Build This Cozy Cabin

Anyone with basic carpentry skills can construct this classic one-room cozy cabin for about $6,050.

| June/July 2006

cozy cabin - illustration of finished cabin

Provided you're willing to invest your own time and effort, a cozy cabin like this could be yours for about $6,000.

Illustration by Len Churchill

Rays of early-morning sunlight gently peek through the windows, easing you awake. Looking down from the sleeping loft, you see everything you need: a pine table; a box piled with hardwood, split and ready for the woodstove; and a compact kitchen in the corner. This is the cabin dream.

In this article, I’ll show you how to build a 14-by-20-foot cozy cabin featuring a sleeping loft over the porch for about $6,050. Who can resist it?

My own cabin adventure began in 1986, when I built one as an inexpensive place to stay while constructing my house — that’s when I began learning what makes cabin design and construction successful. (I’ve always had a debt-free approach to developing my property.) The four years I lived in this cabin were a good time in my life — perhaps one of the best. I fondly recall the simplicity of waking each morning with the sole purpose of building my own house, working well into the evening.

What follows is a cabin plan (I've included a full Cabin Assembly Diagram) with the hands-on know-how I wish I had 20 years ago. It won’t replace the need for basic carpentry skills, but it will alert you to the main challenges of framing a cabin and how to clear the most important hurdles. And even if you never build a cabin of your own, these basic instructions will be useful anytime you need to build a garage, shed or other outbuilding. (For more on the author’s cabin experience, see Our Life in a One-room Cabin)

I believe in building for the long haul. When it comes to cabins (and everything else for that matter), this means working to the same standards of durability and beauty that you’d apply to a full-size house, even though the style, size and soul of a good cabin are entirely different. I’m sold on durability because it takes such small amounts of extra care, materials and money to yield a huge increase in longevity. Although a cabin certainly can be framed less stoutly than the design I’ll show you here, I’m convinced the wisest use of resources often means going beyond what’s merely good enough.

A Firm Foundation

Every well-built structure begins with the foundation. In regions where frost isn’t an issue, site-poured, 6-by-16-by-16-inch shallow-depth concrete pads work just fine. If this is similar to the approach used on new houses in your area, then it’s OK for use under your cabin.

11/30/2016 3:26:32 PM

Did anyone get a response from Steve Maxwell on their questions??? If so, can you post here?

6/1/2016 12:10:23 AM

This look like a very affordable tiny house. Really like the kit idea - planing is already done for you. Good tips on foundations. Thanks Alan

6/10/2015 9:19:08 PM

8' 6x6 posts on porch will not be long enough to carriage bolt into floor frame and be tall enough to sync with top plate flushly

6/10/2015 11:25:03 AM

Is it possible to get a floor plan? How big is the area over the porch? Does the 14x20 include the loft/porch?

5/27/2014 12:40:30 AM

Roy Fritz - you sound like a great Dad. If I am anywhere close, I will gladly help you build that retreat. Thank your sons for me, please.

5/27/2014 12:37:26 AM

This is a great article and a really cool little cabin. I applaud the minimalist approach to square footage and the effort to inspire others to build, for themselves, something similar. My only qualm is that the $4000 figure is a "perfect world" number and will, likely, result in frustration by anoyone attempting to replicate your resutls. The $4,000 number is BARELY achievable for the basic shell, depending on the types of wood available locally. Once you add electrical, as the author did, you can say "bye bye" to your $ 4k budget. Not only is copper wiring CRAZY expensive these days, but that adds another level of inspection and requirements (aka MONEY!!) to the project. I am not aware of anyplace where an electrical inspection will be done without permitting my a Master Electrician. I shop for second-hand/salvage electrical components (service panels, fixtures, wire, disconnects, etc), but have not found a legitimate way around inspections. Are there places where you can hook to the grid without inspections and approvals? The local power company, very likely, is not going to run a service to your cabin for no charge. I advocate solar/wind for remote cabins and am investigating them as a supplement to grid power of my vacation home on the Gulf of Mexico. Solar/wind can be budget busters compared to the local grid. Combined with geo-thermal heat, "off grid" power sources can be completely adequate, though. The author also drilled a well for water, so add that, or some other water source, to your budget. Wells cost anywhere from $25 - $200 per foot, depening on the material through which the well is drilled. Mountain locations, typically, have a lot of rock between you and the water table. The depth of your well can vary greatly based on terrain, as well. Manual pumps for shallow wells (around 25 - 30 ft) are about $250-350, for deeper wells about $600 - 1000. A well for a "mountain" cabin could, easily, exceed $4,000, plus pumps. If you use an electirc pump, add cost for more power capacity. Don't forget the cost of testing the water for human consumption and local permits, inspections, etc. I will assume wood heat, so, about $300 for a used stove, up to whatever you want to spend for a new one, plus installation and ducting of the exhaust. So $450, best case. DIY solar water heat would be cheap and far superior to a crock pot, even in cold climates. Water, electrical and heat, even done on the cheap, are well over $4000. Every one of those costs goes up as your location becomes more remote. The author mentioned stone or brick work. Not on $4k. :-) The cost estimates in the article do not include doors (you need two for safety) or windows. If you have ever built anything, you know how expensive those items are, especially ones sturdy enough for a remote cabin. Two doors and four windows would cost about $700 (new) on the el cheap, poorly insulated route. Bargains can be had on the used market though. Please understand, I really like the article, the authors intent and the idea of scaling back. It is not my intention to dissuade anyone from building something like this project, but we should talk realistically about the REAL costs.

roy fritz
7/17/2010 9:15:11 AM

I read the article and I am going to build 2 about this size but everything will be carried up hill about 3ooft but view will be beautiful and the other one has it's columes started in one end of a 2a meadow. Isolated. no cell reception no road no power no tv reception no neighbors 2 radio stations just books wild life woods stars clean air peace and quiet. A couple of my sons who have going over to Iraq agin and have gone to this place when on leave to get there feet back on the ground and asked if I would biuld them a cabin there. My goal is to have it done by next May when the last one will be back. I will leave part of it for them to finish. I'll make them at least split wood. MntMnRF

donna miller_3
6/18/2009 10:14:05 AM

This is a great option and a very nice little personal opinion is to use a yurt. That's just me.

7/17/2008 6:06:59 PM

Greetings from Panama. I have a question so far. What´s the funtion for "half-lap corner joints". Thank you.

david wilkins
2/10/2008 3:43:12 PM

I have some property at 2500 ft. I have constructed 2 yurts with snow load. When I get about 6 ft of snow they both caved in. This seems like a very sturdy structure. How much snow will this Cozy Cabin withstand?

1/12/2008 2:38:19 PM

looking to ask Steve Maxwell, about the the article, Build this cozy cabin we have land in Maine and would like to build. We seem to be getting much questions on why on the foundation, he has 10 pier forms, total of five to the porch and none in centers. the story reads, one at each corner, on long ends, put one in middle, one in center of back 14' end and 2spaced evenly from porch. Is this a misprint as people are saying. are there no post in the center of the cabin?? thanks, Tom and Carol

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