Should I Build a Cabin from a Kit?

The decision to buy a kit, hire a builder, or build your own cabin can be a tough one.

Assembling a cabin from a kit can be a really tempting prospect.  And in some cases, it can be a great option.  But when I’m asked if someone should buy a cabin kit or build a cabin my answer is pretty simple.  In almost every case, you’ll be better off building a cabin either using a professional builder, or doing it yourself.  There are various reasons why you’ll be better off building than buying a kit, and some situations where a kit might be the right choice.  Let’s explore that a little further here.

DIY or Hire a Builder?

I have to admit, if there’s any way I can do something myself, I’m probably going to try.  I’m a total DIYer.  So having the option to build or assemble my own log cabin is really attractive versus paying a builder to do it all for me.

If you’re thinking along those same lines and plan to build your cabin yourself, then a kit may be a good option for you.  The companies that sell these kits will often do the assembly—for a fee.  If not, third party builders can do the assembly for you.  But if you’re going to pay a builder to do all the work, why pay the higher cost for a kit?

From what I’ve seen, if you’re going to hire a builder or pay the kit manufacturer to assemble it, just hire a builder to build you a cabin.  If you plan to assemble it yourself then a kit could be a good option, but so could building it yourself from materials.

Are you sensitive to cost?

Cabin kits seem very alluring because when you look them up online, they’re really inexpensive.  But that’s because they’re only telling you the material cost of the kit.  That is, the cost of the materials you’re buying.  But assembling cabin kits has a lot of other costs.

The Foundation

You’re going to need a foundation for this cabin.  You can’t just build it on the ground.  Whether you do blocks or concrete, there will be cost associated with this.  It’ll be significantly less expensive to do it yourself if you’re comfortable with that.  But either way you need to figure that into the cost of the cabin.

The Interior

These kits are really basic.  Pretty much just four walls, a door, and some windows.  If you want a kitchen, interior walls, stairs, a loft, or anything on the inside of your cabin, you’ll have to build it.  Interior work typically doesn’t come with a cabin kit.

Utility Work

What I said about the interior also goes for utilities like water and electricity.  If you want a bathroom, you have to build the bathroom and do all the plumbing.  There will be no water lines or drains in the assembled kit.  The same goes for electrical wiring.  There won’t be light switches, outlets, or any wiring installed.  You’re on your own for that.

All in all, the total cost of building a kit cabin is usually about 2 1/2 to 3 times that actual price of the kit.  Again, that’s why if you’re going to pay someone to do this work for you, you might as well just have them build the cabin how you want it.

And if you’re going to do most of this DIY, I still lean toward buying or gathering the materials from your property and just build the whole cabin yourself.  If you can handle the interior work, you can probably handle a lot of the structure.  Especially if you’re going with a fairly small cabin like those that typically come in kits.

How big do you want your cabin?

That leads me to my next point.  How big of a cabin do you want?

Affordable kit cabins tend to be pretty small.  And that makes sense.  The whole kit will be brought in on a trailer.  You’re not going to get a lodge in a kit like this.  So if what you’re after is a 3,500 square foot, 2-story cabin you’re probably not going to find what you want unless you’re willing to really pay for it.  I’ve heard it suggested to just combine multiple kits, but at that point you’ve lost most of the benefit of buying a kit in the first place.

To be fair, I’ve found kits just like I described above.  3,500 square feet and 2 stories.  But the kit cost alone is around $150,000 and the labor is more than $60,000 for something like this.  Once you add on the foundation and any interior work, you’re looking at probably $375,000 to $450,000 dollars.  Again, if you’re willing to spend $450,000 to build a cabin, just hire a contractor.  You’ll get a lot more for your money.

How custom do you want your cabin?

Kit cabins are exactly that.  Kits.  Which means that you get what they have.  It also means the other people probably also have the same cabin.  That’s probably not that big of a deal.  But just remember that if you buy a kit cabin, it’s not going to be very custom.  You may be able to find a kit that’s exactly what you want on the outside.  That’s great.  Just do your customizations with the interior and with any features you want to add to the exterior.

How much to you value simplicity in projects?

This is where kits have their value.

When you buy a kit, the company prepares all of the materials off-site.  By the time it arrives at your cabin site, it will be ready to assemble.  And a lot of these kits are assembled in a matter of a few days.

If you want all the materials completely ready where everything fits together nicely then a kit may be a great option.

On the other hand, working with a builder or going through the effort to build a cabin from scratch can be very stressful.  The work can be complicated.  Notching out logs can be a huge job if you’re going that route.  So this is where you’ll need to decide how much stress and frustration you want to deal with, and how much it’s worth to just get a kit.

However, I think you really should price out the cabin you want with a builder if you’re thinking of getting a kit.  See what it would cost to have it done by them vs buying and assembling a kit.  You may find that the total cost of the kit is enough that you’re willing to put up with working with a builder or building it yourself.  It’s not uncommon to be able to build your own cabin for 1/10 of the cost of assembling a kit.

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