Well, for those of you who have been following my blog, you may recall our frequent trips to Alaska while building and designing our off-grid cabin. My husband was born in Ketchikan and loves returning there in the summer months. Even though it’s a temperate rainforest and can be damp and cool, that is often a nice change from the hot and humid summers we experience in Houston.

Family Ties to Alaska

We just returned from a very special visit. We finished the family cabin in Meyers Chuck!         

Meyers Chuck is a small village with a year-round population of seven people — that’s not a typo — SEVEN! In the summer, it’s bustling with up to 50 residents, including visiting friends and family and transient yachts that enjoy docking there for a few days.  

My father-in-law purchased his lots in the early 2000s and started the complex process of off-the-grid construction. To put things into perspective, you can only get to Meyers Chuck by boat, float plane, or helicopter. Most Alaskans have boats, so transportation is not usually a problem. But keep in mind that anything you want or need must arrive with you on a boat, including all building materials. 

Preparing for Off-Grid New Construction

So, the first step was to build a dock. Our dock was built in 2010. It is quite large because my father-in-law’s boat, the Air Snipe, is 110 feet long, which requires a lot of length. The good news is that the Snipe can tow a barge, which makes getting material and equipment out there much easier for the Halvorsens.

Air Snipe

Air Snipe at the Halvorsen Dock

To that end, in 2011, a float was built for the dock, which was towed out by the Snipe and installed in place. Now, that is already a lot of work, but at that point, you’ve barely touched the land, let alone the building site. Next up is to clear the land (there are TONS of trees in this part of the world). Then, you have to build your road from the dock to the job site. Our site sits atop a hill, which is very pretty but includes a 500-foot hike with two switchbacks and 30+ degree inclines. You are huffing and puffing when you reach the top, especially if you are hauling stuff with you.  Luckily, we have a Bobcat on site outfitted with a platform that can haul a lot!

Renovating Our Off-Grid Cabin in Alaska

Loaded Bobcat for Going up the Hill

Since it’s off-the-grid, the next thing you need is a mechanical plant or outbuilding where you can store equipment and materials. Ours was built around 2016. Both the mechanical plant and the cabin itself were log cabin kits from a Canadian company called pan-abode. Our cabin was based on the Phoenix floor plan and included a few upgrades. While rustic, a three-bedroom, two-bathroom cabin is considered quite luxurious by Alaskan standards.

Cabin Foundation Ketchikan Alaska

Foundation of Mechanical Plant

Foundation of Cabin

Foundation of Cabin

Alaska Cabin Renovation

Progress Shot of Cabin

How Home Construction Works in Alaska

Construction on the house started in 2017 and took quite a while. Work is only done in the summer, and labor is scarce. You also have to continuously beat back nature by pulling trees and keeping your road in good shape, so there is lots to do without even touching the house.

We visited the job site many times over the last few years. In 2023, Jon and I took over the project. By now, there was more labor available, and some very skilled residents in The Chuck were able to assist. Interestingly, with new technology, the power needs were largely reduced, and the mechanical plant now serves as a storage unit. We can produce enough power using a combination of a 3.5 KW generator, a battery bank, an inverter, and a few solar panels.

Solar Panels

Cabin with Solar Panel/Propane Tanks and Generator

New Build Energy Requirements and Logistics

One reason the energy needs are low is that there is ZERO need for air conditioning. I selected all LED lighting, and the days are long, so you don’t need to turn a light on until after 9 PM. We only need to use the generator for the initial cooldown of the fridge and the washer and dryer. Propane powers the hot water heater and the range. It’s a very efficient system, and we were very comfortable. There is “city” water, which means a pipe that runs from a pristine mountain lake. The water is safe, cold, and delicious. A wood stove is used for heating.

Last winter, while Jon was configuring the utilities, I selected light fixtures, fans, and hardware.  One thing to consider is that freight and shipping are very costly to Alaska, and while we are lucky to have places to ship and store things in Ketchikan, I had to select carefully and review shipping charges. On my first few attempts, I was paying up to $900 for less than $400 worth of merchandise. I did my research and was able to purchase a house full of fixtures with free shipping! I only paid about $100 for shipping the fans and hardware, which seemed like a bargain. I selected several lights from the Kichler Winslow series in Olde Bronze, which were ideal for our cabin-chic aesthetic. I combined those with simple bronze knobs on all cabinets throughout the house. For the bathrooms, we used rectangular mirrors with cool, rounded-edge banded frames. We hung one horizontally and one vertically, and they were a good fit.

