Has anybody here built a small cabin?

Hurco550

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I know this is outta the normal wheelhouse for here, but I'm just curious if anyone has built a little "off grid" cabin and would like to share some insight. I'd love to hear any tips or tricks on "things you wished you had known" or "things you would do different" etc.

Here's some background. I grew up about 15 minutes from my current home on the 75 acre family farm (outlined in red) . About 55 acres are tillable and still used for grain farming, about 10 acres are strewn about on different plots around the edge and are residential lots inhabited by my parents (outlined in green), aunt and uncle (outlined in yellow) and one random neighbor (outlined in blue), and the far north-west corner is about 15 acres of woods. This whole farm, less the residential lots, is owned by "cousin Bob" and the 15 acres (and access lane which are outlined in white) are willed to me when he passes (which we hope is a long ways off yet). The access to the woods is via an abandoned railroad bed, suitable for just about any vehicle barring recent heavy rain, in which case 4x4 will get you there with little guff.
Screenshot farm.png


I grew up in those woods. I have spent countless hours in them camping, hunting, and riding dirt bikes, atv's and snowmobiles. Some of my best nights were sitting around campfires with friends (and girlfriends), first date with my wife and the list goes on. My son just turned 3, and he loves little more than being outside. We have been thinking about putting up a little cabin for weekend getaways or maybe longer stretches in the summer when I'm off as a school teacher.

I have a small list of "criteria" that I'm wanting to work within. These are far from set in stone but at least rough guidelines:

* It needs to be on a skid/non permanent foundation. This is uncle Bobs only real request, as a permanent foundation will up his taxes fairly substantially. It would go from Non-Tillable land (cheapest possible taxes) to a residential lot (second highest only to commercial), likely tripling the taxes.

* It needs room to sleep at least two adults and two kids with a food prep area and small living room/ dining space. We only have one kid right now, but that could change.

* It needs to be sealed up well enough to go periods of time without getting infested with bugs and critters. My parents keep the woods mowed in areas, and it can/will be "checked on" on a weekly or bi weekly basis.

* No running water, plumbing or permanent electric, though I may have it setup to run a few small things on a generator. I may look into a pit toilet/ outhouse, but again, my parents place is only a half mile away for facilities and utilities hookups are not feasible.

* It will need a heat source for spring/fall camping. I'd love to install a small wood burning pot belly, but I'm afraid that I may roast us out of it as small as I'm planning for it to be. I may look into a propane setup that I can run off of a 20 lb tank.

* It needs to be "cheap". I know nothing is free, and building materials are high right now, but I'd really like to be in it for $7-8 k if I can.

* The skid/platform needs to be small enough to haul to the location as it will be built about 20 miles offsite (more on that later)

All of those things considered, I am currently looking at an arched design. I have seen these floating around the internet for a while now and have always stored them of my mind as a design that is intriguing. I am a welder and fabricator by trade, so the steel framework is not a big deal. I would build a set of powered rollers to bend 2x2 box tubing into the arches. Threes a company in Texas that produces them, but I want to do a few tweaks to the design and I cannot see spending the money for some bent tubing that they are wanting, especially with my background in steel fabrication. I also like the idea of a simple, strong free span design and what should be a very low maintenance long lasting exterior. Much of that barn siding has a 30 year plus life span.
arched cabin 1.jpg
images



I have been playing around on auto cad and trying to figure out what the sweet spot on size will be. I am torn between building it big enough to be functional and not building it so big that it transcends the scope of a "small little getaway cabin in the woods" and morphs into an out of budget second home that requires a bunch of upkeep. I feel like this could be "one step above a tent" or a "full fledged vacation cabin" but would like to land on the "tent" side of in-between.

