Every good building starts with a solid foundation. After laying out the cabin with string lines, the first step was to start digging the 9 holes for the foundational log posts. Digging by hand is slow going in rocky, clay soil and after a month of work, all I had to show for myself was 9 trees I removed from the ground, and then put back in. Each log was coated in black beauty tar sealant and each hole was dug 36 inches deep and 6 inches of hand made gravel was placed at the bottom to help drainage.
I next cut all the tops of the posts level with each other and started laying the foundation beams across. I milled the beams flat on top and bottom, leaving rounded sides to save time. The beams are 8×8 at the smallest. Most being 10×10 or more. The beams overlap over top of each support post using lap joints.
2 months into the build and the foundation was ready. Having the foundation compete was a boost to our morale. There was tons of work left to do but things were going smoothly and now we could see real progress.
The next step was the floor joists. The joists are all 4x8s and are keyed into the foundation beams. I cut all of the notches with a chainsaw.
With the floor joist in the next phase were all the structural beams that would frame the cabin. All these beams are 6x6s with the longest being the vertical beams measuring 11ft long.
I used the dead standing ash that was on my property for most of this build. This made the beams strong but also very heavy. Each beam was stood in place and temporarily braced.
My parents came up to visit and helped us get the first corner of the cabin up. Man, was it exciting to see vertical progress!
I then put wind braces in each corner to help strengthen the cabin.
We had to get creative when it came to lifting these heavy top plate beams 11ft in the air. I used pulleys, ladders, and screwed in blocks to rest the beams on as we lifted them up.
Our dog Rupert didn’t mind the cabin build at all.
Once all of the 6×6 beams were in place it was time for the 20ft long ridge beam that would make the top of the roof. I was dreading this because it’s such a long heavy chunk of wood. Luckily we had our friend Bob around to help us out and with much struggle, we got the beam in place.With the ridge beam in place it was rafter and sheathing time. This is to support the metal roof. I went with a 6.5/12 pitch of the roof. This means for every foot I come in from the edge of the roof, it will raise 6.5 inches. This is a pretty steep roof but is necessary to shed the amount of snow we get in our area.
We next installed the metal roof. But first we stapled an underlayment called double bubble wrap on top of the roof sheathing. This helps reflect heat and stops condensation from dripping onto your wooden roof materials. Metal roofs are affordable and they last much longer than shingles. But the main reasons I chose a metal roof was because it sheds snow and it is a cleaner option for collecting rain off your roof. In an off grid situation, the more options you have to collect clean water, the better off you are.
Once the roof was all screwed down we were onto the flooring. I wanted the roof on first to help protect the flooring from rain. I’m milling all of this lumber myself using a chainsaw mill, which takes a lot of time and I had no idea how long it would take to mill all of the 1 inch flooring. The Logosol f2 chainsaw mill is a great product and keeps the work area at waist-height. With all the milling I did I didn’t want to be crawling on the ground with the Alaskan chainsaw mill.
After the flooring was in place and screwed down and before I framed out the 2×4 walls we had to get the large tree beam in. This beam is the main support for the front of the loft. The vertical tree beam sits on top of the support post in the ground below.
With the main framing of the cabin complete it was time to frame all the walls, Install the windows and doors, and add more structural supports to the roof.
House wrap and exterior paneling was next. I used ¾ inch slices. I left the natural wavy live edge of the tree. It made for an interesting, rustic look but also allowed me more coverage area with each piece, and there were a lot of them! Cutting the edges off each piece to make a perfect board wastes a lot of precious material, and time.
You may be thinking, wow this guy doesn’t know how to measure a door. This was a temporary door from a shed my parents had that was destroyed by a tree. It’s smaller than a standard door and I made the frame to fit the permanent door. I just didn’t have it at the time.
Now that I sealed in the cabin I had to build a set of stairs to get inside. A couple of un-millable logs and some 2 inch scraps did the trick, and looked pretty neat. These steps are temporary. We plan to add a 10ft wrap-around porch next spring.
Next we insulated the cabin and installed our wood stove that would be our primary source of heat. It is a bit over sized for this 16x20ft cabin but I didn’t want to be cold in the winter when temperatures plunge into the negatives. I used concrete board under the hearth. We used rocks from our property and concrete to set them in place. Concrete board, with 2 inch spacers were also used on the walls to reduce the necessary clearance from combustibles.
I then insulated all the walls and roof. Coming from living in an RV with terrible insulation, we knew we could not skimp on this step of the build. And thank God we didn’t because now our winters are nice and cozy inside.
The next step was to build the floor of the loft. The loft is 10ft by 16ft, half the size of the cabin and would serve as our bedroom.
With the loft complete, I next built a kitchen. For the wall paneling, I decide to put all of the boards on a 45 degree angle. Whenever you are building, creating triangles adds tremendous strength and prevents your building from swaying.
Our cabin is set up like an rv. All of our lighting and water systems are 12 volts. Powered by lithium batteries that are charged by solar panels. Our refrigerator is a 12 volt fridge and our stove is an RV propane stove. Our hot water is from a propane on demand water heater that vents outside.
It took 8 months to get the cabin to the point that it was sealed in, insulated, and had the basic necessities. The inside is now complete and our focus has shifted to improving our land and we can’t wait to add the huge porch next spring!
Building this cabin was a hard yet very rewarding experience. It’s always been a dream of mine and I’m grateful that I was given the opportunity to live out one of my dreams. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s just go for it! What’s the worst that can happen? And even if you fail, at least you can say you tried. Thank you for reading my story of building our off grid cabin. Please check out our related posts below and learn about how our off grid water system works. I’ve got big plans for next year! We hope to be on 100% spring water!
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