Mountain bikers build off-grid tiny house
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
“Building off the Grid — Rocky Mountains” can be found on the DIY television network or at www.diynetwork.com.
Ever wonder what could happen when eight artistic and adventurous individuals get together and decide to spend their entire summer building an off-grid tiny house — that also is bikeable? While also being filmed for a national televised program?
If you head up the hills on a section of privately owned land between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, you will find the answer. It’s called The Oculus, a 165-square-foot, one-room tiny house. It is completely off the grid, designed and built entirely by hand — and bike — by the local adventure-seeking mountain biking group Stomparillaz.
“This was the ultimate bike and art project for us,” said Steve Novy, principal with Green Line Architects and one of the leaders in the project.
“For me, this was a real growing experience. I got to know my friends a lot better,” Novy said.
It all started with a concept that could be worked on as a team. The group members could do the entire project themselves, without the typical architect/client scenario. It was a project where each person could share ideas and everyone could collaborate to make something amazing. Everyone brought unique talents to help in the project. The group was a mixture of entrepreneurs, craftsmen and artists of some form or another.
“This is a dream team of my mountain-biking buddies — it just so happens they are all terribly talented people,” Novy said.
Why the name Oculus?
Oculus is a traditional form in architecture derived from the word “eye.”
A typical building with an oculus would include the feature at the top of a dome, letting in light and heat. In the case of the Oculus tiny house, it took the form of an eye-shaped window wall.
“The window wall is a crazy faceted shape like an eyeball, that’s where the name Oculus comes from,” Novy explained.
The Stomparillaz not only wanted the house to generate its own heat and electricity but they made a goal to leave as little trace as possible on the surrounding terrain and environment. This is where the bikes came into play.
All materials needed were brought to the build site on bikes. This location is 4 miles up Cattle Creek Road and then up another very steep hill to the property. Oftentimes the trek started in Carbondale, about 5 miles from Cattle Creek.
The group called out to the community to donate whatever material people might have that could be useful for the structure. Stomparillaz wanted to divert materials from the waste stream and put them back into use. As a result, more than 60 percent of the materials used to build The Oculus were recycled, and 10,372 pounds were diverted from the landfill.
Even though participants wanted the house to be completely carbon neutral, that goal was almost impossible. The team conducted a carbon calculation and found that the project emitted some carbon, which will be reduced by planting trees and buying some carbon offsets.
“I think it was important to have this goal, even though it was a little bit unrealistic and maybe a very lofty goal that we weren’t really sure we would even come close to achieving, but it taught us a lot,” Novy said. “It taught us how much of an impact we have, even when we are trying to be really sensitive.”
The Oculus generates its own heat and electricity.
“One of the things I focus on is passive solar design; getting free energy from the sun,” Novy explained. “If you take in energy from the sun as it is needed, you can eliminate or downsize the mechanical systems.”
NOT AN EASY TASK
All concrete for the house was mixed and poured on site, which was mixed with local soil. Everything brought to the job site was brought by body power alone.
Aaron Humphrey said it was exhausting to pack and carry all materials either by hand or on bikes.
“You’d be amazed how heavy an 80-pound bag of concrete is just the first time you pick it up, but when you get all the way here, it’s really heavy,” he said. “And when you bring that in and know that there are 30 more behind it, that makes for a long and painful day.”
Humphrey took the lead role in the construction of the building and also owns the property where The Oculus was built. He has worked with many construction companies and on numerous projects throughout his career, including working as a theatrical engineer. He and the rest of the group used every ounce of knowledge they had from prior jobs and put it into this project — including making the house something that could be part of a bike ride.
“The bike-riding aspect didn’t come in until very late in the design process,” Novy said. “We realized we wanted to integrate it into the activities that we do.”
Novy and another design specialist tested multiple configurations to make the structure bikeable. They used 3-D modeling with a computer to test each possibility and quickly learned that the best option would be the simple design of a straight line up and over the house. To make it even more interesting, a rider building enough momentum has a decent chance of being able to launch over the house.
The entire project was filmed by the Littleton-based production company Orion Entertainment for a one-hour DIY television network special called “Building off the Grid — Rocky Mountains.”
The production crew was at the build site with the Stomparillaz every other weekend, and a camera was on scene at all times creating a time lapse. It wasn’t a rare occurrence, though, that the Stomparillaz were asked to redo things for the filming process.
“It was amazing how difficult the filming process itself was, let alone what we were trying to get done while being filmed,” Humphrey said.
Although the filming was a tiresome process for the Stomparillaz, they are all looking forward to viewing the one-hour special Tuesday and are planning watch parties in Carbondale.
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