What I have drawn up are several variations. All 3 have partial lofts which would be used as sleeping quarters and will not run the entire depth of the cabin, leaving some of it open span to the peak. The width at the base is 12ft, 10ft and 8ft respectively. The length can be easily changed but I'm looking at between 12-20ft long (deep?) The door drawn on each is a standard 80" x 36" if that helps for scale. The 12 ft wide cabin has a platform to peak dimension of just over 14 ft. while the 8 ft wide platform has a height of just over 12. (also, not sure why the screen grab showed up so grainy)
cabin cad.png



So, what say the masses? Should I go as big as possible because I'll regret not doing so later? Should I go smaller because I'll regret building it so big? What should I know before I start in? TIA
 

pidjones

Over 1,000 Posts
Lots of folks have bought camper trailers recently. In a few years, many will grow tired of parking and upkeep for the one week per year they are used. They were in short supply a few years ago, but will glut the market down the road. What ever you go for, make sure the heat source is properly vented. Way too many reports every year of a whole family wiped out by CO poisoning in their sleep.
 

Hurco550

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Lots of folks have bought camper trailers recently. In a few years, many will grow tired of parking and upkeep for the one week per year they are used. They were in short supply a few years ago, but will glut the market down the road. What ever you go for, make sure the heat source is properly vented. Way too many reports every year of a whole family wiped out by CO poisoning in their sleep.
I had thought about just that, but I really have little interest in a camper. I've seen several people park one in the woods over the years, and they end up turning into garbage after a few seasons, unless you build a canopy over them. At that point, id rather build a cabin anyways. As far as the CO, I have a little battery powered detector already for when I shut myself in the 5x8 enclosed trailer to camp at moto events haha I'll be sure to bring that along when we stay.


In other news, I just got off the phone with the zoning agency for the county. Anything 120 sq ft or less that is not a permanent residence does not need to be reported, inspected or taxed, so that pretty well made my decision to make the base 10 ft x 12 ft. It's honestly a little on the small size for what I was hoping, but I think it will help me to not go overboard on the project, which I always tend to do.
 

ridesolo

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Levi, I can offer some bits of insight for you.

You are familiar with my shop, I know you can picture it in your mind; the size is 14' X 20'.

First, about the building itself. My shop is on blocks (for tax purposes) and the one thing I didn't do right was that the floor isn't properly insulated. I hired a couple Amish brothers, Harley & Daniel Yoder, to do the basic structure and didn't have them insulate the floor during the process. I did the walls and roof when I finished it and it's relatively efficient but when the weather is cold I can get it pretty comfy in there but my feet still get pretty cold. Insulate, insulate, insulate, it'll be money well-spent. The next money well-spent will be to do a metal roof... but I see that's what you are showing in the examples you pictured.

Electric: Somebody on here, sooner or later, is going to suggest solar. Don't think it would be worth the initial investment and between the cost of batteries that don't last forever and the solar panels themselves that also don't last forever, solar just isn't "there" yet. As I see it the way to go is to wire it up for basic 120v service w/ lights and outlets and then make an isolated and insulated generator nook off in one corner that has outside access. Start it up and run it when you need power and run it on non-alcohol gas for continued reliability. New or nearly new generators are for sale at auctions and on Craigslist and Marketplace all the time. A generator will run an electric skillet, small microwave, coffee maker, play a radio, and charge your phones (though probably not all at the same time!). If you wire it up w/ basic 50 amp service you'd even have the availability to have electric brought in someday in the future should you ever decide to get more luxurious.

Heat. I put in a propane heater and it does a fairly decent job but I knew that rotating 20lb tanks was going to be a real pain. I talked w/ Tim at DT Petrolium here in Bucyrus and he set me up w/ a 100lb tank and because he knows me, didn't even charge a deposit. I did the install of the black pipe and when he brought the tank for the first hook-up he liked what he saw (and offered me a job!). I got the heater at Home Depot and it does a fairly good job. The biggest CON of the thing is the current price of propane. I got the tank filled a coupe weeks ago and what cost $42 last year was $84! (And I take the tank to them rather than having them come to fill it.) And the need to be very careful about CO as @pidjones mentioned is absolutely an issue. My buddy back home in Pennsylvania very successfully heats his shop w/ coal. I believe he and his son found a coal stove and rebuilt it and then gets deliveries of "flake coal"and has been very happy w. it. CON: The heater needs to be disassembled and cleaned at least once a year and you need to have coal delivered; no idea what it costs around here or if it's even available. Pellet stoves are very efficient and heat really well but I have no knowledge of the costs involved.
 

