We decided to build an off grid cabin in the woods on our 20 acre homestead. Our reasons? We wanted a quiet place to read a book and a cozy cabin to enjoy nature. But we also wanted a place that could possibly make us some additional homestead revenue, when we are not using it ourselves. We run several small businesses from our homestead.
Off-Grid Building Uses Consideration
We considered many options (some unusual) like a frontier cabin original to the time period. We thought about making it an off grid cabin that we could rent out on AirBnB for those who want to experience the off grid lifestyle for a weekend. We even considered a cabin that we could convert to an indoor golf simulator (powered by solar) that we could rent out. We’ve already hosted 2 successful AirBnB properties. We considered many ideas but couldn’t nail one down, so we decided to build the off grid structure with several potential uses in mind. Here is what we did and what we learned. We made a video showcasing the entire build, start to finish You can see the video at the bottom of this post.
Our Past Experience
At HomesteadHow.com , we are not new to construction projects. We’ve built a greenhouse, remodeled our homestead and built 2 entire off grid tiny houses on our homestead. One of those tiny houses we used as an off grid airbnb rental and later sold it and the other Tiny House we built for a customer (who liked our 1st tiny house on AirBnB). Our biggest lesson learned across all of these projects is that upfront planning is so critical to keep the costs down. We use Google Sketchup’s free web version to design our projects in 3D. It’s an easy tool to master (we watched a few YouTube videos to learn how) and in the end you get a strong visual of your project, but you also get cut lists and a great way to budget your materials. We also find it helpful because when it comes time to build the process is much faster since we don’t have to plan out window and door layouts on the fly. We just trust the cut list and cut everything, then assemble making a great workflow. We strongly suggest Google Sketchup if you are considering an off grid cabin. The beauty is you can build your project before even securing the location for it.
We decided to design our off grid building with concrete foundation. This is unusual but with the cost of lumber so high it may have saved some money! But we mainly used cement because we were not 100% sure what we would use this building for and concrete covers all of our ideas for our multi-use off grid building. We wanted something smaller to keep costs down so we went with a 16×14 foundation.
With our designs finalized we had some gravel delivered, made some forms and prepared for concrete. We paid a company $800 to deliver and prepare the concrete.We paid $150 for the gravel. With our 2×6 forms we had about $1000 total into the foundation.
Starting the Build
With the concrete in place we started the build process. We first cut every single 2×4 per our Google Sketchup designs. We then started on the front wall. We built the front wall entirely in our garage and then put it on a trailer to bring to the site. In our earlier tiny house build we built all of the walls in the garage and then assembled them all outside. So if you are making a small building and can transport the walls, consider building them in your garage. With all of my tools plus heat and a roof the garage was a nice place to start the project and probably saved me a bunch of time running back and forth for tools and hardware.
Next we built the remaining walls. With fews windows everything went together very quickly. We used a Ramset tool to secure the 2x4s to the cement. We also used treated lumber for the bottom sill. After that we sheeted everything with OSB. The roof rafters were probably the trickiest part, but those too, I designed in Sketchup with a bird’s mouth. I was able to take the Sketchup measurements and angles for the rafters and they all came out precise!
Roof and Siding
We used tar paper and asphalt shingles and vinyl siding. One thing I overlooked on the design was adding an overhang, so as an afterthought (not on our designs) I added a 1 foot overhang to each side of the roof.
How We Saved Money
One of the ways we saved an incredible amount of money is buy using recycled materials for doors, windows and interior walls. We bought all of that from the Habitat Restore. If you are not familiar, the Habitat Restore has 900 locations across the country. People can donate household items and sales of donated items help Habitat for Humanity partner with local families to build, rehabilitate and repair safe and affordable homes in your community and around the world. It’s a great store. Some of the prices can be too high but we’ve found doors and windows to be priced very low. The front door of our off grid building came from Habitat restore for a total of $40 between the beautiful glass panel door and storm door. We also bought panels for the interior walls. The Habitat Restore is a fun place to visit because they always have new items.
How We Turned it into a Business
With our off grid building done we were set on turning it into a cabin and using it mostly ourselves but also renting it on Airbnb to help drive some income as well. We found the zoning rules around this were too tricky to navigate. We planned to do an outhouse/ dry cabin, but the zoning was too much. We learned that we could have a 4 stall dog kennel and so long as it was no more that 4 stalls we didn’t need extensive zoning/approvals/hoops to jump through. So that is what we did. We bought 4 kennels, put up some fencing and made doggy doors in the back.
How Much It Cost
Here is what our off grid kennel cost us (this was before lumber prices skyrocketed):
- we paid about $1000 for the foundation
- $2500 for lumber
- $1000 for kennels, windows, doors, misc.
- $1000 misc hardware, tools, overruns etc
- So about $5500 in total.
If I were to do it all over again today I may consider a concrete foundation again because the cost of a lumber foundation (with the current high lumber costs) may be close to the cost of concrete. I would also try to purchase my lumber from an Amish lumber mill to help reduce costs.
Start-to-Finish Build Video
Kerry W. Mann, Jr. moved to a 20-acre homestead in 2015, where he and his family use modern technology, including YouTube and Instructables.com, to learn new skills and teach homestead projects. Connect with Kerry on his Homestead How YouTube page, Instructables, Pinterest, Facebook, and at My Evergreen Homestead. Read all of Kerry’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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