First Floor Bathroom

Collecting Essential Items for the Cabin

Just a few weeks before leaving, I made a list of essential items for our first short multi-day stay.  I ordered counter stools, a foam mattress and frame, two simple nightstands, and the absolutely necessary blackout-lined thermal draperies. Everyone loves the long summer days up north. But it’s hard to sleep without window coverings when the sun goes down at 10 PM and rises before 4 AM. I had everything shipped to Ketchikan (some shipping was free, thanks to Amazon!), and Jon took the items out in the boxes and assembled them on-site.  

Just before leaving, I ordered melamine plates, placemats, and acrylic glasses in fun hues of blue for a coastal feel. While there are a few stores in Ketchikan, prices are high, and inventory can be limited, so I knew I’d do better finding things down south. I loaded my suitcase with home goods, taking only a handful of clothes and two pairs of shoes, but the cabin was well-outfitted even if I wasn’t!

Kitchen in Alaska Cabin

Kitchen Details

Upon arriving in Ketchikan, we did some last-minute shopping. We ended up finding a great table and chairs for the dining area and found the perfect lounge chair to place in front of the fireplace. They didn’t have a pair so we ordered two and will take them out during our next visit.  

Enjoying Family Time in Ketchikan, Alaska

We did substantial provisioning since we had invited the whole village to a happy hour on the hill. We loaded up food and wine and headed to The Chuck. The Bobcat came in super handy, and we spent the first day putting everything in place. We finished early and had a free morning before getting ready for the 4 PM party. My sister-in-law, Nettie, also brought many delicious dishes. She and her husband, Kevin, traveled to the cabin on their boat, the Nettie M.

Cabin Renovation Alaska

Jon Unloading at the Gangway

The party was a huge success, with delicious Alaskan-type dishes such as a shrimp mold and empanadas stuffed with sea asparagus pesto. I made charcuterie cups because I knew we did not have many serving platters, and I wanted easy finger food options. It was wonderful to be able to host our friends, who had graciously hosted us so many times when we were visiting but did not have a finished home.

Pamela Hope Designs - Alaska

Ready for the Party

Welcome Party Alaska

With Guests and Finley the Standard Poodle

Alaska Snacks

Charcuterie Cups

Our Last Day in Alaska

The next morning, we did a little gardening, or tree pulling, to be more exact. We organized and made lists for the next trip up north. We headed back and took a day off to hang out in Ketchikan and, of course, shop for more items for the cabin. We then made one final trip to The Chuck just for the day. We got up early and made it out and back in about 6 hours, including 4 hours on site. I had small tasks to do around the house, such as lining the shelves and drawers with liners (something I do in every home!), but my big project was to build a fire ring. Jon did some concrete patchwork on a piling. The water runoff is serious up there, so we used an extra piece of gutter to help divert the water to go down the hill rather than over the foundation. In total, our boat, Back Chuck, made five roundtrips during the two-week period. Luckily, it’s a pretty fast boat. We can make it from Ketchikan to The Chuck in about 1.25 hours on a good day.

Pamela Making a Fire Pit in Alaska

Pamela with Fire Ring

On our last day in Ketchikan, we visited with family and ordered still more items for the cabin.  Then, we enjoyed our last night in Ketchikan. We had glorious weather the entire time I was there, which seldom happens. On our last afternoon, it started to rain, so the timing was perfect.

Final Touches on Our Off-Grid Alaskan Cabin

I loved working with Jon to finish this wonderful family cabin. I will enjoy continuing to outfit and decorate it. I have also learned so much about off-the-grid living and construction. While it’s not my first choice for full-time living, it’s very refreshing to have as an escape. To put it into perspective, here is one of the views looking out towards Clarence Strait.

Views of Ketchikan Alaska

Looking Towards the Clarence Strait

Vacation homes and new building experiences always inspire me.  Until next time, find your inspiration or call us, and we’ll help you discover it.

Owner of Pamela Hope Designs, Pamela O'Brien, smiling in blue dressMeet Pamela, A Luxury Interior Designer in Houston

Pamela O’Brien is the founder of Pamela Hope Designs in Houston, Texas. Pamela is an award-winning luxury interior designer, writer, and speaker. Prior to founding Pamela Hope Designs, Pamela served as a spokesperson in media and public affairs, working with media outlets like Dateline NBC and 48 Hours. This experience allowed her to travel the world and furthered her love for travel, culture, and interior design. After going back to school to pursue interior design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Pamela launched her own interior design firm. Pamela is known for building strong relationships with her clients, who later become friends and collaborators. She is highly influential in the Houston interior design space and shows no signs of slowing down.

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