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Door County Magazine Spring 2004 Article

Construction Offers Natural Benefits

By Donna Marie Pocius


For those visiting Door County without friends or relatives to stay with, you can spend your Door Peninsula vacation underground in one of two new earth homes at the Cottage Retreat, a 15-acre lodging complex in Egg Harbor. In a county so in tune with the environment, these are just two examples of some unique construction aimed at using nature to its fullest.

Door County Cottage Retreat offers a stunning view that belies the underground elements.

Underground Experience

  Door County Cottages Earth Home
  While unconventional in appearance, Cottage Retreat's Earth home takes advantage of all that Mother Nature has to offer. Click image to see larger.
  Door County Cottages Earth Home
  The cozy living rooms with floor to ceiling windows feel comfortable all year long thanks to its underground construction. Click image to see larger.
  Door County Cottages Earth Home
  Take in the view of the 200-acre Jorns Sugar Bush and the wooded splendor of Door County. Click image to see larger.
  Door County Cottages Earth Home
  A glance inside the Lodge, one of five additional properties available for rental. Click image to see larger.

The two-bedroom earth homes are made from concrete, use passive solar energy, radiant floor heating and are nestled within a hill. By partially sheltering a home in the earth called earth berming heat loss is prevented. But like many underground homes, the Cottage Retreat's earth homes are actually light and bright inside. That's because they have a south exposure, allowing sunlight to enter and provide views of the outdoors. But dirt covers the roof and other exterior walls. And from the north, only a common entrance is apparent the front doors with embossed crosses in glass were salvaged from a church in Sturgeon Bay.

Step inside this covered entryway, and actually walk down about eight feet of stairs until reaching the separate entrances to the earth homes named Elena and Elise or the owners' daughters.

Floor-to-ceiling windows in each earth home's great room offer lots of natural light and a distant view of maple trees and farmland at the 200-acre Jorns Sugar Bush. Exposed maple and white ash warm the concrete chinking in the interior walls, while all the vacation comforts are right at hand master bedroom with oversized whirlpool tub, woodburning fireplace and a kitchen and dining area open to great room.

"There's a conventional furnace here as well, but with all that earth berming and southern sun exposure, it doesn't kick in until 9 p.m. on a sunny day," according to Dale LaViolette, owner of Cottage Retreat.

"If $100 a month is a normal heating bill, I expect I'll pay less than $50 (monthly)," he says.

Such a cozy concrete structure is a rare find on the Peninsula. Used in the earth homes' walls, floors and roofs, concrete is an example of thermal mass substances that absorb sunlight and heat.

The earth homes join five other unique single family properties available for rental at the Cottage Retreat the largest is called the Lodge, which sleeps 20 for a family reunion and boasts a striking built-in aquarium, radiant floor heating and passive solar energy.

Why such extreme homes? LaViolette explains the value in standing apart from the rest: "There are not too many places where you will see an underground home like this, or a place with a built-in fish tank. You have to be different to be different."

Donna Marie Pocius, an Egg Harbor, Wis.-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to Door County Magazine.

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Mail checks to:
Dale LaViolette P.O. Box 534
Egg Harbor, Wi. 54209
Phone: (920) 868-2300

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Dale LaViolette, Owner

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