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Retired fire chief designs off-grid cabin in Lee Canyon

It sounds a bit cliché. But location is what truly defines Greg and Michelle French’s off-the-grid mountain retreat.

“It’s the only property surrounded by U.S. Forest Service and BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land,” said Angie Tomashowski of Mt. Charleston Realty Inc. “There are no neighbors. You’re secluded from other properties.”

Minutes away from the Lee Canyon Ski Resort, 2470 Avalanche Trail is nestled among the forested pine backdrop of Toiyabe National Forest. It’s soaring 8,245-foot elevation showcases breathtaking 360-degree views of the surrounding forest and mountains.

“Our house overlooks the sheep range across the valley,” Michelle French said. “The beautiful pinks and blues that come with the sunrises and sunsets are indescribable.”

At the center of the 0.46-acre property, the couple designed and custom-built a 3,349-square-foot, three-level home where they lived year-round.

Listed for $1.75 million through Tomashowski, the self-sustaining property features two bedrooms including a private master suite, upper-level open floor plan, custom furniture and built-ins, multilevel wrap-around decks, wood-fired hot tub and two-story garage with upper-level fitness room.

“The wood-fired hot tub is a kit that comes from Canada,” Greg French said. “It’s mostly a soaking tub but it works really well.”

Greg French was very familiar with Lee Canyon and the property’s exclusive location. While growing up, he spent summers at his father’s cabin. His father worked at the Nevada Test Site in the 1960s.

“He needed a place to stay and liked Lee Canyon,” Greg French said. “The Forest Service did a lottery on the nine lots up there for summer homes. They literally drew names out of a hat, and he got selected.

“I feel like I grew up there,” he continued. “That’s why when I saw the property listed, I jumped on it. I always liked living in Lee Canyon.”

Purchasing the lot in 2000, the couple designed the home for a self-sustaining lifestyle. Greg French focused on the structural and exterior design while Michelle French developed the interior layout.

“When we bought the lot, house plans came with it,” Greg French said. “Some of the dirt work had been done and a building pad was roughed out, so we worked with what was there.”

The couple engaged a residential designer to draft the home’s plans, but the designer struggled to grasp Greg French’s vision.

“One day at work, I took two manilla folders and cut them up,” he said. “I made four walls, the decks and the gable roof sitting on the diagonal and took it to him.”

Greg French’s unique structural design enhanced the home’s solar power as well as maximized the views from the home’s interior.

“Putting the (roof’s main) ridge beam on the diagonal and orienting the house the way we did, we have a view up and down the canyon,” he said. “I knew I had to orient the ridge beam correctly so the panels would be oriented to get maximum sunlight.”

The home’s off-the-grid design features a six-kilowatt solar power system incorporating 24 solar panels, a 12-kilowatt propane back-up generator, 300-watt wind generator, septic tank, domestic well that is 375-feet deep and multiple heat sources including propane, pellet and wood. The internet is accessed using DSL through the phone line.

“We have everything that a modern house does,” Greg French said. “We can run a vacuum cleaner, watch television, listen to the stereo, pull out something cold from the refrigerator and heat our food.”

Greg French, a retired firefighter and fire captain for the city of Las Vegas, wanted the home to be fire-resistant. Instead of a traditional wood frame, he used insulated concrete form (ICF) construction for the exterior walls.

“ICF construction has high-insulation properties,” he said. “It is 10-inches of concrete with 1 inch of Styrofoam on each side.”

During construction, the ICF blocks fit together like Legos or interlocking blocks, laced with rebar and filled with concrete. Additional fire prevention measures include a metal roof and a 1,000-gallon water catchment system.

Overseeing the project as owner/builders, the couple hired sub-contractors for different phases of the home.

“We kept the project going and on budget,” Greg French said. “I did all the plan submission with the building department and dealt with the on-site building inspector.”

It took three years to complete the project. Delays occurred because of site changes and material delivery obstacles resulting from the property’s steep grade and high elevation.

“The biggest challenge was the location,” he said. “Guys were used to working at 2,000 feet. When they came up to 8,000 feet, they got headaches and couldn’t exert themselves as much as they could at the lower elevation, so they didn’t get as much work done.”

A narrow road into the property presented additional challenges. Trucks carrying concrete spilled yards of the material out the back while navigating the challenging aspects of the terrain.

“The first time we ordered concrete, one guy was afraid he was going to roll the truck,” Greg French said. “I told them from that point to send their most experienced drivers.”

Even waste disposal of construction debris presented more unseen challenges.

“Garbage management becomes a huge issue,” Greg French said. “We couldn’t get a dumpster up there, so we were hauling it out every day.”

Through all the challenges, the couple found themselves questioning whether they should continue the project.

“We were at that point several times,” Greg French said “Where it was way too much, and we shouldn’t do it anymore, but we were so far into it we had to see it through. It was a lot of work but we’re very glad we did.”

Their hard work is showcased throughout the property. From the moment of entry, the home presents a warm, rustic charm. Its sizeable, thick knotty-alder front door provides added security and insulation from the elements.

“The door was custom made by a furniture builder in Utah,” Michelle French said. “He made the door thicker to withstand the cold and not warp. In fact, he made everything in the house from the cabinets to the stereo cabinet.”

The bright, airy interior showcases hickory hardwood flooring, pine vaulted ceiling with wood beams, custom wood built-in furniture and floor-to-ceiling window walls.

A long island graced with granite counters separates the gourmet kitchen from the dining space and main living area. The spacious kitchen is complete with a professional-grade Wolf gas stove, custom knotty alder cabinetry and farm sink with a weathered bronze faucet.

A 1939 antique wood-burning stove, refurbished by Michelle French, enhances the vintage charm. Not only a conversation piece, it also provides an alternative cooking and heating source.

“It’s awesome because it serves a dual purpose,” Michelle French said. “We cooked many dinners in that oven.”

A second-level expansive master retreat offers incredible mountain views through window-lined walls and access to an exterior wrap-around deck. Exposed wood beams, hardwood floors and sitting areas enhance the open airy layout. The spa-like bath features a walk-in shower with tile surround, double vanity and exquisite claw-foot tub.

Michelle French designed the exterior covered walkways to protect against the elements.

“I didn’t want to come home with groceries and try to get into the house,” Michelle French said.

An outdoor enthusiast’s playground, the property offers incredible hiking, skiing, mountain biking, camping and climbing right outside the front door.

The couple, both former Lee Canyon Ski Patrol members, took full advantage of its proximity to the ski resort during the winter season.

“When we worked at the ski area, we both skied over 100 days a year,” Greg French said. “We were in our ski boots a lot.”

The couple started Bristlecone Avalanche Rescue K9s (B.A.R.K.) in 2015. B.A.R.K. is a nonprofit organization established to provide trained Labrador Retrievers for avalanche rescue efforts.

The couple is selling the property to live closer to Greg French’s father.

“We’ve got our hearts and souls into that place,” Greg French said. “Reluctantly, and with a lot of consideration, we decided to list it.”

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