A GearJunkie contributor built an experimental eco-retreat on 6 forested acres, connected to IMBA’s silver-level mountain biking ride center at Cuyuna Lakes, Minnesota.
The sun arcs low in the sky above the 46th parallel during the winter months in northern Minnesota. But through the south-facing windows of a just-completed cabin, celestial angles align for maximum solar warmth.
Built over a 14-month timeframe, and with innovative and upcycled materials, GearJunkie contributor and real estate developer Tom Puzak wrapped up the construction of the cabin last month.
The Wattage Cottage has one-foot-thick walls, a massive solar array, and 5,000 pounds of batteries to store energy and power the home.
It’s off the grid. But the cabin has a modern kitchen, in-floor heat, a gas fireplace, an espresso machine, and most every amenity of modern life.
The home has no connection to the outside world — unless you count its cellular Wi-Fi service, which Puzak uses to monitor and control all aspects of the home.
Its walls have no lumber. Instead, Wattage Cottage uses graphite-infused Styrofoam about a foot thick for structure. These SIPs (structural insulated panels) are manufactured offsite and sent stacked flat on a semi-truck, ready to be glued into place.
Fifteen large solar panels power the cabin. They feed dozens of upcycled batteries, purchased from a hospital that no longer needed them as emergency backup.
The cabin has a 5-foot overhang designed to shade half of the south-facing windows during summer. But in winter, the overhang still permits warming sunlight, as it passes at a much flatter angle due to the cabin’s location above the 46th parallel.
Perched on hilly, forested land, access to fresh water required a well drilled more than 500 feet into bedrock below the home.
It’s a two-bedroom (plus sleeping loft), one-bathroom arrangement. The design emphasizes the quality of space, Puzak said. Natural light shines onto walls, and the intent is to create “unique moments that occur throughout the day.”
Puzak and his family plan to live in the cabin part of the year and also rent it on platforms like Airbnb for mountain bikers interested in a trail-connected home base.
Remote but High-Tech Off-Grid Home
Puzak said he designed the cabin as a demonstration of how homes might be built 50 years from now.
“Technology has been developing much faster in the home-building sector than the pace at which home builders are adopting it,” he said. “It’s hard for production builders to adopt new ideas when the average home buyer does not know what is possible. That creates a race to the bottom, an all-out, price-per-square-foot war.”
Off-grid homes like this are rare in Minnesota, where winter is long and temps dredge below zero for days on end. The cabin was created with insulating properties about three times better than the average home, Puzak said.
For example, if you turn the thermostat down in the winter, it takes about 72 hours for the temperature inside to drop below 55 degrees from its normal 70-degree room temp.
Cuyuna Lakes: Mountain Biker’s Paradise
And then there’s the biking. The riding out the back door is world-class, including undulating terrain that is hilly and scenic.
The closest trails are the Cruser’s Kettle and Yawkey Mine trails, the most advanced trails in the area. Rocks, berms, tables, and gaps dot the routes. Easier singletrack trails and paved bike paths are just a mile away.
As a serious mountain biker, the location was key. Puzak looked for land adjacent to the hilliest kettle moraine terrain that would soon be home to the advanced 10-mile loop. The land is about 3 miles from downtown Crosby/Ironton but only a few pedal strokes from the trail.
As for the name, Puzak said “Wattage Cottage” was lovingly borrowed from former pro-cyclist Phil Gaimon.
Phil’s cabin, in the mountains of Southern California, is used as an altitude training location for him to add watts to his bike fitness — Puzak’s cabin is used for that too, but, more aptly, it’s powered by a 5,000W solar array. He hopes Phil doesn’t mind.