1870s Log Cabin Restoration Project in Virginia
Preserving Childhood Memories
The property on which this log cabin is situated was purchased in 1950’s, when it was a working apple orchard. When the land passed into the grandchildren’s hands, they also inherited the old log cabin that had served as a family vacation spot for all those years. Although simple and rustic (the cabin did not even have electricity or running water), time spent on that hillside was a significant fixture in their childhood memories. Opting to preserve those reminiscences, it was decided to restore and update the structure.
For over 100 years, the log cabin was nestled down in a hollow, near a stream; which provided essential water access. However, the low-lying location was hot, humid, and buggy in the summer months. It was decided to dismantle and move the cabin 1500’ up the mountainside, to take advantage of cooling breezes and better views.
The Log Cabin Restoration Project
Original log cabins, by nature, are diminutive; comprising only 1 to 3 rooms. For this to be a family getaway, more space was needed. A second original log cabin was purchased and moved to the same site, and both were re-assembled.
The architect’s vision for this log cabin restoration project was to utilize the time-tested vernacular configuration known as a “dog trot”. Original settlers would first build a one or two-room log structure, which would suffice for the first few years. As more space was needed, a second cabin would be built, set apart from the original house. The intervening space would be covered by a roof extension, joining the two structures. The resulting outdoor space would be used daily for chores such as cooking, canning, and soap-making. Livestock might be penned there during inclement weather, or the space might be used for outdoor living in milder weather. The space took maximum advantage of cooling breezes, and was, in essence, a passive ventilation strategy before such a term was coined.
To adapt this vernacular “dog trot,” for modern sensibilities, both cabins were joined by a central great-room, the walls of which are comprised of folding glass panels. When fully open, the space functions as a well-appointed dog-trot, and when fully closed, the space is as comfortable as a traditional family room.
The resulting 2,600 square foot structure contains a large kitchen, great room, dining area, four bedrooms, a loft, four bathrooms, a porch, and two sets of stairs. To stay as true as possible to the original construction, all logs and even existing windows were preserved and re-used.
Energy-Efficiency / Green Design: Modern Efficiency in a Rustic Log Cabin
Green construction means having as little impact on the environment as possible. While initial costs are higher than conventional building methods, those costs will be offset by lower operating costs over time.
This Log cabin is quite unique in that it was restored to take advantage of the best of today’s energy efficient and environmentally friendly technology and products while preserving the historic aesthetic. Log cabins cannot be designed to be energy efficient in the same manner that new homes can. The many horizontal joints between logs and chinking make a tight envelope impossible. Therefore, many other energy efficient strategies were implemented.
Energy Efficiency Strategies for the Log Cabin
Insulation / Air sealing
While the walls cannot be well-insulated nor sealed without fundamentally altering the nature of the log cabin, the roof is another matter. The roof structure on this cabin is comprised of SIPs, Structural Insulated Panels. These are 8” thick panels of up to 8’ x 24’ dimensions, and are a sandwich of expanded polystyrene foam between two layers of oriented strand board. SIPS panels are very highly insulating and tight.
Heating and Cooling
For heating and cooling, a geothermal heating system was designed. It utilizes the ground as a heat-sink with two vertical ground loops installed in 300’ wells. A Water Furnace brand heat exchange unit transfers the heat into coils which heat or cool the air blowing through an air handing unit. The only energy required to run this system is that needed for a pump to move the water through the loops, and a fan to move the air through the air handler. No fossil fuels are burned in the processes of heating and refrigeration. Energy costs are therefore much lower than with a conventional system.
Traditional fireplaces are one of the most wasteful pleasures ever built into a home. They send most of the heat up the chimney, while drawing unconditioned air into the house through any and all gaps. This creates more chill than warmth and causes the heating system to work over time. The LEEDs certification program prohibits traditional fireplaces in its certification process. The “fireplace” in this cabin, while casually indistinguishable from a standard fireplace, is actually a masonry heater. The smoke from the fire follows a circuitous route around a series of internal concrete baffles, extracting most of the heat from the exhaust before it exits the chimney. The stone around the fireplace heats up and radiates heat for hours after the fire has burned down.
The kitchen stove and both parlor stoves are original antiques from the 1800’s. All have been restored to original working condition. The kitchen stove is operable and whole meals have been prepared using it. Antique cast-iron pans are still used on it.
Rainwater from the metal standing-seam roof is routed through a filter and cached in three 1700 gallon underground tanks. When needed, a pump draws water through another filter system and pressurizes the cabin’s water lines.
Water is heated by two on-demand (tankless) water heaters, which flash-heat the water as it passes through the appliance. Advantages of this system are 1) no energy is wasted keeping a tank full of water hot when not in use, and 2) it is impossible to run out of hot water.
The hardwood flooring is 40-some year old fencing, reclaimed and milled for flooring.
The original cabin timbers (logs) were re-assembled exactly as originally built. Additional re-claimed timbers were brought in by a salvage yard.
The bath fixtures are salvaged antique, cast-iron. They have been re-porcelained and are like-new.
Nearly all lighting fixtures are antiques, found at antique and junk shops, and painstakingly cleaned and re-wired.
Nearly all furniture is antique, at least 100 years old. Quilts are new handmade, reproductions and re-interpretations of period designs.
Immerse yourself in the ambiance of yesteryear on 400 mountainside forested acres. Hand hewn logs, reclaimed wood floors, restored antique stoves, furniture, and claw-foot tubs, - all contribute to the historic atmosphere, while folding glass walls, spacious rooms, central heating and air conditioning, and modern appliances provide the comfort and ease of modern day life.