8 Beginner Mistakes That Cause Log Cabin Projects To Fail
You’ve finally made the decision and you’re excited to build your new log cabin home. You have big plans for this new cabin: holidays, adventures, wilderness and off-grid living.
The world is exploding with off-grid living; if you haven’t yet got the itch to build your own log cabin – you soon will do.
Before you take the plunge and jump straight into cabin construction; take the time to discover common beginner mistakes. Make sure you don’t experience the same disappointments of failed log cabin projects.
Read on if you would like to know what these mistakes are and how to avoid them when building your future log cabin home.
1. Planning for your log cabin
Homestead construction, like most things in life, requires thoughtful and considerate planning. Transitioning from city or urban living to rural living isn’t difficult, but, it does require a large dose of common sense and rigorous planning. As Benjamin Franklin said;
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.
The good news is, you’re reading this blog; which shows you are thinking about planning. The planning process for your log cabin should make your dream clear in your head. Think about the type of log cabin you want and the construction method you are going to use.
The more you read about log cabins the more likely you are to know exactly what you want.
Once you have finished reading, watching videos and swatting up on log cabins, you should be able to answer the following questions:
- What is the purpose of my log cabin (e.g. holiday cabin (seasonal), year-round cabin or annex cabin)?
- Who is designing my log cabin?
- What is my total budget for the cabin’s construction?
- Who is building the cabin (i.e. log cabin kit or self-build)?
- How many rooms and bedrooms will my cabin have?
- Do I own the land where the log cabin will be based?
If you can’t answer all of the questions in the list above then try searching for specific resources on this blog that can help you.
2. Budget and finances
If you’re like me, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of your log cabin and forgetting to calculate a realistic budget.
Preparing a budget for your log cabin is an important process. The budget is reliant on your selection of construction method (i.e. kit build or self-build) and cabin size.
For a very quick costing technique:
- Take the average cost of $125 per square foot for a log cabin kit or
- Take the average cost of $175 per square foot for a hand made log cabin
Then multiply this price by your desired floor space.
Example: An 18FT x 10FT log cabin is 180FT2 so would cost $22,500.
Taking an average cost can be inaccurate, but it’s a good first indicator of cost.
A more thoughtful approach factors in finish standard, modern conveniences, and cabin location.
The most common mistake when budgeting is to forget hidden costs or unexpected costs; use the list below in your budgeting process to make sure you allocate all of the costs:
- Site preparation and clearing
- Timber purchase and preparation
- Labour costs
- Interior finish
- Installation of utilities (electric, water and sewage)
3. Location, location, location
Camp location for your log cabin is a very personal decision but should also be determined by some practical factors.
If you already own the land where your log cabin will be built; then skim this section to confirm it’s suitable. However, if you’re going to purchase land to place your cabin on; then use this a checklist when visiting potential locations.
- Access convenience – proximity to major trunk roads and site access are important considerations for the location of your log cabin. Your site will need to be able to take lots of heavy machinery and wide-loads for the delivery of cabin resources.
- Natural shelter and protection – the location of your cabin will be influenced by the local climate and shelter provided by the environment. If your cabin is going to be in a harsh environment, with heavy rain or snow, then it’s advisable to find natural shelters; using bays or forests. This will reduce the impact of weathering on your cabin.
- Local authority regulation – local authorities have different construction codes and regulations depending upon where you decide to construct your log cabin. An easy rule of thumb to use is:
Less than 320FT2 or freestanding structures not used for permanent dwellings don’t require permission
I would always suggest you consult with your local authority to determine if there are any regulations. Do this before purchasing the land to avoid any unforeseen costs.
- Utilities convenience – when selecting your site make sure to determine how far away the nearest power, running water and sewage mains are. If they are a significant distance away (>1KM) then this will add large costs onto your construction. If you have decided to go full homestead and live off-grid then this won’t impact your decision.
4. Design and orientation
The best place to start when designing your log cabin is to use a design board full of your favourite log cabins.
A design board collects images, materials and text intended to discover design styles.
If design boards are new to you, then read How to Create a Design Style Board.
Once you’ve finished, look at your design board you will be able to see dominant colors and design types. Now pick your favourite two or three log homes and select these for design inspiration.
Beginners often forget about design boards, but, a couple of days spent here can really improve the design of your log cabin.
Now you know what you want your log cabin to look like, you can either design floor plans yourself (using an online tool such as giffy) or you can pay a local architect.
The cost to develop floor plans can be between $1-$5 per square foot.
Example: An 18FT x 10FT log cabin is 180FT2 so this would cost $180-$900.
During the design of the floor plans ensure that you consider areas for multi-functional spaces. Some of the best log homes use their kitchens to double-up as living rooms and bedrooms that double-up into offices and living spaces.
Being creative with multi-functional living spaces will help to keep construction costs and running costs low.
