Many people interested in homesteading aspire to build their own off grid cabin on their own piece of land. This is a great aspiration to have, but there are many aspects to be considered, plans to be made and decisions thought through before jumping into the cabin build. How to build an off-grid cabin on a budget will help guide you through these processes and hopefully make your planning more comprehensive.
Probably the most important activity when building an off grid cabin, particularly on a budget is scrupulous planning and attention to detail! The more information you can gather and detail that you put into your planning will determine how smooth the build goes, and whether you will be able to stay within budget or not.
The planning does not only need to include the shape, design, and materials used in your cabin but other aspects that you may only discover once you get going on the project and which could throw a spanner in the works. This may cause loss of valuable time in your off-grid cabin build and result in unforeseen expenses that could throw you off budget!
Your Off Grid Cabin Land
The first consideration for an off grid cabin is the land that you are going to be building it on. Several factors relating to the land you have available will have an impact on the decisions you make regarding your cabin build.
If you have not yet acquired your land for building your off grid home, then here are some features you may want to include in prospective land.
- Does your land have natural resources you can utilize? Resources such as water, trees suitable for timber and rock suitable for building can be huge cost-saving resources!
- The orientation of the land. Do you get lots of sun, or are you in the lee of a mountain where it is cooler?
- Weather conditions on your property. Do you have severe winters or mild winters? Or do you have long hot summers and a short winter season?
- The remoteness of your property has a bearing on how difficult and expensive it will be to get materials to your off grid cabin build site and needs to be factored into your budget.
These aspects of the land you choose have a direct impact on the style of off grid cabin you should build and therefore, the budget.
One more thing you need to investigate regarding your land is whether there are any permits required for the structure you want to build. Local laws may restrict the type of building you can erect on your land, and the types of material you can use.
Planning Your Off Grid Cabin
Planning is a foundational cornerstone of building your off grid cabin that cannot be emphasized enough! Plan everything down to the finest detail that you can, make lists and checklists for as many parts of the project as possible.
Staying within budget for your cabin build will be determined by several factors and one of those factors is the size of the cabin. Building on a budget requires a minimalist approach; greater size equates to greater expense! Will you be building an off grid cabin or building an off grid home. Will your cabin be a seasonal residence or your permanent home?
Keeping simplicity in mind when planning the building of your off grid home will keep building costs low. Simple living does not mean living in a cave, but it does mean compromising on some of the modern conveniences that most of us are accustomed to.
Limiting extravagances in the design and layout of your cabin will go a long way to stretching your budget further. Minimalist thinking needs to become your watchword throughout this whole process. Be ruthless with your decision making; if you can live without it, leave it out!
Some factors that you need to include in your planning stage of the off grid cabin are your basic amenities.
- Where will you live while you are building your cabin? You need some form of shelter while undertaking the build.
- How do you propose getting water to the site, both for drinking and for building?
- How are you going to handle septic wastewater? Often these services need to be built and secured on the site before the process of building the cabin is started! Waste management is one of particular concern since if it is not handled correctly it can impact your health and the health of the environment!
Next in the planning process is to plan the style, layout, and materials that you will use to build your off grid cabin. In this aspect of your planning, you are only limited by your own imagination! Use as many raw materials from your own property as is practical, without damaging the environment. This material is essentially cost-free and will be a positive factor for your budget!
Foundations are often one of the most expensive parts of a cabin build, but also one of the most important if you are building something to last. Selecting the foundation type should not only be a budget decision, but also a structural decision for your cabin. It would be worthwhile allocating additional funds from your budget to build the best possible foundation for your off grid cabin.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of off grid cabin ideas on the internet. Use this resource in your planning to gather ideas regarding design and materials. Don’t feel you have to come up with new ideas all the time, if someone else has an idea that will work for you, include it in your plans!
We will cover some such off grid cabin ideas when we consider some material choices for the build.
Materials For Building An Off Grid Cabin
Two of the biggest costs in your building project will be building material and hardware. Your choice of material may have a significant effect on building an off grid cabin on a budget. If you are planning to live off the grid, you will find that innovative thinking and planning will become part of your lifestyle. You will need to be able to make a plan, re-purpose, and make use of what is on hand. The same kind of thinking needs to be applied to selecting the materials for your cabin!
If your property does not have much in the way of natural building resources, then you need to source alternatives.
