Category Archives: Montana Sleeping Pavilion

Amenity Hut

The Amenity Hut is really nice. It’s a 6′ x 12′ little structure with an enclosure for our composting toilet and for a shower. We mounted a sink on the outside wall. We have running water from the lake provided by a solar-powered pump and pressure tank.

It’s so nice to have a place to wash hands and brush teeth right next to the Pavilion. We placed a Katadyn gravity-fed water filter next to the sink to provide drinking water there, as the lake water can present giardia risks.

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Composting Toilets for Highly Seasonal Use

Warning: if you are not an extreme tree hugger and/or really don’t need a toilet without a septic system, you should skip this post.

I’ve spent a fair bit of time over the last two years researching composting toilet systems. I’ve discussed them with friends and have done some experiments at my cabin in Vermont. I’ve also had almost 10 years of experience with a commercial system (Envirolet) at my Vermont cabin.

Commercial composting systems are really set up for steady demand by a few people. Our use pattern is very different. We hit the system very hard for about four weeks a year and then it sits idle for the other 48 weeks.

Furthermore, most commercially available composting systems benefit substantially from electric heaters built into them. These use a fair bit of energy. My system in Vermont is not powered and it does not work very well, by which I mean the waste takes at least a year to decompose. I’ve concluded that we wouldn’t be happy with the performance of a conventional composting system at the Montana sleeping pavilion.

Instead, I’ve installed a “Lovable Loo” which I’m using in an unusual way…anaerobic composting instead of aerobic composting.

The Lovable Loo is basically a housing for a 5-gallon plastic bucket with a toilet seat on it. After each use, the user scoops a generous amount of saw dust or peat moss over the waste in the bucket. (We use peat moss because it’s easy to buy at the home center.) This essentially eliminates odors and provides a more attractive appearance than the alternative. When the bucket is full, the lid to the box is lifted, and the bucket lifted out and replaced with a new one. There are thousands of these systems in use and they are apparently used very successfully even in conditioned indoor spaces.

Nearly all Lovable Loo users adopt an aerobic composting system. Basically they have a wire/wood bin on their lot somewhere and they empty the bins of waste into the bin to compost. If the mix of organic material, water, and air is maintained appropriately, these compost piles are efficient and fast at decomposing the waste. Aerobic composting does not smell, as the product of decomposition is largely C02, an odorless gas. The temperatures of composting are high enough that dangerous microbes are killed. However, this would not work on our site. First, I’m not wild about disturbing the landscape with a sizable composting bin. Second, I am also worried about maintaining the right conditions for composting when unattended.

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Cedar Shakes and Woodpeckers

On the main cabin we have had woodpecker problems over the years. Apparently the woodpeckers like to nest up high with a vantage point of the meadow. The gable end of the main cabin was perfect and they had made a mess of the tongue-and-groove cedar siding. We had patched with metal, but finally had to take drastic measures. My father-in-law had a guy apply galvanized steel sheet to the walls and then apply cedar shakes over that. This has mostly worked. Occasionally a wood pecker will attack, but after 1/2 inch of progress will give up. So on the pavilion, we’re taking the galvanized-plus-shakes approach from the get go.

The Magic of Construction

Following are some progress photos shot by my father-in-law Joe on site this week. There is undeniable magic in seeing a structure materialize. The magic is accentuated by having been 2500 miles away for the entire process and only seeing a fairly significant intermediate product (as shown in the photo). Of course there is also some remorse (yikes…is there enough glass on the front facade…), but still, it’s pretty fun to see ones design appear.
BTW, the builder Jim Burrowes is really good. There are “framers” and then there are Montana builders who happen to do framing because it is part of the job. Jim does nice crisp framing (along with wiring, plumbing, finish carpentry, and more…).

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Staking out the Site

I met on site this weekend with my father-in-law Joe and our builder Jim. We staked out the pavilion so Jim can get started. Our basic approach was to site the structure so that the deck  has perfect views of the lake and the Mission Mountains. That happens to give us a southeast exposure, which is perfect. We’ll have warm sun in the morning, and hopefully a bit of shade in the late afternoon, when it can get really hot.

Google Sketchup

One of my readers suggested that I try Google Sketchup as a way of doing illustrations. I had used Sketchup when it first became available as a free tool via Google a few years ago. I was intrigued, but never really invested enough time to decide how useful the tool was. I decided it was time to try again.

So, yesterday morning, I downloaded version 7.1 and began fresh. I am starting a new project, not yet really documented, to create a “sleeping deck” at my wife’s family’s place in northwest Montana. We have a three-bedroom cabin there, but mostly people like to sleep outside on the deck. The weather is usually perfect in July and August, and remarkably (for someone from New Hampshire) there are essentially no biting insects. The problem is that we are running out of deck space and the few times it rains, there is a mad scramble into the cabin. I’ve been working with the family to design a pavilion, which would include a large deck and a sheltered area. I decided to use Sketchup to model the concept I have been developing.

So, I started at 6am and by 5pm I had some pretty nice images to share with the family. This included learning the tool and building the model. First, here’s the result…

I am pretty skilled in Adobe Illustrator. I know the basics of three-dimensional modeling, but I’ve never really moved beyond the demo phase of real tools like Solidworks. Mostly, I still use pencil and paper. So, I consider myself a decent sketcher, but a complete newbie when it comes to 3D modeling tools.

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