How to Build an Off Grid Cabin – The Ultimate Life of Freedom

Do you dream about packing in the 9-5 grind, and moving somewhere remote where you can enjoy a slower pace of life? Or perhaps you’d just like an off grid cabin which you can escape to during the weekends.

Either way, there is something extremely satisfying about having your own little piece of heaven and living more sustainably.

In this article, we will look at exactly how to build your own off grid cabin, following a step by step process, including how to generate electricity for your home.

Here is a quick look at all the things we’ll cover.

The Planning Stage of Your Cabin

Even though an off grid cabin will most likely be small, this doesn’t mean you should skip the planning phase.

This stage is one of the most important, and the time you spend here will determine the success of the build.

For this phase you need to consider:

• Your Budget and Timelines
• The Location
• Local Zoning/Building Codes
• Design and Floorplan
• Generating Power & Collecting Water

Your Budget and Timelines

Keeping the cost down in an off grid build is usually an important factor. The most significant costs come from:

• Site Preparation
• Off Grid Utilities
• Logs
• Roofing
• Tools
• Interior

It is possible to build cabins for next to nothing, but on average you can expect to pay around $30/square foot. This would mean a 500 square foot off grid cabin would cost you around $15000.

As well as working out what your budget is, it’s important to get familiar with the process of building a cabin so you can create an accurate timeline. Most cabins take just under one year to build. This include the planning process!

The Location

A few key considerations here include;

• selecting a piece of land with access to trees and water,
• ensuring the ground is ideal to build on,
• local planning laws,
• personal preferences with regards to views, area etc.

Our log cabin location guide will take you through choosing the ideal plot of land if you’re still unsure about what you’re looking for.

Local Zoning/Building Codes

Just because you’re building an off grid home doesn’t mean that you won’t need to adhere to planning laws and regulations.

Make sure you seek legal advice where necessary and ensure that you understand all the zoning laws and building codes for the region you are building in.

Design and Floorplan

You’ll most likely have an idea of the type of cabin you’d like to build, but if not there are plenty of free floorplans or inspiration can be drawn from the thousands of cabins online.

If this seems like a really daunting process, you can always enlist the help of a specialist log cabin architect who can put together some plans for you.

Generating Power For Your Cabin

Off Grid Energy

Now we get to the important bit… how will you power your off grid cabin? Perhaps you plan on only using gas and water, or maybe you’ll want to generate your own electricity too.

If you want to keep things simple, a basic water collection system and firewood will provide all you need to keep the place warm and heat your food.

However, many people are choosing more sophisticated setups for their off grid homes now, allowing you to live in a similar way you would when connected to the grid, but without the bills.

Renewable energy methods are the most popular way to power an off grid home, let’s take a look at some of the main options in more depth.

Solar Energy

Solar energy is the fastest growing renewable energy source, and a great options for when it comes to generating electricity for an off grid property.

Harnessing the energy from the sun, solar panels can provide plenty of energy that can be stored in batteries and converted into electricity to use in your home.

Pros of Solar EnergyCons of Solar Energy
Renewable energy source
Reduces bills
Few maintenance costs
Panels need direct sunlight
Expensive
Uses a lot of space

Wind Turbine

Wind turbines are used to capture energy from the wind and generate electricity. Wind turbines can produce electricity around 90% of the time.

Use the small wind guidebook to work out the size of the wind turbine that you’ll need for your property.

Pros of Wind TurbinesCons of Wind Turbines
Clean renewable energy source
Low maintenance and operating costs
Good use of land space
The most expensive setup
Require wind to run
Noisy
Aesthetically unappealing

Micro-Hydro Electricity

If you have running water in close proximity to your house, it might be worth looking into micro hydro power.

This setup needs a turbine, a pump or a waterwheel to convert the energy of flowing water into rotational energy and then into electricity.

Pros of Micro-Hydro ElectricityCons of Micro-Hydro Electricity
Cost effective
Efficient and reliable
You only need a small flow of water to generate electricity
You need to have a very specific set of conditions on your land
The amount of energy generating will fluctuate with the seasons

Non-Renewable Solutions

The ideal and most eco friendly way to set up an off grid cabin is to use renewable energy, however if this isn’t an option for you, you could use a power generator.

Most generators are powered by gasoline or propane which means you’ll need to ensure you always have a supply on hand.

Pros of Non Renewable EnergyCons of Non Renewable Energy
Very cheap to setup and run
Easy to setup and use
Generate a consistent supply of power
Non-renewable energy source
Environmental impacts
Prices likely to increase overtime

How to Build an Off Grid Cabin

Selecting the Logs

Selecting Logs

If you are building your cabin completely from scratch, you’ll need to source the logs. This could be from a local timber yard, or you might want to save money and fell your own logs.