One alternative could be the repurposing of shipping containers into the off grid cabin build. These containers offer an advantage in that the structural components are already in place and only need to be modified to suit your design. You may find that two such containers will provide sufficient living space you’re your off grid living needs.
A challenge that may come with using shipping containers is getting them to your cabin site, particularly if your site is remote. Another consideration is the material itself, steel is not a good insulator. It gets very hot in the sun and transmits the cold through to the inside in winter. So if you are considering using containers for your cabin, you will need to include insulation of some sort to make it comfortable and practical.
We mentioned earlier about repurposing building material for your off grid cabin. This method of building can prove to be an extreme cost-saver since some of the material you can repurpose may cost you nothing at all! Much of the concept of repurposing involves reusing an item that would normally be thrown away or discarded.
This next building material falls into this repurposing category. I have seen several cabin build projects undertaken using nothing but pallet wood and other reclaimed material. Pallets can often be obtained for free, or a nominal fee from companies and factories that receive their goods loaded on pallets. Once the goods are off-loaded, the pallet is a throw-away item that takes up space on the premises. Most companies will welcome someone willing to take these pallets off their hands.
A little ingenuity and once again, attention to detail in planning can make pallet wood a cheap but effective building material for your off grid home. This can and save costs in the budget towards other aspects of the build!
Another building style and use of unconventional material that has piqued my interest over the years is the concept of Earthships. This concept has achieved a substantial following among off grid homesteaders.
The Earthship concept incorporates the use of old tires into the structure of the dwelling. These tires would ordinarily be dumped in landfills and can therefore usually be obtained for free. The concept does not stop there, however, but the building of the off grid home is seen as an enclosed, self-sustaining system.
Greywater is filtered and cleaned naturally and reused to water indoor vegetable gardens, and indoor heating is via built-in rocket stoves and using thick walls for insulation.
While the Earthship concept may seem to be an extreme off grid build method, some of the ideas may have merit for your build. You can extract concepts or design features of parts of the Earthship concept that you can assimilate into your own designs that may benefit the project and the budget.
Hardware For Building An Off Grid Cabin
Hardware is the second most important cost factor in your off grid cabin build next to materials. The tools and fittings you will need to actually work on the build will often be determined by the material you select.
The invention of power tools has greatly changed the way we work and the speed at which tasks can be achieved. They have also sparked a plethora of DIY projects and brought build projects within the reach of average people with minimal manual skills.
However, the nature of living off the grid implies that you will not have ready access to electricity. This will affect your decision making in the tools you will be able to use when building an off grid home.
Power tools are useful, fast, and convenient, but how will you power these tools in a remote location with no electricity?
Some of the decisions you will need to include in your planning of the off grid build will be the following.
- Will you employ the use of power tools, or battery driven tools, or use hand tools only?
- If you go the power tool route, are you going to power them with a generator, or with solar power?
- Choosing hand tools will definitely be cheaper, but will most likely increase the time take to complete the build. Can you afford the additional project time?
- Does the remoteness of your location allow you to transport the tools, generator, and fuel to the building site?
While these decisions all have practical implications to the build, they also have financial implications building an off grid cabin on a budget. Your decision on tools and hardware for the project may, therefore, be driven by the financial implications rather than the practical implications!
Labor To Build An Off Grid Cabin
The best way to save on the labor costs for building an off grid cabin is to do the majority of the work yourself. Friends and family are a good source of free labor, so make sure you stay on their good side so that they would be agreeable to helping you out with your build!
Neighbors are also a good source for possible labor on your cabin. When living in an off grid environment, it is a good idea to get to know your neighbors and stay on good terms with them. Small remote communities often rely on this principle of helping neighbors out, it makes good sense. Mostly, all that your neighbors will require in return is your willingness to help them out when they need it!
The last topic we would like to bring to your attention is to educate yourself with all the skills that you need for your off-grid cabin build. If welding will be a requirement, learn how to weld. If you have never used a chainsaw, practice beforehand to gain the skills.
It will be a poor decision to use a particular tool for the first time when you get out to your site or to attempt a task for the first time when you actually are on the building site. This kind of tactic is bound to end up with unforeseen complications and may even result in personal injury.
There are many courses available both offline and online that will give you the necessary skills you will need to achieve your goal to build an off grid cabin on a budget!