What’s the Difference between a Cabin and a House?


What exactly is the difference between a cabin and a house?  After seeing some pretty fancy cabins, I posed this question to my wife.  That led me to some research and I thought I’d share what I found.

It’s actually not that complicated.  And their definitions allow for a lot of overlap.  In simple terms, the difference between a house and a cabin has little to do with the style of the building or the materials used to build it.  It has more to do with the building’s size, how it was built, and who built it. 

So what is the difference between a cabin and a house?  A house is pretty much any structure where people live, usually one or more families.  But traditionally, a cabin is a small house built with simple tools, usually by the person who will live in it. 

There’s a little more to it than that, so let’s dive in a little deeper and find out what the real differences are.

Cabin vs. House—What’s the Difference Really?

Cabins and Houses aren’t actually mutually exclusive.  What I mean by that is that something can be both a cabin and a house.

A house is really just any building where one or more families live.  Some definitions even open that up to animals, like a dog house or a hen house.  But in this sense we’re talking about places where people live.  So a house is a shelter for humans.

That’s a super broad definition.  Really, that means that an apartment is also a house.  And then so is a cabin.  In fact, all cabins are houses.

So then how do cabins differ from most houses?

Well, traditionally a cabin is a small house that was characteristic of the frontier.  In other words, a rustic house.  A house can especially be considered a cabin when it’s built from logs using simple tools.  And in most cases the builder was traditionally the person who planned on living in it.

But that’s not even close to what we call a cabin today.  Now cabins can be built very large and have lots of amenities.  They can be made from logs, but certainly don’t have to be.  They can be built by the people who will live in them, but that’s also certainly not always the case.  In fact, I have worked as a contractor in the construction of some pretty huge and fancy cabins for other people.  And a lot of those cabins today use the same construction methods and materials as most houses.

So in today’s world, I would say that a cabin is any house that’s built in a rural area, usually by a lake or in the woods, that you feel like calling a cabin.

So what is a Lodge then?

People often use cabin and lodge interchangeably.  What’s the difference you ask?

Actually, lodge is a little confusing.  In the context of structures for living in, I found two pretty differing definitions.

  • First, a lodge can be the main building at a camp or a resort.  I’ve heard this one used a lot at campgrounds and vacation resorts where there’s one big cabin with lots of little cabins or cottages nearby.  The big cabin is called the lodge and it can be a big open building for large gatherings, or it can just be the big, fancy cabin in the middle of a bunch of smaller ones.
  • But we’ve also heard of hunting lodges that aren’t usually big or necessarily fancy.  In fact, a hunting lodge can be a really small cabin in the woods used temporarily or seasonally for a hunting.

In fact, a lodge can be either of these things.

Originally, a lodge was a house used for temporary residence.  It could be a small, even makeshift shelter.  For example, a lodge could be a little hut made from tree boughs poles, animal skins, dirt, or rough boards.

But today, lodge has come to mean one of the two things above.  It’s either a temporary or seasonal shelter, or it can be a main building at a camp or resort.  Based on either of these definitions, your cabin could be considered a lodge depending on how you use it.  If you have family stay around your cabin in tents for family reunions, then your cabin may be considered the lodge.  Or if you use your cabin seasonally for activities then you also might consider it a lodge.

Are you seeing a pattern here?  If you have a cabin, it can also be considered a house and probably a lodge…

How about a Cottage?

The definition of cottage is only slightly more specific.

A cottage is just a small house.  They’re usually, but not always, one story tall.

The term cottage is often used for small lake houses or resort houses.  They’re often used for small homes that people build in the countryside.  However, I’ve seen people refer to their home in the city as a cottage based on the style of the architecture.  If the house is fairly small and meant to imitate a traditional country cottage, then even a house in the city could be referred to as a cottage.

Confused yet?

And a Chalet?

Okay, now we’re getting even more specific.

Chalet’s actually originate in the Swiss Alps and are the typical style of farmhouse in that region.  They’re basically just low houses with wide eaves.  The eaves are the parts of a roof that stick out from the walls of a building.

I’ve seen building referred to as chalets that are fairly tall with very steep roofs.  But the walls of these building are usually very short such that the majority of the height of the building is in its roof.  Some have no walls at all, and the entire building is basically a big triangle.  You might do this if you’re building in an area that gets a lot of snow buildup over the year.

But the traditional chalet tends to not be so tall.  Again, the primary characteristic of a true chalet is the overhanging eaves.

These are all just specific types of houses

Cabin, Lodge, Cottage, Chalet.  These are all actually just classifications of houses.  If a house is somewhere that people live, then cabins, lodges, cottages, and chalets are all just different types of houses.  And what’s even more confusing, is that something can be a cabin and a lodge, or a cottage and a chalet.

So when you hear these words used almost interchangeably, don’t worry too much about it.  Yes, they all have different meanings traditionally, but today their uses overlap so much that if someone calls your cabin a lodge or a chalet, they’re probably not wrong.  That is, assuming your cabin has overhanging eaves.  If not, calling it a chalet would be wrong…

Now you know!

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