Building a Cabin on Stilts

Reader Contribution by Anna Twitto
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Our cabin, into which we hope to move in the near future, is roughly 700 square feet, which isn’t very tiny by tiny standards, but is still pretty small, given that it is meant as a home for five people. It is made of wood and has a rectangular shape which is efficiently divided into a central kitchen/living area, two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a smaller storage room.

It also has a large wraparound deck and is built on stilts — a construction method which enabled us to utilize uneven, rocky, hilly terrain without demolishing it in order to build our little home. I consider this kind of building both more efficient and more affordable – and more environmentally friendly. We were able to preserve the natural beauty of the terrain, sparing some trees which we would otherwise have to cut down in order to build.

Our cabin in process of building

Of course, dispensing with ground leveling also means that we now have an uneven terrain to work with. We have had to put in steps in order to enable access to our deck and house, which can be a disadvantage under some circumstances (for example, when living with small children).

Gardening will also be a challenge, which we intend to meet by intensively cultivated raised beds put either over the rock or in small pockets of earth throughout our property. Livestock housing and fencing will also have to take the peculiarities of the terrain into account. In some places, I expect we will have to drill right into the rock.

Benefits of Building a Stilt House

1. We have a neat roomy space under our house and deck which can be used for storage and even, potentially, for housing small livestock.

2. We enjoy a wide, gorgeous view.

3. The elevation offers some protection against vermin.

4. Less damp during the rainy season; in areas where it is an issue, protection against floods.

Potential Problems with Building on Stilts

Building on stilts provides ventilation under the house, which is a big advantage in many respects, but during hot summers like ours it has one drawback: the warm air rises and heats the downside of the house. We had lived in a house on stilts before, and during the hottest days the floors were actually warm to the touch.

The house we had lived in before had stilts located too far apart, which made the entire structure unstable. The house would move during strong winds, and shake and rattle when I turned on the washing machine. I didn’t have much apprehension of the house actually toppling down, but this caused damage to the window frames, the furniture and the floor tiles, which cracked in places. It is actually quite lucky that we had that experience of living in a house on stilts before attempting to build our own – this has helped us avoid many potential pitfalls.

It is important to remember that the stilts are what keeps your house standing — they are one of the most crucial parts of the entire structure. Our cabin stands on wooden stilts, but thinking back, we realize that a steel construction might have been a better choice in terms of stability and endurance. In the future we will have to reinforce and, most probably, replace parts of the foundation to prevent the house from sagging.    

This post was an excerpt from my upcoming book, Your Own Hands: Self Reliant Projects for Independent Living. Get book updates and more by following my Facebook page

Anna Twittos academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna and her husband live on a plot of land in Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna’s Mother Earth News posts here

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