If you decide to design elevations of your log cabin then make sure to consider two important design principles:
- Ground clearance. Typically you need a 18” ground clearance from the top of your foundation slab to the ground. This is to reduce weathering on your cabin’s bottom few logs when it rains and splashes back up onto the cabin.
- South-east facing. Make sure when you design your new log home that the most common rooms are south-east facing to capture the sun. This will make sure that your most used rooms have lots of natural daylight.
5. Self-build or Kit assembly
Deciding upon a self-build log cabin or purchasing a ready-made kit to assemble is a decision influenced by lots of factors.
Kit assembly log cabins can cost upwards of $80,000 for the kit; this will contain timber, doors and windows. Additionally you will then need to purchase interior materials and factor in the cost of labour to install the kit.
A basic rule of thumb is to multiply the kit cost by three to calculate the finished cost; so a $80,000 kit will cost you $240,000 for a finished cabin.
The advantages of using a kit assembly are that:
- Doesn’t require a design as all of the kits are based on an existing prefabricated design.
- Timber is cut to the correct length, prepared and treated with chemicals to ensure it withstands weathering.
- Each piece of timber fits perfectly so this makes for a much faster and easier construction process as there is no cutting or fitting.
- Simple and very easy construction process for novices.
In comparison the advantages of a self-build cabin are:
- Much cheaper alternative than a kit assembly cabin
- Typically a self-build cabin will cost $50 per square foot less.
- Opportunity to create a unique log cabin by creating your own design
- Easier to use natural resources, such as on-site timber, and reclaimed materials.
The only mistake you can make here is ruling out one of the potential construction options too soon. It’s important to understand the advantages and disadvantages of each construction type before making your decision.
6. Tools at the ready
The tools you require for your log cabin construction will depend upon your mindset.
If you are looking to embrace off-grid living and live full-time in your log cabin, then my advice would be to invest in tools that will last well beyond the project.
The best piece of advice for tooling is not to invest in “speciality” tooling. Speciality tooling typically is only used once on the project and will cost you a small sum of money. Your money is much better spent on multi-functional tools.
An easy mistake to make is to go into your local hardware store and to buy far too many tools. It’s easy to feel like you’re missing tools but stick to the list below and you will have everything you need.
Self-sufficiency is very important when it comes to log cabins. This means being able to use your tools for multiple purposes, below is a list of essential tools you will require to build a log cabin:
- Sawbuck (i.e. sawhorse)
- Sledge Hammer
- Spikes and string
- Tape measure
- Steel square
Purchasing the tools above will cost between $600 and $1,500 depending upon the brand you decide to purchase.
7. Create a resource list
Creating a comprehensive list of materials and resources for your log cabin project is an important step. Once you have decided upon the size of your cabin this should be the next decision you make.
Carpenters would call this a “cutting list” with the quantity, dimensions and type of material required.
Example Cutting List
|Part||Finished Length||Finished Width||QTY|
|Bottom Side Rail||36”||3.5”||10|
Remember all of the materials must be delivered to site in advance of when you will require them for construction. It’s important to plan when each material will be required and give yourself a two-week cushion.
Timber selection is one of the most important decisions you will make when preparing your cutting list. Timber selection, may be constrained by the local environment. Typically your choice of timber is between softwood or hardwood:
- Softwoods, such as pine (red, yellow or white depending on where your log cabin is located) and cedar (red or white) are the best to use.
- Hardwoods (oak and walnut) are suitable for log cabin construction and offer longevity, however, they are very heavy to handle and harder to cut. This will make the construction of your log cabin longer and more expensive.
Whatever timber you select it must be straight, between 7-10 inches in diameter and uniform in size.
All logs must be cut two to three foot longer than the external dimensions of your floor plan. This is because the logs interlock and extend beyond the outside of the cabin.
The most common mistake made during the preparing of the cutting list is to either forget materials or underestimate how much you require, and remember:
Measure twice, cut once.
8. Construction Timing
A log cabin can take between 3-9 months to build. Timing the start of your construction can be very important for the following three reasons:
- Weather/Season interference (avoid known tropical/rainy seasons)
- Timber cutting (difficult to forest and cut down wet timber)
- Building conditions (harder to construct the cabin’s roof in wet/snowy conditions)
A common mistake made by first-time log cabin builders is they disregard when they start and end the construction of their cabin home – this can cause trouble.
The first problem you will find is that picking the correct time to build your cabin varies upon your cabin’s location and the season.
There are obvious factors:
- Avoid extreme weather conditions where possible
- Avoid constrained daylight hours
Following seasonal rules will ensure that the haulage of logs and site access are far easier due to drier weather conditions.
In addition, deforestation during rainy seasons can make for a punishing time on your machinery as cutting wet timber blunts blades. It’s far easier to damage the log’s bark when its wet which could ruin the visual appeal of your cabin.
So that’s it, follow these 8 tips and avoid the common beginner mistakes when building your cabin home.
I’d love to hear from you about your experience of building your first log cabin home – feel free to leave a comment below.