After finding himself without a home, LaMar Alexander moved onto inherited land and built a 400-square-foot cabin in two weeks for $2,000.
The author, LaMar Alexander, designed and built his own tiny cabin. He salvaged his front door from a nearby abandoned house.
Photo by LaMar Alexander
I built my cabin about 15 years ago after a divorce and sudden illness left me homeless and broke. I had inherited a small piece of land from my family’s old homestead, and I set up camp on my property with an old camp trailer and truck. Working part-time while I cleared the land, I was able to save up $2,000 and designed a 14-by-14-foot cabin that I felt I could build by myself and that would function for my needs.
With the full loft upstairs, it has almost 400 square feet of living space. The ceiling height in the main floor and loft is 7 feet, so an average adult can stand comfortably.
The cabin structure is made out of mostly new materials and the walls are 2-by-4-foot lumber, while the floor and roof is 2-by-6-foot lumber. It has a tarpaper wind and water barrier and is fully insulated, with an insulation rating of R-13 in the walls and R-19 in the floor and roof. When possible I bought blemished boards and asked for a bulk discount from suppliers.
To keep costs down, I used recycled, double-pane, low-e glass windows and steel-insulated doors that I salvaged from an abandoned house that was being demolished.
For cabin trim and a porch I used log supports and rough-cut lumber from our local lumber mill and recycled cedar fence boards for the cabin’s interior trim.
After the cabin was built I salvaged all of the appliances and other items from my old camp trailer: sink, stove, fridge, lights, water pump, propane tanks, shower, and lots of wiring and plumbing. Because they are smaller they fit the cabin perfectly and so did not cost anything.
I had a small solar electric system for the camper, so that went in the cabin. As I had the money, I expanded it and then added a small 400-watt Air X wind turbine. My present system produces about 580 watts of solar energy and 400 watts of wind energy. I heat and cook with propane on a small woodstove. I have plenty of power for my laptop, lights, TVs, electric fridge, freezer, and miscellaneous gadgets.
I designed a solar composting toilet. The portable toilet is emptied into the solar composter once a week and does not require any compost pile; it evaporates off the liquid and the extra heat helps break down the compost very quickly.
I direct greywater from the shower to a French drain where it keeps the grass and shrubs watered. I capture sink water and send it to the solar composter tank or use it on fruit trees and shrubs.
I hand-drilled an agriculture well and I am half-owner of a 300-foot free-flowing well on my brother’s property. I refill a 25-gallon RV-style water tank under the sink from a hose and the entire cabin is set up much like a self-contained RV.
It took me two weeks to build the cabin structure by myself and the cost was just under $2,000, not counting recycled materials or the solar and wind power system.
I have no house payments and no monthly utility bills, and I grow a garden, raise rabbits and chickens, and enjoy my outdoor hobbies. Having no bills allowed me to start a small local business and an online business that are thriving, and I have been able to help my son, become sustainable and save for my retirement.
To help others who are looking for simple living and homesteading ideas, I set up a website to share my adventures and missteps at Simple Solar Homesteading.
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