The Y2K Bunker Project

A progress report

Project Conception and Startup.

Construction of the Y2K Bunker began with Phase 0, the acquisition of a five-acre parcel of partly-wooded former pasture land on the western slopes of the Mission Range in western Montana in 1994. The property is characterized by a thick grove of mostly Douglas fir on the upper (east) third of the plot opening to a pasture-like area dotted with fir, Ponderosa pine, larch, aspen, and juniper. Since 1995, when this surveillance photo (recently discovered in the files of Microsoft) was taken, the juniper has mostly died off, and a heavy growth of new fir and pine has dominated the center of the property. When the property was purchased, it was intended to be a someday retirement home. However, retirement was still a long way off. By late 1996, it was decided to construct a small weekend cabin so we could visit anytime during the year and have a base from which to construct the main house.

Phase 1


The design is an adaptation of a minimalist primitive weekend retreat designed by architect Lester Walker for Popular Mechanics in 1978 and featured in his book, Tiny Tiny Houses: or How to Get Away From It All. The original design featured an 8' by 16' shed-roofed cabin, with a 6' by 16' loft running the length of the roof section, with ladder access on one end. A dormer provided additional headroom for the main sleeping area and there was a 4' by 8' sunroom extension at the rear, covered with heavy-gauge plastic of the type used for greenhouses. Heat is provided by a small woodstove centered under the dormer. The quarters were designed to sleep three in the loft.

The original drawing, from Walker's book, Tiny Tiny Houses.

Phase 1 began the actual improvement of the property in 1997. An opening was made in the fence for a roadway to the homesite and a curved gravel lane constructed through the fir grove to the clearing in the center of the property. The cabin site was excavated in preparation for pouring concrete pilings to support the structure. The actual concrete work was delayed until the spring of 1998, followed by grading and filling in the summer of 1998.

Phase 2

Phase 2 was conducted in May 1999, with the construction of the first story and loft deck of the cabin.

Since the Bunker was being built at 3300 feet above sea level in a Zone 5 climate and intended for year-around use, and need only provide sleeping space for two, the design was modified somewhat. The original footprint was kept, but the roof was raised to the level of the dormer for the entire length, to accommodate an entry porch on the front for protection from winter winds and a screened porch on the side to provide additional living space in summer. The loft was reconfigured to 8' by 8' with the ladder leading down into the living area. Double-paned insulated windows were substituted for the original single-paned glazing, and standard-sized entry doors were substituted for the sliding side panel and narrow front entry of the original. Windows and doors were selected from available overstock, damaged, and return goods piles at area lumberyards. To accommodate the 4' by 6' window selected for the sunspace, the roof was raised on sunspace and the roof and sides constructed with standard methods vice the greenhouse treatment. The intent is to fully insulate and panel the interior for four-season habitation.

Photo 1. The concrete piling foundation with the main floor beams attached. Looking east toward the mountains. This was the end of the first day of construction: installing the brackets and squaring and leveling the floor beams.

Photo 2: Second day of construction. The floor joists are installed and the flooring laid in place.

Photo 3: Day 3. First wall erected. The front wall is assembled on the floor, but not erected. The sunspace floor is secured to the foundation.

Photo 4: By the middle of Day 4, the Bunker is visible to the world, as the siding is attached to stabilize the walls as they are erected. The building is the small light-colored dot at the center of the picture, above and between the first two buildings to the right of the tree in the foreground. The pavement ends at the base of the mountain. Access is via a side road at the top of the main road, which ends at the boundary of the Tribal Wilderness. Spring arrived at last, and by the end of the week, most of the snow on the Haystack (at top right) was gone.

Photo 5: At the end of Day 4, the design begins to take shape, with the front door and window framing visible on the far side and the sunspace picture window frame in the foreground. The Dalmatian is Cookie "No, No, Bad Dog," who came with Mark to help build Phase 2.

Photo 6: By the end of Day 5, the north and south walls were up, completing the perimeter framing. The final roofline is evident in the south wall, which was built in one piece.

Photo 7: Day 6 saw completion of the loft deck and installation of the sunroom rafters The ends of the deck boards are visible on the top left. The original sunroom roofline was at the height of the deck, but was raised to put the large window at standard height.

Photo 8: Day 8: Day 7 saw completion of the siding and installation of the roof skin for the sunspace. Day 8 dawned cool and rainy, a good time to finish this phase of the project.

At the completion of Phase 2, the project was mothballed by installing temporary rafters over the open space and covering the entire building with two layers of polyethylene tarpaulins, Only one door was installed, with the other doorway and window openings left uncut.

Photo 9: End of Phase 2. View is from just above center of the south property line, facing NNW. The valley below is wheat and potatoes, with some horses and cattle. The trees in the distance are on the slopes of the terminal moraine for the glacier that formed Flathead Lake, and the lake is beyond the trees, stretching 28 miles to the north and 15 miles across, the largest lake in the United States west of the Mississippi River..

