11 tips for saving energy and money at your efficient cabin.

Story, photos & sketches by Dale Mulfinger

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Gone is the day when cabins were principally for summer use and a modest wood stove cut the chill on a gray, damp evening. Today, our vacation time is rarely defined by summer alone as we can find snippets of time for breaks throughout the year in all seasons. Building codes today treat cabins like all other dwellings with energy-conservation expectations based on year-round use. And I find that most of my clients turn the heat down when not in residence, but they rarely turn it off and shut the plumbing systems down.

While it might not be necessary to turn off all energy-consuming items between cabin visits, there are some things you can do to save energy and save money. Starting on the facing page, here are 11 lifestyle and design suggestions for improving your energy consumption at your cabin:

1. Don’t build more than you regularly need, especially the heated portion of your cabin. If summer is still your big demand time, add a bunkhouse or sleeping porch for guests. And support your local motel or resort for overflow.

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2. Design your cabin to be an efficient volume of space with as few corners as possible and a second level. Heat is lost at the perimeter of the building, and the volume which has the least perimeter is a cube. You could have a flat-roofed cube or build a box with a steep roof.

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3. Create cross-ventilation and stacked air flow to make your cabin comfortable in warm weather. Warm air will exit upper windows, and cooler air will enter at lower openings.

4.In winter conditions, consider passive solar gain through strategic window locations and deliberate roof overhangs. Proximity to deciduous trees can also be beneficial for summer shade and winter solar access.

5. Focus on energy conservation before energy harvesting. Adding insulation and higher performing windows are smart investments ahead of solar panel systems (not pictured).

6. Be prudent with the sizing and placement of windows, since windows have very poor energy performance when compared to walls. Frame your views. Windows that climb high on a façade generally only see more clouds. Walk outside to see those clouds, the eagle’s flight, and the Northern Lights.

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7. Include a fresh air intake and a door closer if you’re burning wood in a woodstove or fireplace.

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8.Weigh the pros and cons of various energy sources for your location with a focus on the use cost over the past decade as compared to the install cost. In my northern Minnesota cabin location, off-peak electric supply with heat storage was the answer (not pictured).

9. Build an air-tight cabin with fresh air heat exchanging ventilation. Conduct a blower door test on the structure when the project is shelled in with insulation installed.

10. On hot nights, consider a cool swim before bedtime. And a room fan will allow you to keep the window open to hear the morning loons rather than an air conditioning fan.

11.Have a few sweaters and sweatshirts in plain sight so cool evenings need not demand thermostat change (not pictured).

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Cabinologist Dale Mulfinger regularly designs cabins with Minnesota-based SALA Architects, teaches cabin classes and gives talks on cabin design across North America. He has authored five cabin-centric books.