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Dynamic Demo: An Eco-Friendly California Cabin

A demonstration cabin in California proves that you don't have to sacrifice great home amenities for a smaller footprint.
by Whitney Richardson | Photos by Kimberly Thompson

Small, practical, resourceful — these are the buzzwords surrounding today’s homes. New structures are constantly popping up as the latest and greatest in green building, with tiny exteriors to match their decreased energy consumption and costs. As great as such efficient living may sound in theory, however, how exactly does something so compact live in reality? JR Thompson of Mt. Lassen Log and Timber Frame Homes, a Real Log Homes dealer, can show you.

Although its roughly 500-square-foot footprint may look tiny from the outside, the one-bedroom, one-bath abode lives well for its size.

With a footprint of barely more than 500 square feet, “Kirk’s Kabin” — the affectionate moniker of JR’s demo structure, named after one of the regional sales managers — fuses green-building techniques with the traditional appeal of log homes to showcase the capabilities for today’s cabin. “We’ve taken the old-world traditions of log homes and married it with new technologies,” JR states.

New technologies here currently include Energy Star appliances, light-emitting diode (LED) lighting and low-flow fixtures to reduce consumption to the lowest point possible, with the hopes of creating a zero-energy structure — one that produces all the energy it needs through on-site power generation — by installing solar panels.

Even in downsized homes, main spaces such as the kitchen still retain comparable dimensions to other homes. Here, the kitchen has plenty of counter space for prep work as well as dining.

The purpose of constructing this cabin was twofold. On one hand, it served as an educational tool for JR and his associates in creating a better, more efficient structure; on the other, it provides a real-life example of a smaller home for those contemplating a downsized abode. “I’ve had a lot of clients doubting living in a smaller space,” JR explains. “I put them up overnight in the cabin and tell them, ‘See if you can work with this space.’”

For small homes, efficient design is essential to keeping the home compact but liveable. "We've taken away a lot of the single-purpose rooms," owner JR Thompson notes. "We just have one room out front for living, dining and cooking &mdash it's very multifunctional." A gas heater supplies most of the heat for the building.


The home, a custom version of the Expedition package in Real Log Homes’ Real Log Cabins series, was designed to live larger than its overall square footage implies. A roughly 100-square-foot loft level opens up the overhead space in the main living area, while ample outdoor spaces increase the home’s livability with less environmental impact.

The cabin also comes complete with higher-quality amenities, such as granite countertops and double ovens, than many consumers might expect from such a structure. “It teaches them that you can have all the amenities,” JR says. “You can get all your wants and needs on a budget.”

JR’s primary residence, which is also located on the property and serves as a model home, showcases many of the same amenities and energy-efficiency features on a larger scale. Check out the June 2011 issue of Country’s Best Cabins for more on that project.

Home Plan Details:
Square Footage: 628
Bedrooms: 1
Bathrooms: 1
Log species: pine
Builder; dealer; interior decorator; landscape designer: Mt. Lassen Log and Timber Frame Homes, Chester, CA (530-258-2379;
Cabinetry: Morning Star Cabinets, Gardena, CA (310-324-4735)
Countertops: Granitech, Chester, CA (530-258-3313)
Flooring: Flooring Brothers, Chester, CA (530-258-3778)
Log provider: Real Log Homes, Hartland, VT (800-732-5564;
Roofing: GAF-Elk, Wayne, NJ (877-423-7663;
Sealants; stain: Perma-Chink, Redmond, WA (800-548-1231;
Windows: Andersen Windows & Doors, Bayport, MN (800-426-4261;

Published in Country's Best Cabins
Comment Feed

3 Responses

  1. Linda,
    Please see J.R.’s contact information in this comments section — he runs Mt. Lassen Log Homes and knows all the details on this home, which was built from the Expedition plan.

    Danielle TaylorNovember 8, 2011 @ 9:35 amReply
  2. Finally! Someone started seeing that a lot of us baby boomers don’t need or want the outlandish log homes that are typically featured in the floor plans and magazines. This is a cabin I would truly be interested in building. Thank you for making a dream practical. Cathy

    Cathy FergusonNovember 1, 2012 @ 10:33 pmReply
  3. We have more than 500 square feet in our log house renovation, but it is by no means a mansion — maybe 1600 sf. Energy conservation and green building techniques were at the top of our list of desirables. In addition to attention to the types of materials we used (emphasizing local when possible, sustainable, non-toxic, etc.), we have also installed green roofs, a geothermal energy system, rain barrels, etc. My next big project along these lines is to look at solar as a supplemental energy source and as backup when the power fails, followed by landscaping with native plants, water run-off prevention, wildlife habitat, etc.

    Sometimes it cost more to do things this way, but often times not. In some cases, you can save money in the long run by paying attention to green alternatives. I try to address these issues in my log cabin blog.

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