Phase 3

Phase 3 commenced over the July 4th weekend, 1999. The first day was spent replenishing the nail supply and getting the long rafter headers and trim wood needed for this phase of the project. The unmothballing exercise was complicated by the need to evict a robin family that had nested above the front window header. It was fortunate that we arrived when we did, because the baby robins were well past time for leaving the nest, but couldn't learn to fly inside the building, with the only exit a narrow air vent in the tarp. One chick had died in a fall from the nest and another perished in the nest from overcrowding and lack of food because the mother couldn't feed the large chicks and they couldn't get out on their own. Another jumped from the nest when we arrived and was trapped behind a stack of plywood, so we picked it up and released it into the open, where mother soon found it to begin flying lessons. The remaining chick was carried out still in the nest and left in a bush for its mother to tend to.

Photo 10: Phase 3, start of Day 3. Day two saw construction of the back wall and the front wall. A rainstorm came up at the end of the day, forcing us to quickly erect the tarp and install the front wall underneath the tarp. A second layer of tarps was put over the loft and across the open space.

Photo 11: Rear view on Day 3, showing framing of the back wall and location of the bedroom window. The power plant is covered on the left. The tarp was secured over the angled boards while the generator was in operation.

Photo 12. The tarp comes off as the sun comes out. About half the day was spent correcting a dimensional error in the front wall. It was apparent when we put the wall up, but with the storm upon us, we had no choice but to nail down the wall and fix it later.

Photo 12: Back to blue skies. The top front window frame was constructed in place after the wall was put up because of the storm on Sunday.

Photo 13: End of day 3. The north wall and rafters are in place, ready to skin the second floor.

Photo 14: View of the back of the cabin with the rafters in place, dark against the evening sky.

Photo 14: View of the north side with the stick frame complete. There are no windows on the north side, although final placement of the bathroom window hasn't been determined. The bathroom area is in the right front corner, about half the size of a standard bathroom.

Photo 15: On day 4, the second floor paneling went up, and the sunspace was shingled. That's Judy's brother-in-law, Ben, on the ladder. Ben is 73 and blind in one eye, but he was having the time of his life and we couldn't keep him off the roof. Actually, we couldn't have done it without him, because he knew all the tricks of roofing and kept us from making some serious errors in addition to teaching us some time-saving tricks.

Photo 16: Day 6. We skipped a day to go into the big city. Today we sheathed the roof and started roofing. We assigned Ben to install the sunspace window, but, as you can see, we couldn't keep him off the roof long.

Photo 17: Start of day 8. Day 7 was the big roofing day. I put in the chimney while Ben started shingling. His son arrived from Arizona to pick up Ben's RV, so I got to shingle from the uphill side of the chimney. It was about 95 degrees by mid-afternoon, so I took a break until the sun angle flattened a bit and I didn't stick to the shingles anymore.

Photo 18: Day 8, another scorcher. I finished shingling and put in the loft window. We had cut out the opening the day before to dump some heat out and had to close up. We also trimmed out the windows and caulked them so as to get the cabin waterproofed for the end of Phase 3.

Photo 19: Day 8, same time. Caulking the loft window. From this angle, you can appreciate the neighbors' comment that we had built one of the finest two-story outhouses in the valley. Not too many shed-roof dwellings in this part of the country.

Photo 20: Day 9, the trip home. As the sun set on Day 8, we installed the final chimney section and the bracing. The braces were made from electrical conduit flatten at the ends and shaped to fit the roof and the chimney. By dark, the roof had cooled so I didn't leave sneaker prints on the shingles when I put up the braces. And, I could actually stand of the roof without sliding down smears of tar and melted shingles. We drilled the pilot holes to cut out the front window openings, but decided those could wait until Phase 4.

Photo 21: Phase 3 complete at dawn on Day 9. The building is closed in and secure, but the front windows and side door remain to be installed.

Phase 4 and Beyond

We had planned Phase 4 as another week-long marathon in the fall to get in the remaining windows and doors, trim and stain the exterior, insulate the interior, and install the interior stovepipe. But, as it turns out, we moved to Montana permanently in August, so Phase 4 was relocation for a new job 65 miles from the Bunker.

Phase 5 was conducted during weekends over a three-month period, alternating with renovations on our "new" 90-year-old home in Missoula. By Thanksgiving week, we have completed all of the Phase 4/5 objectives except installing the insulation. The doors and windows are in, the exterior has one coat of stain, and the wood stove is functional. We have also purchased a composting toilet, which will be installed as soon as the interior prep work is done. As a bonus of our move, we gained some outdoor storage bins we don't need at the house, to make much-needed space in the tiny interior. In the spring, we intend to put in a cistern for underground water storage so we don't need a well for now.

Phase 6 will be the actual test: will the dread Y2K computer bug be the downfall of our programming folly? Will civilization as we know it cease to exist at midnight on December 31, 1999, forcing us to wait out The Troubles in our remote little bunker?

Or, will we just have a weekend cabin to enjoy for years to come, built because we set a goal and acted on it? We sincerely hope the latter is the case, but you can never be too careful. After all, the biggest threat at the end of this century is panic over what might happen, more so than the probable effects of computer system failures. Already, we see shortages. We paid way too much for the generator we used to power our construction project because of panic buying, already. Decent wood stoves are escalating in price daily, if you can get them at all. At least the composter was on sale, the first time ever we've seen that. Even if we didn't have the Millennium bug as an excuse, we needed to do this now, while we can still afford to realize our dream of a mountain cabin in Montana. Besides, I will probably be heralding the new millennium with some last-minute Y2K updates to the University computer systems. For those of us computer pioneers allegedly responsible for the Y2K bug in the first place, there is no escape.