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How to Build an Off Grid Cabin on a Budget

You’ve had it with city living. You want out! You’re aching to live off grid in a cabin you’ve built, in pristine natural surroundings, free of financial stress and unsustainable lifestyle patterns.

Millions of city folk around the world share your dream. It’s time to manifest that dream!

You can build an off grid cabin with a billionaire’s view for far less than you think. Let’s get strategic, shall we?

How to Build an Off Grid Cabin on a Budget

off-grid-cabin-in-forest
How’s the serenity! When you build your own off grid cabin, you have full control over the position and its construction (keeping building regulations in mind, of course!)

Building a budget off grid cabin requires thoughtful planning. Budget-cabin builders use cost-saving materials and conduct most of the labor themselves.

Off grid utilities, including energy, sanitation, and potable running water, must also be planned for and installed. A large off grid cabin must comply with local building codes.

Moving from the city to the country to build and live in your off-grid cabin implies having a long-term sustainability strategy. You’re changing your Life Paradigm, after all. It’s exciting but, you need to work within strict budget limits.

Following these guidelines will help you succeed in choosing the best location, design plan, and building methodology for your self-built off grid cabin.

How to Find Land for Your Off Grid Cabin

When you imagine your ideal off-grid cabin, it’s always within a picturesque natural environment, undoubtedly!

It could be an A-frame timber cabin in the woods or a traditional log cabin on the plains. Perhaps it’s a wooden bungalow on stilts on the edge of a lake or a cantilevered cabin on a steep hillside.

Whatever form your ‘in-situ’ off-grid cabin picture takes, the background will always be a piece of land. Real estate!

Identifying the ‘where’ in your off grid sustainability strategy must be your starting point.

Your choice of land will determine what type of cabin you can build and how much you will need to spend on building materials, off-grid utilities, general living expenses, and property taxes.

Part of your off-grid cabin life may include growing your food and raising livestock. Not all rural properties may allow for these enterprises.

States and counties have different restrictions on building, farming, how much property tax you pay, and even how you generate your electricity.

Fortunately, intrepid off-gridders have paved the way for you.

Interest in the growing off grid community has generated excellent national research data that provides valuable information on state-by-state off grid costs of living, lifestyle freedom, water access, food growing conditions, energy generation potential, and strength of the local community.

Here’s a List of the Top 10 Off-Grid-Friendly States

  1. Alabama
  2. Missouri
  3. Georgia
  4. Tennessee
  5. Texas
  6. Louisiana
  7. Indiana
  8. Hawaii
  9. Colorado
  10. Arkansas

Your choice of location for your off grid cabin will also determine what kind of climate you’ll be living in. This will influence your overall cabin design decisions, including your available energy resources.

Your location choice will also determine how much off grid water you will be able to access.

Naturally, an in-depth survey of several possible locations that harmonize with your off grid cabin vision is crucial if you’re to get a solid start to your new untethered life.

How to Budget for an Off Grid Cabin Build

off grid cabin porch with homemade chairs
Having a comprehensive off grid cabin building budget in place will have you chillin’ on your porch in no time!

Whether you’ve purchased a piece of land or have a tenancy of an ideal patch of paradise, you’ll have a clear idea of how much money you have to spend on the construction of your off-grid cabin.

A comprehensive off grid cabin build budget must include:

  • Design costs (if necessary),
  • transport costs,
  • building materials,
  • tools and machinery,
  • fittings and fixtures,
  • off-grid utilities,
  • and a ‘hired labor’ allowance.

Designing your off-grid cabin is the second key element of your off grid sustainability strategy.

Your cabin design plans should be guided by the natural characteristics of your piece of land. These will include what type of foundation you will build, what materials you will use, and how many materials can be sourced on the property (for free).

Your off-grid cabin design should accommodate your current space needs and allow for possible extensions to the cabin.

Beyond the specifications of the various rooms (bedroom, living room, kitchen, bathroom, etc.), an off-grid utilities’ infrastructure – including power points, plumbing, type of toilet, sewage system, and heating/cooling systems – must be included in the design.

Getting building materials to the building site will incur heavy transport costs.

If you don’t have a truck, you will have to hire one (or fit a tow hitch to your vehicle and hire a trailer). Negotiate with materials suppliers for lower delivery charges.

The cost of building materials will be the most significant cost component of your off-grid cabin build budget.

While still in the design stage, shop around to see where the market sits price-wise on all major materials. You’ll be able to budget more accurately with these figures to hand.

We’ll look at savvy ways to get cheaper materials later in this article.

Machinery, tools, and utilities’ hardware (solar panels, wind turbines, geysers, toilets, etc.) needn’t be expensive. Check out second-hand tools and heavy machinery rental rates.

Research alternative energy, water pumps, tanks, water purification, and sewage options. With the right knowledge about these vital components of your off grid strategy, you’ll choose the right equipment at the best price.

Budget for ‘hired help’. You never know when you’ll need an expert to assist on a particular aspect of the build or simply a few extra hands on-site to lift or swing a shovel and hammer.

Big Tip

Budget for the erection of a site office and yard. You will want to live onsite to be as cost and energy-efficient as possible. Think CAMPING!

How to Design Your Off Grid Cabin

Now the real fun starts – in your mind’s eye!

If you’re dreaming of living in an off grid cabin, you’ve no doubt formed a mental picture of what it’s going to look like.

Perhaps you’ve already designed it – sketched it out on paper and modified dimensions to perfectly suit your desires. Now it’s time to draft accurate, detailed plans.

Small cabins do not necessarily need architect-drafted plans.

Building codes are area-specific. The need for official cabin plan approval depends on how big your off grid cabin will be and the jurisdiction’s building codes.

