How to Build a Low Cost Cabin

Learn how to build an attractive, super-low-cost (yet extremely durable) cabin that sleeps five people comfortably.

| March/April 1977

A-frame Cabin

A cabin is one of many low cost homes to build. The Harris's lodge features ample stand-up, walk-around room inside and-thanks to the loft sleeps five comfortably.


Six years ago, when I took on the job of operating a biological station in the Allegheny Mountains of Highland County, Virginia, I found myself faced with a serious problem: namely, how to house my family during the summer school sessions.

The small private college I worked for had no funds for extra staff lodging ... and our year-round home was in the far eastern part of the state (which meant we couldn't commute to the outpost). What we needed, then, was an "overnight" cabin that the five of us — my wife, myself, our two teenage sons, and our teenage daughter — could build quickly, easily, and inexpensively right on the biological station grounds, and live in during the summer months.

In terms of design, such a lodge would have to be weathertight, sturdy enough to both withstand the gusty storms common to this area and shed the loads of snow that occasionally build up here, and spacious enough inside to give the six-footers in the family (my sons and me) more than just the tiny amount of stand-up room down the center of the building we knew we'd get if we built a conventional A-frame cabin.

Building a Low Cost Cabin

I'm pleased to report that we were able to solve our housing problem — and meet our design objectives — quite nicely with the aid of a 16-by-24 foot "modified A-frame" cabin ... one that we built in just five daylight-to-dark workdays at a cost of only $1,000. (Those are 1971 dollars.)

Day One 

We spent our first workday digging the twelve 2 foot square, 2 foot deep holes for the foundation's footings, pouring six inches of concrete (made partly with gravel from a nearby stream) into each hole, and gathering stones for the piers.

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