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An Off-Grid Cabin in the Black Hills is a “Real Gift” for Growing Family

By Camille LeFevre Home Features Editor
Nov 14, 2020

After purchasing "a beautiful piece of property surrounded by Forest Service land" in South Dakota's Black Hills, Michael Goodhope and Lynette Quast would often take their young daughters and a small camper to the property for weekend getaways. Eventually, the couple, based in Rapid City, realized they needed something a bit more accommodating.

Quast, a clinical psychologist, and Goodhope, a physician, began pondering their options. "I've always been interested in off-grid," says Quast, "and I've researched Earthships," a type of passive-solar home built with natural and recycled materials. Both of them love A-frame homes, which are a traditional cabin style in the area. Quast, in particular, wanted to keep the proposed structure rustic. But, she also wanted to "include modern conveniences so we could spend time playing outside and enjoying the woods, but then come inside and enjoy a good meal, a hot bath, and some time by the fireplace."

One day they watched a segment on the "Building Off the Grid" television show on the DIY network featuring builder Jared "Cappie" Cap, founder of Pangea Design Group in Spearfish, South Dakota. "So, we called him," says Goodhope. Their sloped site was "perfect for passive solar heat," Goodhope adds, "and we have wonderful views to the east and southeast." The property also already had a well.

South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Freestanding Solar Lynette Quast
South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Freestanding Solar. Photo Credit: Lynette Quast

In October 2019, the family spent their first weekend at their new cabin, which Cap and his team at Pangea designed and constructed. The 1,600-square-foot A-frame home has two bedrooms, one-and-a-half-baths, a full kitchen, a high-efficiency wood stove, and a 400-square-foot loft. Twelve solar panels, producing 4 kW, power the home. The family uses propane for the hot-water heater, kitchen stove, and clothes dryer.

Remote Building Challenges 

Cap and his team at Pangea have also designed and built homes from shipping containersstraw bales, and cob. The A-frame's site is remote and along a dirt track located two miles from the nearest county road. Record spring rains and wind delayed the construction process.

First, the team needed to lay the foundation. They usually start projects with concrete pours in May, Cap explains, "but because it was so wet that year we didn't pour concrete until the end of July." Once the foundation was done, the team faced another challenge during that wet and windy summer: Getting the ridge beam—which is five inches wide, 24 inches tall, and 60 feet long, and which now lies at the roof's apex—to the site. Transporting the ridge beam took time and ingenuity--along with $10,000 worth of gravel to make the roads more travel-worthy. 

South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Framing Pangea Design Group
South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Framing. Photo Credit: Pangea Design Group

After that, the team quickly constructed Goodhope and Quast's custom, stick-built, A-frame cabin - in just 100 days. "The house went up fast," Goodhope recalls. The crew lived on-site in a trailer during much of the building process. This eliminated the two-hour drive from the site to the Spearfish and back.

South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Loft Pangea Design Group
South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Loft. Photo Credit: Pangea Design Group

Off-Grid and Golden 

The A-frame's walls, floor, and roof have sprayed and blown-in insulation. The triple-pane windows allow in most of the passive-solar heating; a wood stove provides the rest. An air system buried about seven feet underground, which uses 3,000 linear feet of four-inch drain tile, also helps to cool the home in summer and provide supplemental heat in the cold months. A fan pushes air through the tubes to continually circulates air that's 56 to 57 degrees. "We use that system mainly in the summer, if we need it," Goodhope says. 

Along with the solar panels, a lithium battery weighing about 350 pounds (and about the size of a mini-fridge) powers the home's LED lights, a UV filter in the well, and other electrical needs. "That battery can power the house for up to three days," Goodhope says.

"We wouldn't change a thing about the structure," says Quast. "It's more solidly built than we anticipated. It holds the coolness and heat well. That it's so well insulated, so quiet, and we don't have to manage the temperature at all, is a wonderful surprise." 

Goodhue's father also noticed that the house reflects the golden ratio - also known as the golden section, golden mean, or divine proportion - that appears in nature and architecture. Designers in ancient Greece used the golden ratio to plan a building's width and height in ways that would create the most pleasing proportions. 

South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Roof Pangea Design Group
South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Roof. Photo Credit: Pangea Design Group

"We don't know if Cap did that on purpose," says Goodhope, "but we certainly can feel it. With the cabin being 60 feet long and 40 feet, with the wide beam at the top, the proportions work out to the golden ratio, and the house is pleasing to the eye." Moreover, he continues, the front porch keeps the hot sun from entering the home in the summer but allows in low light during the winter.

The homeowners have few regrets. They'd only have done two things differently: Install the UV filter on the well at the time of construction, not after discovering the need for one, Goodhope says, and conducting radon tests before using the cabin. "I did several radon tests. They were both above normal," he explains. "So, we would need to install a radon-reduction system before living here full time. I wish I would have put that into the initial build."

South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Solar
South Dakota Off Grid A Frame Solar. Photo Credit: Lynette Quast

A Real Gift

Last year, the Discovery channel featured Cap and the South Dakota A-frame. The Black Hills Pioneer previewed the show and asked Cap why he enjoys building off-grid homes. Cap talked about how he loved taking "a bare piece of land which, by a lot of people's standards, is unbuildable," and creating a beautiful, off-grid home there replete with modern conveniences from a dishwasher to clothes washer and dryer.

"Cappie is a builder and an artist, that wonderful blend of expertise and creativity," Quast says. "The notion that you can walk outside and get dirty and play in the forest, then come back to all of the modern conveniences you need to clean up, cook a nice meal, and sleep comfortably—we're amazed by that. It was a real gift for him to build us something like this."

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-11-14T12:00:17+0000
Camille LeFevre

Article by:

Camille LeFevre

Camille LeFevre is an architecture and design writer based in the Twin Cities.