The size of the logs will depend on the size of your cabin. Choose logs that are the length of your cabin plus an extra 4 foot, and a minimum of 10 inches in diameter.

Choose logs which are straight, and if you are felling your own, you’ll need to debark them and ensure that they are left for a minimum of 6 months to dry out. You can read our other articles about selecting which trees to use, and how to prepare them.

Laying the Foundations

There are a few different types of foundations to consider, the most popular ones being strip, raft and pad foundations.

Raft foundations are used to spread the weight of the entire cabin all over the site’s floor. It involves spreading one large block of concrete and is often cheaper and quicker to lay than most others.

A strip foundation can be used for cabins where the land has a strong soil base and no water logging. A strip foundation is for smaller single story cabins as they cannot bear too much weight.

Pad foundations are the cheapest option and involve laying concrete piers at each of the four corners of the home, and possibly more along the lengths if the cabin will be over 400 square feet.

For a more detailed look at which foundation to choose for your off grid cabin, you can take a look at how to choose the best base for your cabin.

Raising the Log Walls

Now comes the fun part! After months of planning, and getting the site ready, you will soon start to see a noticeable change and see your cabin start coming together.

To begin with, you will need to decide which method you want to use to join the logs together. the two most popular methods are:

• Butt and Pass
• Saddle Notch

The butt and pass method requires more brute strength and involves using large rods are rebar to secure the logs, the saddle notch method requires more precision but will leave you with a more traditional looking, well built cabin.

To begin with, select the around ten of most quality, longest and straightest logs to use for the base of the cabin (sill and sleeper logs), the highest log on the roof (the ridge log), and to support the door and window openings (lintel logs).

Laying the First Logs

Log Walls

For the first two logs, you will need to half them lengthways, to ensure they have a flat base to sit flush on the foundation. These are called the sill logs and they will sit on top of the foundations parallel to one another.

Each of these logs should sit on top of the rebar which was added to the concrete piers during the foundation stage.

The next step is to lay the sleeper logs which will complete the first layer of the cabin. Using a scribe, create a U shaped mark on the underside of the sleeper logs. You can then turn the log over and use chainsaw or a chisel to remove the notch.

Once the notch is removed on both sides, flip the log back around and it should sit snuggly on top of the sill logs below.

Now, you’ll have a basic box shape which you can use to build the rest of your logs up from.

Laying the Wall

Using the same scribe and notch method which you used on the sleeper logs, you can continue to raise the wall.

Top Tip: If your logs have a taper to them are a thicker at one end, alternate them so that the wall remains level all the way up.

Continue this process until you have reached the height you need, at this point the off grid cabin in the photo was approximately 7ft high and had used a total of 80 logs.

Fitting the Windows and Doors

Windows and Doors

The best way to cut openings for windows and doors is as you build the walls, rather than trying to cut them once you’ve finished the cabin.

When you reach the height of the top of an opening, using a chainsaw, remove the logs where the window or door will be placed, and lay one of the lintel logs which you kept back at the start of the process to ensure structural integrity.

You can then use wood to frame each of the openings and install your doors and windows.

Building the Gable Walls and Roof

Gable Roof

Once the walls are built and the openings are cut, it’s time to build up the two gable walls and then raise the roof.

Building the gable walls is simple. Continue to raise the logs until you have half the height of the gable wall, you’ll then need to attach two purlin logs running parallel to each other, from one gable wall to the other.

Continue to build the gable wall, with each log getting progressively smaller than the last, until you have a triangular shape. Then use the last log (the ridge log) which you kept back, to join the two peaks.

Building the Roof

Finished Off Grid Cabin

Once you have the basic structure in place, fix rafters to the purlin and ridge logs.

Then it’s time to all your roofing boards and final roofing material. We have a detailed article to give your more roofing guidance here.

Summary

Building an off grid cabin can offer plenty of freedom, both financially and from the constraints that accompany living on the grid. No more power outages during a storm, no more unexpected tariff increases.

Building a home that’s off grid is no easy feat, and will take a lot of planning and commitment, but the rewards of being totally independent are worth it.

If you’re looking for a much more in-depth guide to building your own cabin, our guide ‘How to Build a Log Home’ will take you through a much more detailed step by step guide following this exact build.

We’d love to hear from you if you have any questions, or if you’re building your own cabin. Drop us a comment below.

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