Donner Summit, CA

Rejuvenation, birth of the next generation, and respect for place are the governing guidelines for this Sierra Nevada mountain cabin. The intent of the project was to create a year-round retreat that is energy efficient, that functions well in the winter months (in a place with an average snow fall of more than 30 feet), and that provides a center for an active multi-generational family. The original building, a drafty summer cabin with no insulation and single pane windows, was dark and structurally compromised by the significant snow load. An existing native stone fireplace and steep gable roof provide the architectural language and changes to the building worked within this simple western vernacular. The interior layout of the building was rearranged to create better circulation paths, public and private spaces are both open and intimate, and the design allows for versatility of activity.

The gut renovation provided an opportunity to reduce the long term impact of the building’s energy usage.  Improved air-sealing, thermal free bridge details and upgraded insulating were addressed in the building envelope. Using a combination of closed cell spray foam and sprayed in fiberglass in the existing walls, roof, and floors maximized the R-Values in the existing assemblies. Because there was an existing rock fireplace, complete thermal free bridging in the assembly could not be fully addressed and, as with all projects, there was a balancing act between how far financially the energy efficiency could be pushed. Nevertheless, an extremely comfortable and low-energy consuming building was achieved

The house has a mechanical ventilation system, a condensing on-demand water heater, LED and CFL lighting. Care and craft are extended to every detail of the house. Reclaimed building materials are used throughout, as well as regionally and locally produced products, ecological flooring and counter top products, and non-toxic finishes. The cabinetry and casework are hand crafted by Atmosphere Design Build.

Photography: Kat Alves Photography

Awards + Publications: Cabin Life, August 2014

House Facts Donner