ridesolo

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I had thought about just that, but I really have little interest in a camper. I've seen several people park one in the woods over the years, and they end up turning into garbage after a few seasons, unless you build a canopy over them. At that point, id rather build a cabin anyways. As far as the CO, I have a little battery powered detector already for when I shut myself in the 5x8 enclosed trailer to camp at moto events haha I'll be sure to bring that along when we stay.
Yeah, I had intended to mention that a trailer wouldn't be the way to go, especially in the woods. The things require almost constant maintenance to stay in decent condition and inevitably will end up being a rotting hulk.
 

ridesolo

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Another thought that could be very durable and economical would be shipping container(s), IF you have enough woods around so the neighbors aren't submitted to too much uglyness the things are really wonderful for cabin-building. AND since they are metal you'd be right in your area of expertise; cutting, welding, and forming. Cut holes for windows and doors and then, on down the road when the kids are older, add a second (or more) container to outfit as a bunkhouse. Two can be arranged in an L or a T or even w/ one on top of the other(s) to form a second story. Arrange three in a U shape and you have a patio or courtyard in the middle. Spray foam insulation seems to be the way to go in these and is effective. ...something to think about.
 

Tim

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I've built a very small 12 x 9 'bunkie' here for my then teenage daughter, and have an off-grid cabin.

I did this in 2015/16 and figure I have about $5K Canadian into it. Half of that was paying someone to do the vinyl and metal roof.

Arched, A-Frame etc. designs will reduce the usable square footage quite a bit. It's cheap to go high - the subfloor and roof are the expensive parts.

I put a loft in this little cabin that has about 5' height in the peak. Plenty comfortable for sleeping. My daughter had 5 of her friends up and they all stayed in the bunkie for a week.

https://photos.app.goo.gl/aTgwFHNZptb4pCSa7

I have loads of details on my solar setup too. It powers the 1/2 hp 120v water intake pump, 18 cu ft self defrosting fridge and all the other bits and pieces we need including all the saws, air compressor and other tools I use up there.
 

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Hurco550

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Wow, lots of good info and insight for sure! Plenty of things to think about. Funny you mention size for a visual Cory. I was out measuring/standing in my shed out back in order to visualize different layouts myself. Dually noted on floor insulation. That was a big concern for mine from the get go, and that definitely drives my dedication to insulate it properly. The skid/platform will likely be built by the construction trades program out at the school and hauled into the final location once I'm ready to at least enclose the structure. The instructor out there seemed to have a pretty good idea on how to build it and suggestions for durability and insulation. I have also thought about shipping containers. Funny thing, my first cad iteration actually had the arched cabin itself sitting on top of a storage container, but that just became a bigger project than I wanted to go through.

Tim, that's a bunch of great info as well. I really love the design of that little bunk house and the way you put it together. I am pretty well sold on the arched design, mainly because it's been stuck in the back of my mind for a long time now, and its made of metal, which fits my skill set about 100 times better than building a wood structure. One thing that I have at least drawn it up as that's a little different from the basic arched design, is raising and shifting in the center point of the radius of the arch in order to better set up the area for more efficient use of the space. I tried to draw this up in a way as to show it a little better, since I am having a hard time explaining by typing. All the pictures below have the same 12" width of platform. The one on the left is the design that I often see on the sold as kit arched cabin. The center point for the radius is at the base of the platform and on the adjacent side of the radius for both sides respectively. The center point for both designs is shown by a small circle. I have laid out an identical and typical cabin style outline for the 12 foot base. On the left most drawing, this design would very much so lose space over a traditional layout. However in the middle drawing (and the far right one is the same only with more "finished" details) I have moved the center point of the radius up 52 inches and towards the center 24 inches. What this does is makes the width of the floor of the loft the same width as the platform and the clear span of the loft with more room than a typical 12/12 pitch roof.. It does also mean the walls extend out past the width of the foundation, which may make it a bit tricky to furnish, but I'm ok with that.

