A Group of Friends Build an Off-Grid Tree House in New York for $20K

A Group of Friends Build an Off-Grid Tree House in New York for $20K

By Michele Koh Morollo
The remote cabin in Sullivan County hovers above a steep slope, suspended by the trees that surround it.

Sited on a steep, sloping hill surrounded by trees, this 360-square-foot cabin was designed to accommodate a limited $20,000 construction budget—and to be approachable enough that amateur weekend builders could construct it.

Architects Mike Jacobs, Biayna Bogosian, Forrest Jessee, Leopold Lambert, and Luis Gutierrez of award-winning New York practice Jacobschang Architecture designed the structure to overcome the challenge of the site’s sloping topography.

The most expensive components of the project were the three 8' x 8' steel-tube pivot doors that were prefabricated off-site and later installed with dual-insulated glass panels. 

To reduce the amount of site work, and eliminate the need for large footings, pumped concrete, or retaining walls, the house was designed so that most of the construction work could be done above ground, with support from the trees.

The perimeter of the structure is made of engineered wood beams, and standard nominal lumber makes up all the intermediate framing. Sonotube footings were used to anchor the upslope corners, and Garnier Limbs were used to distribute half of the weight of the structure to two trees on the site.

With the help of some friends, the tree house’s two owners carried out the construction work. Eastern pines felled on the property were milled, kiln dried, and used for the exterior and interior boards of the tree house. The exterior boards are coated with Scandinavian pine tar to protect them from the region’s long, wet winters.

A clear, matte sealant was used for the interior walls and ceiling. Large glass windows frame a peaceful scene of trees while flooding the cozy, minimalist interior with natural light. The main source of heat is a Jotul wood stove, and a portable generator can be fired up if needed.

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