How to Build a Low-Cost Cabin

How To Build a Low Cost Cabin 1

“Sitting in front of a crackling campfire at a cabin is one of the great joys in life.”


Ask William Edward Summers, principal of California and British Columbia based design firm William Edward Summers Creative Projects and owner of EasyBuildingPlans.com, and he will tell you all about the wonders of cabins. There’s something special about living in and owning your own cabin on your own plot of land. If you’re looking to take this step yourself and build your own cabin, we’ve got some tips to help keep your costs low. These important tips will help you build the cabin of your dreams on a smart budget.



1. Choose the right land for your cabin


First things first, make sure you own a property that is perfect for your dream cabin. Pablo Solomon, Designer and former Construction Worker, advises builders that are purchasing land to get a lot with existing utilities. “(Avoid) the mess and [you will] save a fortune on putting in [the utilities].” Pablo also believes there is value in becoming familiar with your property before moving forward on any building projects. “Never build on your lot without getting the feel for it for at least a year. For most getaway cabins, the view is where the money is. So make certain that your cabin design takes best advantage of your setting.”


2. Plan your cabin’s features and design


Decide the features you need to have for your cabin, and build with these in mind. For example, even in remote areas, security can be a concern and the structures should be designed to prevent those passing by from getting inside. Planning early helps save on long-term costs.


James Rule, President of DIY company The ShedQuarters, speaks fondly of some of the cabins his company his built. “One was a hunting cabin that was located remotely in a wooded area of central Illinois where we built and finished an upper level for the sleeping quarters. This particular customer installed a corn burning furnace in it for heat. We have installed front porches on some of our buildings and have made a few plain Jane buildings to serve as cabins as well.”


One cost-friendly option is to build a central one room “module.” This is ideal for a simple place to clean up, eat and sleep. Pablo describes it as a “central unit with a kitchen and bathroom from which fold-able, retractable units are attached— basically a central room with, in simple terms, tents that can fold out for sleeping. This is similar to the camping trailers that have fold out sleeping rooms.”


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3. Consider an outside-the-box design


Want to go ever farther outside the box? Consider having a small house moved to the location. Pablo notes that every city has homes being demolished all time which are ripe for the picking. “Often you can get a house for free if you will move it off the lot. Currently Detroit is demolishing over 80,000 homes. This is a golden opportunity for people in that area to get a home for free and move it. The move and set up by professionals is remarkably inexpensive.”


Bill Seavey, author of Home Dreams for Hard Times and former Founder and Director of the Greener Pastures Institute, built a cabin in Baja, Mexico, out of straw bales for around $25,000. “It’s solar powered and has gravity feed water from rooftop tabs. There is a water and a mountain view and there are few neighbors.” He recommends getting approval from the county authorities first, or risk getting your cabin denied for legal reasons.



4. Invest in the right materials


Choose your building materials carefully, as they affect the long-term survival and maintenance cost of your cabin. Although initial sticker cost may draw one away from stronger materials, the high quality offered by sturdy metal, brick, stone, and cement requires limited maintenance over time.


One smart way to save on energy is to add sustainable energy fixtures, such as energy saving appliances and solar panels, as these may pay themselves off over time. William Summers further suggests that any cabin construction plans should include basic amenities that will make the buildings habitable for “long term use in the event that a place was needed in which to ride out a natural disaster, survive a bout with homelessness, or just to get away from the madness.” Spending now in the upfront can save you in the long-term.


Start with a strong roof over your head: experts recommend metal roofing because it is impervious to weather and is extremely long-lasting. One may be drawn to the classic idea of a log cabin, but brick, stone, and cement board may be your best bet for your cabin’s exteriors. With wood, you run into concerns for insects and weather, as well as fire prevention. If you have some time, it is also cheap to put stucco over a stone or adobe brick cabin, and can last forever. Word to the wise— make sure you can haul the materials to your land property without an exorbitant shipping cost. William recommends using materials that can be hauled in a pick-up truck. If possible, use providers in close proximity to the land lot.


These items can be cost effective if they are found locally or rescued from demolished homes. Pablo advises to “collect all of the materials that you can for free or on sale. Often resale shops will have fixtures, doors, windows, etc. at fraction of even wholesale prices.” If you are truly willing to invest time into removing nails from boards, cleaning bricks/stones, and doing other clean up labor, you may be able to source material from demolished houses by getting permission from the demolition company. Lastly, make sure you insulate your cabin properly, and avoid waste on energy costs over the years.


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5. Let a professional inspect your plan


Let the pros give your plan the final OK before you break ground. Pablo Solomon says this can help your wallet because “often making changes of a few inches here and there will save you time and money by not having to cut sheets of plywood/sheet rock a lot or to waste a lot of materials. Some things must be done or checked by a licensed professional. But often, you can do the simple wiring, running pipe, etc. according to code and have a professional give it the OK. Always get the proper permits.” It’s not worth the risk getting your cabin denied in a costly exchange, if it doesn’t conform to building local  codes and possibly zoning ordinances.


6. Perform as much of the labor as you can safely do yourself


Consider yourself a handyman or handywoman? Take on some of the work yourself and save substantially on labor costs. James Rule is an adamant proponent of do-it-yourself. “Because these aren’t large buildings, most projects are very manageable and will not take a lot of time. In one case, we framed in the window openings and the customer installed recycled windows they pulled from an old barn.” Simple wiring, running pipe, and more can be done yourself. Just make sure to rely on professional assistance when it comes to legal concerns. Make sure you understand your land and zoning uses, and have a basic familiarity with things like surveys and easements.
James talks about one special case he encountered. “I had a customer who purchased a 10×12 building to use as a cabin for her cats! Finished on the inside and with a loft over the front porch, this customer had a few antiques inside that dated back to the early 1900’s.”


Whatever your passion for building is, we encourage you to follow your heart and keep your wallet happy at the same time. Contact us and we can help you find the perfect property for your future cabin.




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Photo Credit: anoldent, Wonderlane | flickr, National Register of Historical Places | Wikimedia Commons



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