cabin cad 3.png


One thing that I am looking at doing similar to yours jutting a loft out over a porch area. As mentioned in an earlier post, to skirt around tax laws, zoning and inspections, the libertarian in me is finding loopholes. The square footage can only be a max of 120 sq. ft., so my plan is to build the profile of the cabin like shown above and to the right, 12ft across the face and 10ft deep on the first floor. What is not included in square footage are decks or porches (that are not heated by the same source as the interior structure) or Attics. For something to be considered a second story instead of an attic is 6 ft. 6" of "ceiling height", accessible by means other than a ladder and finished living spaces. This is drawn with a 6 ft. celling height at the peak from the second platform and will be accessed by a ladder. I'm also looking at two attics, one at each end and the center 10 ft. section would be open. The lofts would both sit over top a porch or deck at either end of the length of the building. The loophole is that this will then still technically be a 120 sq. ft. building, with 144 square ft. of porch on both ends with 144 square feet of "attic" above the porches The total length would be around 26 feet. I do plan to take this to the zoning board and get it sighed off beforehand to make doubly sure that bob doesn't get any liens filed against him, but by the books, it should work.
front side top cabin.png
 

ridesolo

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My thoughts and research on shipping containers started w/ a semi half-baked idea to build some kind of dwelling in the desert southwest, AZ or NM, with shipping containers largely buried, at least 80% or more, into a side hill so there would be lots of natural insulation and general protection. Strategically placed "light tubes" would prevent too much of a cave feel, I'd think.
 
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Tim

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I'm planning a 16 x 20 or so shop for the cottage, hopefully building in the spring. I'm trying for something interesting, while incorporating some of the large 5 x 9 foot sliding glass panels I picked up last summer. Going to use 3 of them as floor to ceiling windows facing the lake, and I'm thinking of screening in the slits between the windows and making simple wood panels that can be opened for ventilation.

These are my tentative plans for the permit. I may replace the two separate doors with a single set of double-doors if I can find a decent set used somewhere cheap. Give it more of a residential feel so the building could be used as living space without a garage door. Will frame in a door to the covered outside area and might frame in a bathroom at some point once inspections are done ;)
 

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canyoncarver

'hacking is learning'
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My thoughts and research on shipping containers started w/ a semi half-baked idea to build some kind of dwelling in the desert southwest, AZ or NM, with shipping containers largely buried, at least 80% or more, into a side hill so there would be lots of natural insulation and general protection. Strategically placed "light tubes" would prevent too much of a cave feel, I'd think.

Here in New Mexico, earthships are a thing: https://taos.org/places/earthship-biotecture/

I've looked into doing shipping container builds too. Neither idea will fit Hurco's plan but there are so many options it's fun to mentally design them.
 

cbrianroll

Coast to Coast
I'm a carpenter so I'm sold on a basic frame design. Insulating is easy, and future remodeling is easier...for me. As well as running wires, pipes etc. In my area we have a single story limit so I was gonna frame it with 10 foot walls with a floor at 8ft and then hand cut rafters to a 14/12 pitch so there would be a decent sleep loft. I was gonna build on slab with radiant heat on a gravity circulation tank hooked to a little wood stove. Nothing fancy...but it would be wired like a house that plugs into a generator when needed.
Or as mentioned...an Insulated shipping container modded Accordingly.
I'm still in the planning stage as we are looking to relocate....
 

