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Minnesota cabin is packed with modern comforts

By combining the strengths of geothermal and propane heating, this vacation home offers top-notch comfort and rapid climate control without sacrificing efficiency.

By Jeffrey Lee

Staff Writer

When they land in Minneapolis for the holidays, the Fiacchinos can turn on their phones and get their lakefront cabin ready.

Turning on the lights, drawing the shades, perhaps even starting one of the propane fireplaces – it can all be managed remotely at the touch of the phone. As the owners make the three-hour drive north to Minnesota's Kabekona Lake, the home's propane furnace can quickly bring the home up from an off-season temperature of 58 degrees to the comfort zone of 70 or 71. By the time they open the front door, the house is cozy, warm, and ready for guests.

The smart home features are just one example of the comforts packed into the 7,000-square-foot lakefront home built by Crosslake, Minnesota–based custom home builder Baratto Brothers Construction. Designed as a getaway cabin for the Chicago family and their extended clan, the home has a Minnesota Northwoods look with reclaimed lumber and beams and real stone veneer throughout. Other touches of luxury include an attached greenhouse, a golf simulator in the basement, and a custom bunkroom.

In a climate that can range from temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer to -30 in the winter, maintaining a high level of comfort without exorbitant energy bills was a challenge. And like much of the rural surrounding area, the site lacks access to natural gas. To maximize both efficiency and comfort, Baratto Brothers and HVAC contractor Ike's Heating and Cooling turned to a dual-fuel system that combines geothermal and propane heat.


 
   
Click to enlarge   
Click to enlarge 
 

Dual Fuel, Singular Comfort

The construction team chose geothermal as the primary source for the in-floor radiant and forced-air heating because of its high efficiency – and because the owner wasn't concerned about getting a quick ROI on geothermal's high upfront costs, says Eric Carder, partner and director of project development for Baratto Brothers. "They're not going to sell the house in two years or five years or 10 years," he says. "It's going to be passed on to the kids."

But while geothermal heating is most efficient in mild temperatures, the comfort can plummet when temperatures drop. So the home includes a backup propane furnace and a high-efficiency condensing propane boiler to provide warmer supplemental heat in frigid weather.

The furnace is also a faster and more cost-effective choice to quickly heat the home when the family's arriving, Carder says. "With electric heat, the utility bills would be through the roof heating 7,000 square feet," he says. "And taking that heat from 60 degrees to 72, the electric heat's going to take 6 to 8 hours, versus a matter of an hour probably with propane, you're at your comfort zone."

Propane furnaces and boilers can also help bring down the high upfront costs of geothermal heating because in a dual-fuel system, the ground source heat pump won't need to be sized for the peak heating load. Balancing those two heating sources is a specialty of the home's HVAC contractor, Justin Isaacson, who says 95 percent of his geothermal installations also include gas or propane backup.

"You can play one off of the other and do some compensation there," Isaacson says, "making it so you don't have to have such a huge geothermal unit and subsidizing some of the heating demand with propane." 

The Comforts of Home

In addition to space heating, the home also uses propane for the other amenities in the Propane Energy Pod: water heating, fireplaces, cooking, and clothes drying.


"The recovery time to heat that 75 gallons up is so much faster using propane versus an electric coil."


One common thread among all those systems is that they make the vacation home more functional for the owner's multigenerational family. The water heating, for instance, is provided by two 75-gallon propane water heaters. "If the family drains one, the recovery time to heat that 75 gallons up is so much faster using propane versus an electric coil," Carder says. "It's energy-efficient and time-efficient."

The propane fireplaces provide a cozy family gathering spot in the downstairs lower level in addition to the master bedroom. "Those are more comfort than anything," Carder says. "They do provide heat, but 99 percent of people turn on a gas fireplace to look at it."

And the kitchen's professional-grade propane cooktop is an essential component of family gatherings. "They're an Italian family that loves cooking and entertaining," Carder says. "Most people that are cooking in a high-end kitchen want a gas cooktop because they can regulate the temperature of what they're cooking."

Filled with pristine lakes, small towns, and campgrounds, the Northern Minnesota region is a summertime tourist destination. Baratto Brothers has built a robust business providing high-end lake homes for clients who want to bring their kids and grandkids together for family vacation time. These more remote destinations often lack access to city amenities such as natural gas – and that's part of the appeal. With propane, the builder can ensure their clients' rustic getaways still maintain the comforts of home.

 

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