Guys, I want a BIG little off-grid cabin!

Between the blizzards and the season, we’re working feverishly on all fronts. So, we thought we’d share a recent email exchange with you that I think you’ll all enjoy.

Hi guys,

I recently saw a “tiny house” trailer thing called “the Escape”. It’s a 14×28 moveable cabin that comes with a three season porch that has plastic sheeting installed, so that the owner avoid some property taxes.

The base model goes for about $80,000 in “basic mode”. (That means “nicely appointed but on the truck”.) Start adding goodies and you’re looking at a Hundred Grand or more.

And they remind you that you’ll still need to supply a foundation and services.

That’s a lot of cash for 400 square feet.

Breakdown Cabin
As I looked at it, I remembered something you said in a seminar about “reverse engineering” home ideas for “repurposing” into ISBU homes.

I’ve personally seen a few of your homes as I have friends that you helped build years ago. And, I can attest that you do indeed “rub nickels together to make quarters.” My friends built with a budget that got them laughed out of several contractor’s offices and then… the contractors showed up after the fact, hoping for a “home tour”.

But I’m straying from the topic at hand;

Could this little trailer park house be reworked to fit into ISBUs?

Would it require special cabinetry or anything else that would make it impractical for the DIY guy?

Does it require special doors and windows because of the ISBU part of the build??

Could this be reworked into a two bedroom home with sleeping accommodations for a few more, just in case?

And, could you build it in “off-grid” mode?

I know that you guys are constantly building affordable ISBU homes on budgets that make contractors cry. Can you rework this for me?

If so, I’d build one in a minute.


Checkbook in hand… and “I have a pen and a phone”… 🙂

Dear “Big Spender”.

Very funny. That’s a good one. I bet that’s not what Obama had in mind when HE said it… 😉

We took a long hard look at the home you’re referring to. It’s actually a “Park Estate” type RV/Home.

I actually LIKE this little cabin. I’ve seen it myself and thought that it had potential. The guys doing it have thought things through, and they’ve played all the cards to add the bells and whistles that people will part with solid money for. Seeing what’s on the  market today, you could do a lot worse.

That said, it’s admittedly a lot of money for most of us. When I start seeing prices in the $200 per square foot plus range, I start to get a nervous tick.

Don’t get me wrong; IF you don’t want to build a home yourself and you’re willing to spend $100 grand, this could be your  ticket. However, IF you watch the DIY channel faithfully, you aren’t a stranger to basic hand tools and you have a friend or two in the trades (electrician, plumber, welder) you could build a pretty good version of this wonderful little cabin with some pretty slick twists for less money.

Okay… (talk about a ramble through consciousness) right off the bat, this cabin screams to be built into a pair of 40′ High Cube ISBUs (shipping containers). If we did it, we’d twist it a little bit and turn that screen porch into a Master bedroom complete with fireplace and private entry.

16x40 2 bdrm cabin - webDon’t break out your rulers and start complaining. This isn’t t to scale. It’s just a quick illustration to give you some ideas.

My kitchen would come from a “big box” place like IKEA, Lowes, or Home Depot.. So would most of my other cabinets.

mobilspazio-mini-kitchensYou’d be amazed at the big “little kitchens” that you can build now, if you think it through.

You use the same doors and windows that everyone else uses. They just get inserted into rough openings built with 2″ box steel tubing and plate steel. It’s really quite simple.

We do “shared baths” all the time in “small builds”. No matter what you’re  building, the kitchen and baths will eat up a huge part of your budget. “Shared bath” means shared access and lower costs… The bathroom suggested isn’t bad, but we’d up the ante a bit. Linear drain tile shower, poured concrete countertop with a cool trough sink to allow 2 users, you know the drill.

(At least if you read the blog regularly, you know the drill…) 😉

I never understand why people insist on taking a small space and carving it up, if not with walls… with furniture placement.

I’d put my furniture in a circular core and then let the main room revolve around them. It’s fun, it’s a nice way to create interest and it just flows better.

I love that corner FP kit. In fact, when we lean that direction, we usually use a pair of them, placed back to back to create nice “fire feature” that not only warm the house, but use one big flue manifold. Why make multiple openings in your roof when you don’t have to? Flashing is a pain in the butt.

In this case, I’d build a pocket door casing into the gap between them.

Being able to open up those sliders to the Master just makes the space BOOM when Mom and Dad are there by themselves on a long celebratory weekend.

Forget the Armoires! Yes, they look nice. But Americans are used to CLOSETS. We see guys doing that “Armoire thing” time and again, trying to squeak out square inches. The PROBLEM with armoires in general is that they aren’t deep enough to put jackets into without having to compress them to get the door closed. And, for most people, they just don’t house enough clothing to allow for extended living situations. Your clothing gets wrinkled and you get frustrated. Bite the bullet and build in nicely appointed organizer closets. Line them with a nice aromatic wood, like cedar. You’ll appreciate the expenditure later.

Pedestal beds with storage platforms are a boon. Use every square foot you can. You’re paying for it, right? USE IT. Squeeze your bedrooms hard but remember what they are for!

Remember that building a small cabin means that you concentrate on creating “communal spaces.” Sleeping spaces are for sleeping. Don’t turn them into coffins, but make fill them with light and make them comfortable cocoons to rest in. Spend your money on the spaces where the most people will get the most use out of them. Got it?

This cabin is bigger than it looks. If you did it our way, this Corten Cabin would sleep 6 or more by using a bigger roof pitch to gain access to some sleeping loft space over one end of the home. I want that large roof plane to fly my panels on. More about that later.

Most people opt for smaller roof pitches because it’s cheaper to build. Because I’m going to reclaim the space inside for living/sleeping space and I have a bunch of panels to mount, I can justify that big roof pitch.

We just built a 8/12 640 square foot roof using SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) with Standing Seam Metal Roofing over it for just under $10,000.00 including the stand-offs and installation of the PV and Solar Hot Water panels.

(And I mean like… not enough change to go to McDonald’s with after work… but… we did it.)

If you did it our way, you’d recycle materials, repurpose stuff and reuse anything that you could crowbar into your building kitty.

You’d use friends and relatives to do your actual build-out and based on the size of this home, a handful of guys could put this together in about a month and a half, tops.

As far as money goes, you could build the cabin itself, minus the  off-grid gear, for about $50k in most states in the Continental USA.

To get off-grid, you’re going to spend $15-18k. I hear about “budget solar” all the time, but rarely do they pan out at the bargain basement prices advertized. By the time you invest in everything you need, allow for expansion as your family grows and stockpile a few spare parts, you’re going to be pushing $20 grand.

If it was me, I’d build it on pilings I built myself out of Sonotubes and concrete/steel, and I’d build it a few feet up off the ground. This little cabin screams for a big deck flown off it, overlooking a lake, the beach or the mountains.

If you’re going  to build/live off-grid, you’re  still going to need photovoltaic panels and inverters, a battery bank, solar hot water panels, a back up generator, a well and septic.

You’re  also going to need a cistern.

Use Mini-Splits for heating and A/C.  Watch for our post on them to learn more, We’re working on it now.

Reality time;

Building a home isn’t cheap. Ever. But, it can be affordable if you think it through an use your head. If you stay on track and stick with the plans, you can build a really nice home for a lot less than you’d think.

If, after reading this, you still want to write that check, drop us an email. But, do it soon. It’s nearly Spring and our calendar for 2014 is already filling up!


Image Credits: User Submitted floorplan and curb view – Escape Cabin – Canoe Bay Resort (link coming)

Reworked Floorplan Illustration – Yes, we did it.

Kitchen image –

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