be off the ground to allow for occasional flooding; it had to offer a view of the fishing herons, egrets, ibis and wood storks in the wetlands; it had to catch the breeze under the leafy canopy on hot days while offering protection from the tropical downpours on a Summer afternoon; and it had to distance us from the occasional snake, armadillo, wild boar, turkey, bobcat, skunk and raccoon.

With no electricity, limited funds and no one to help us build, the camp building began to take shape. Pete designed it so that the lion's share of the building materials were simple 2 by 4s. The comparatively few cuts needed could be made with a simple miterbox and handsaw. The cabin was completely assembled with our trusty, battery-operated 3/8 inch cordless driver drill; stainless steel sheet metal screws were driven with a 1/4 inch driver through Simpson mending plates.

KEVIN MULLIS
3/29/2013 6:02:56 PM

This is really nice!







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