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News Link • Outdoor Survival

Letter Re: Building Cabins on a Shoestring Budget


Dear CPT Rawles,
This letter is provided as a reply to your reader who wrote in about “Building Cabins on a Shoestring Budget”. 

There are two viewpoints to this reply, one from the vantage point of an architect with a couple dozen years of real world design and construction experience as though one of my clients was cabin builder whom I was trying to advise, solely for a cost effective, build – as-you-go, off grid home solution. The second vantage point is that of a fellow prepper, former Army National Guard Infantry Lieutenant, and in my present role as an Architectural Consultant to Hardened Structures LLC, as though the cabin builder were a client to Hardened Structures.

First, congrats on the land acquisition. This is a great blessing. Be so very thankful for three teen boys who hopefully can share the workload. This will be a key to your accomplishing realistic goals. Next, pray, and be super safe with power tools. I have had three architect bosses over my first dozen career years that were missing a finger or part of a hand from a table saw or something. In my very first self-constructed project, the electrician cut his own kneecap off with a Skilsaw.  

Starting as the first viewpoint as an architect.  Before getting to my answer, I need to disclose that I receive no compensation from any of the brands, products or web sites listed (except in my role as an architectural design consultant to Hardened Structures LLC.).  

Homebuilding can also be stressful on some family relationships, so expect good days and not so good days, but others have gone your way before and came out okay.

Mr. Rawles is correct about the shed arranged as spoke on a wheel concept with shed structures. I have also considered this concept for the same reasons of affordability to getting the first structures up and expanding as budget allows. Depending on the shed structures selected, an octagon or hexagon gazebo kit could provide the central space which the shed “spokes” radiate out from. This is a valid “build as you go” plan. But just please be aware, the chief drawback with the spokes design is the amount of wall area per square foot of living area. Five sheds at 14’x40’ is 540 lineal feet of walls needed to be built to enclose 2,700 SF. Conversely a 52 foot square structure would achieve the same 2,700 SF of living area, with only 208 lineal feet of wall to construct. So a square in plan is our best bet to achieve the most square feet for the least cost. So, on the build as you can afford plan, I’d steer a family towards each unit being a 20’x20’or even 24’x24’ “garage kit” but replace the standard roof trusses with “room in attic trusses” in particular Gambrel style because of the high amount of bonus living space which can be gained in a second story under a roof you would have to build anyway.

I like Gambrel so much that I’ll throw out my favorite type of shed if that’s the route you choose (but not an endorsement of this particular brand, just the style.)

Another consideration which people often fail to account for in the early stages of being an owner-builder is all the other skilled trades not related to the shell of the house: electrical, plumbing, and heating.  For this reason it is not an invalid starting point to build out and around and over a functional used trailer home, which comes readymade with plumbing electrical and a heating system. On Craigslist, a trailer still in towing condition can be found for $3,000-$9,000. Even if the interior finishes of the trailer need a complete rehab, this often falls within the skill set of the do-it-yourselfer, flooring, paint, cabinets, even replacing the lighting or plumbing fixtures is a plug and play, unlike actually setting up an actual hot and cold water, or electrical service within a new home. Most likely the roof on the old trailer is worn out, so a pole barn structure over the existing roof is a very common sight on homesteads with an older trailer.
Windows should be replaced if they are single pane, with dual pane type.


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