Ten Tips for Building a Cabin on a Budget

In recent years I have noticed a trend that more and more people want to get off the grid and get back to the basics. At the same time, many people would like to do that on a reasonable budget. This can be challenging to do when you are looking at purchasing land, building a home, and perhaps setting up a homestead. But if you are determined to save money then continuing reading to learn about 10 tips for building a cabin on a budget.

Searching the internet will bring up numerous options for building an inexpensive cabin. These ideas range from cabin kits, sheds, pallet construction, tiny homes, and even cabins built from shipping containers. I even have a post on Building an Off Grid Home.

All that being said, what I’ve always stressed is that whatever you decide to build, make sure that it will be comfortable for years to come. After all you have to establish a decent lifestyle if you are going to stick with this over the long haul. Consider the following 10 tips for building a cabin on a budget.

1) Forethought and Planning

First and foremost, do not jump into anything. Take your time. Shop around and consider as many options as possible. The possibilities are truly endless. Failure to plan properly for building a structure could easily cost you a significant amount of money to go back and correct mistakes.

2) Keep it simple

This should be a no brainer. The simpler the floor plan, the easier it will be to build. Consequently, it will be much more cost affective. One of my cabins is 14 feet x 20 feet with a 3/4 loft and a deck off the back side. A very simple design that was built at 1/4 the local build cost.

3) Keep it small

Smaller structures are not only cost effective but they are less expensive to heat and cool. Furthermore, they require much less maintenance. You do not necessarily need to build a “tiny home”. But at the same time, do not over build and end up with something that means unnecessary future expense.

My 14 x 20 foot cabin with a loft and 12 x 20 foot deck, complete with solar array, cost me $64/square foot once it was completely finished. Average cost of construction in my area is $250/square foot.

4) Built it Yourself

Understandably, not everyone has the same skill level. But, if you have any construction knowledge at all, you can save yourself a considerable amount of money.

When I built my second cabin, I did the foundation work and then had a contractor frame and dry in the structure, as well as do the wiring. I then finished out the interior, built the deck and installed the solar array. I estimated that I save myself about $30 thousand.

When I built my storage shed, it was 10 foot by 20 foot with 10 foot walls, a steep gable, and half loft. Total cost was $2,500. I recently priced a storage shed kit that was 14 foot by 16 foot with 8 foot walls for $16,500.

5) Use cost effective foundation options

There are several inexpensive options for foundations especially with smaller structures. Cinder blocks, concrete tubes, square concrete footings, and even patio bricks are good inexpensive options.

6) Stick to the basic floor plan when purchasing a package

If you decide to purchase a kit, then stick to the basic floor plan. Customizing can be expensive. Mostly likely you can purchase extra materials locally and save yourself a considerable amount of money.

7) Always purchase quality material

Never purchase substandard material. The money saved up front will be put into extra repairs later and then some. This may seem counter productive when trying to build an affordable cabin, but as the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

Additionally, purchasing high quality windows and doors will save on heating and cooling bills. Even if you have to use smaller windows, you will be glad you purchased higher quality material.

8) Consider going off grid

Installing renewable energy can save you a considerable amount of money over the years. When I built my cabin, the local utility company wanted to charge me $30 thousand to run in the lines. My solar array only cost $8,500 and paid for itself in 2 years.

9) Standard construction versus logs

Many people love the look and feel of a log cabin. I know I do. However, many builders and real estate folks alike, will tell you that standard construction buildings are better insulated, easier to build, easier to repair, and easier to insure.

From a personal perspective, I have experience building and living in both types of structures. Just like anything else, there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Take for example:

-If your access is challenging, it is easier to haul in lumber as opposed to logs.
-Standard lumber is easier to handle due to weight.
-Framing is easier with lumber as opposed to logs
-Standard construction buildings can easily be insulated. Log structures are simply dependent on the thickness of the walls for construction.
-Log structures are going to be A LOT heavier.
-If working alone, construction with standard lumber is much easier.

All this being said, I have built both types of structures and did the work almost entirely alone.

10) Purchase milled logs from a lumber company

Logs used for cabin kits are precisely milled for a tight fit, improved insulation, and easier construction. Instead of purchasing a kit, considering purchasing only the logs and doing the construction work yourself.  You can find lumber companies that mill logs by simply searching for "house logs". Most places are going to charge for delivery because the logs have to be shipped on a large truck.

Based on my recent search, I calculated it would cost me about $8,000 to build a 20 foot by 20 foot single story cabin. 

Final comments

I hope you find these tips helpful. I followed many of these ideas when it came to building my cabins. Consequently, I saved a significant amount of money. 

Go off grid and live well,


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