Rider52

Over 1,000 Posts
My wife and I built a 20 x 20 off grid cabin on our farm. It is all stick built construction using plans I found in a DIY book many years ago. The walls are 2x4 on 16" centers and the floors are 2x8 on 12" centers. I screwed the joists in from the side using deck screws and then added Simpson joist hangers. The joists are covered with a tongue & groove subfloor. It was cheap when I built it, I would probably gag at the price now. The whole thing sits on cement block piers sitting 24" apart. I borrowed a backhoe and dug the holes for the piers 24" deep. A lot of overkill! I also have 10 mobile home anchors hopefully holding the cabin to the ground during storms. I could have built it on skids. The floor plan is open and a local company provided ceiling joists cheaper than I could make them. We had to find some help to get them in place. The walls, ceiling and floor are insulated with foam panels and spray foam. It has a green metal roof that came from a local company. I had them install it too as falling off the roof was not in my plans. I wrapped the outer frame with house wrap. The exterior is board and batten pine boards that we bought from a local mill. It has a composting toilet and we haul in water. We have electricity but also added solar panels a few months ago. I could have powered it from generators too and I keep one on site as a just in case. The bottom of the cabin sits 18" off the ground. I had some stainless wire screen mesh which we put on the bottom/top of the floor joists and the lower 12" of the framing to keep out rodents and snakes. So far, so good. Door and windows from a Habitat for Humanity resale shop. The interior is very low maintenance. The flooring is from Sam's Club and we have a couple of area rugs too. The kitchen cabinets are are stainless cabinets from Sam's Club. Heat/AC comes from a Mr. Cool DIY mini split which I installed. We also have a Franklin wood burning stove. I had a budget, went over it almost immediately and just kept going. I think about $20K but we did it a bit at a time so the cost was spread out over a couple of years. We actually started staying in it on weekends after a couple of months. I don't have any of the construction pictures as my hard drive took a dump a few months ago. Here's some links to give you an idea of what we used.
https://www.lowes.com/pd/Simpson-St...V3xfUAR3RgwJeEAQYASABEgJW0fD_BwE&gclsrc=aw.ds

https://iwae.com/promo/mrcool-diy/?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIh_SLqqeb9QIVu4NaBR1ZnQGmEAAYASAAEgLw0PD_BwE

https://www.samsclub.com/p/tall-storage-cabinet-stainless-doors/prod14570055

https://www.samsclub.com/p/work-table-with-stainless-steel-top-49/145625

https://www.samsclub.com/p/select-s...MIns-7qK2b9QIVyRvUAR3KHwn5EAQYASABEgIWRPD_BwE

Final note from my wife: We use a Ninja air fryer because it takes up less space than a stove/oven. We also have an out door grill and a couple of George Foreman grills if needed. The only thing we carry back and forth is bed linen and our clothes.
https://www.ninjakitchen.com/exclusive-offer/SP101WBKT/ninja-foodi-digital-air-fry-oven/
 

Rider52

Over 1,000 Posts
Almost forgot! This is the solar system we installed a few months ago. The cabin faces due South leaving the roof on an east/west path. The company recommend installing the solar panels facing the south but I installed the solar panels on both sides of the roof. They receive full sunlight most days. In the summer we get about 14 hours exposure and in the winter about 8. I do product research for an international company and have no idea what this system cost as it was free. https://grapesolar.com/off-grid-systems/
 

Rider52

Over 1,000 Posts
A comment on using shipping containers. I bought a used 20 footer for $2000 which included delivery and installation. I was still working so I hired a local guy to grade the area and fill it with gravel. Another $1000 but he did a super job. The container was delivered in July 2013 and it sat in an open area completely exposed to the sun. I was advised by the seller to paint the roof with a reflective coating and he even specified the brand $275.00. That summer it was very hot with many days well over 100 degrees and humidity 70% or above. Condensation in the container was so bad it looked like it had rained inside. Water dripped from the ceiling and ran down the walls. Someone I know suggested a turbine roof vent which was about $50. It helped but there was still enough condensation to harm anything stored inside. Spray foam insulation $400 but I also framed/covered the interior walls which bumped it up to another $1000. Final cost $4725.
 

gt alex

Been Around the Block
Hi. My daughter and her 3 kids (since hubby walked out after birth of 3rd child last Christmas eve) are living in a barn behind our place not totally of grid they have one 10amp power cord from our house.
looking at your plans, I am thinking how old are the kids (older the better less safety concerns) and how long do you expect to live there each year. I see no rain water gutters to collect water. If gutters are high you can set the tank high so you can have running water with no pump.
Don't skimp on insulation.
My daughter is coping well and says the best thing she has bought is the composting toilet.
They sleep in a pile like like the Croodes but that's changing.
 

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