Cabin builders should consult their local building authority to determine whether a cabin plan submission is necessary.

Whether your local building authority needs to approve your off grid cabin plan or not, it’s best to draft a professional plan. This is a critical stage of the building project and due diligence is very important.

You can get low-cost plans online but, you’re probably set on a unique design. Don’t skimp on getting your vision down on drafting paper as professionally as possible.

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Tip

Hire an architecture student or two for a fraction of the price of a professional architect. The chances are good that your off-grid cabin floor plan is smaller than the code minimum, making pricey professional drafting services unnecessary.

Apart from the interior floor plan, wall heights, and roof pitch, your plan must consider various factors. These include:

  • Positioning the cabin on the land (aka orientation) is essential to take advantage of the sun to provide solar power and lots of natural light and heat. In hot regions, your cabin should be sited to minimize excessive exposure to harsh sunlight.
  • Strong winds, heavy snow, and flash floods pose threats in many rural areas. Your cabin should be designed, built, and orientated to endure these adverse weather conditions.
  • Insulation is crucial to optimize energy efficiency (heating and cooling the cabin) in cold and hot climates. Walls, floors, ceilings, doorways, and windows all have a role to play in the cabin insulation equation. Research various insulation materials and installation methods to best suit your budget and cabin location.
  • Plan for water harvesting and water storage. The roof of your cabin should be designed with water harvesting in mind.
  • The design of your sewage system is very important. Septic tank or composting toilet, your waste treatment system needs to comply with local building codes to avoid legal penalties.

How to Save on Off Grid Cabin Building Costs

building an off grid cabin on a budget
The more research you do beforehand and the more help you engage, the easier the building of your off grid cabin becomes!

When you study how our ancestors built their rural dwellings, you will discover a treasure-trove of valuable information on building a budget off grid cabin.

The only significant difference between an 18th-century forest cabin and your budget off-grid cabin will be the addition of a few technological gizmos that provide power, water, heating, and cooling.

Nature provides an abundance of free natural materials you can use to build your off-grid cabin.

Salvaged building materials and repurposed or recycled products can be easily sourced at zero to little cost. Special tools and labor can be hired only when needed. Good logistics planning helps reduce transport costs.

Half the thrill of building an off-grid cabin is in the sourcing of low-cost materials. If you can get them for free, even better!

Here’s where to look for building materials that will add character to your off-grid cabin while sparing your budget:

  • Mother Nature – For timber, stone, straw, mud, and sand.
  • Salvage yards – Cultivate your magpie-eye for upcycling opportunities. Look for old doors and windows, sheet metal, corrugated iron, steel girders, old floorboards, and timber roof trusses.
  • Freight companies, hardware stores, and wholesalers – Old timber shipping pallets are great for cladding cabin walls.
  • Facebook Marketplace & Craigslist – Conduct armchair searches for practical and unusual building materials near you at bargain prices.
  • Online auctions – You may strike a bargain on a bulk lot of timber, stone, or corrugated iron.
  • Construction/demolition sites – Whenever you see an old building coming down, swoop in, magpie!
  • The local dump may not be pretty, but you never know what someone else’s junk can transform into.

Constructing a weatherproof and secure site workshop is essential to keep your tools and building materials dry and safe.

You will also be able to store building materials, which will help reduce your transport costs. It’s only a temporary structure, so it needn’t cost much or look particularly good either.

Living on the construction site is a good idea.

You don’t want to commute to your build site, do you? Apart from the savings in fuel costs, you’ll be in the mix, so to speak, allowing you to build your off-grid cabin that much quicker.

Large army surplus tents and essential camping gear can serve as temporary homes and storerooms for builders, tools, and materials.

You can always sell the gear once you’ve completed your cabin build.

Being based onsite, you’ll be able to look after your tools better and not have to lug them in and out of the construction site.

And, speaking of tools and machinery, follow the same bargain-hunting strategy you use to procure building materials:

  • Buy used power tools.
  • Rent excavators, front-end loaders, and concrete mixers if required.
  • Buy a generator for power tools and lighting. 
  • Buy a chainsaw. If harvestable timber is abundant, consider milling it yourself using a chainsaw mill.
  • Buy an auger to dig holes for posts and poles.
  • Use that ‘hired expert’ if you have to. You’ve budgeted for it!

Buying bargain-price tools and materials will stretch your budget immensely.

Power tools and heavy earth-moving equipment will speed up the build and save you a lot of muscle work and possible physical injury. 

Living onsite is the best way to build a cabin – period!

How to Save on Off Grid Utility Costs

off grid solar power on cabin roof
Solar power is a great option for people off the grid in sunny locations.

There’s an entire set of sciences behind renewable energy generation. Whether it’s solar, hydro, wind, or biogas, off-gridders can utilize smart renewable energy technologies to provide the utilities found in grid-tied homes.

Living off grid means unplugging entirely from public utilities.

People living off grid are solely responsible for supplying their homes with electricity, water, and waste management. To save money on alternative utilities, ensure your cabin is well insulated and energy-efficient.

Your choice of alternative energy supply, water provision, and waste management will depend on several factors, including your cabin location and your power requirements.

  • If you’re in a warm region, solar power is the best option.
  • If your cabin is situated in a windy part of the world, a wind turbine will be a must.
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If you plan to raise livestock, investigate biogas energy generation from animal manure and composting vegetation, which brings us neatly to the subject of sewage.

A septic tank is the tried and trusted sewage system for off-grid cabins. However, the composting toilet is gaining traction in homesteading, tiny house, and RV communities.

Water piped to your off-grid cabin could be pumped, gravity-fed, or harvested from rainwater via the cabin roof and other surfaces. Start with the most practical and least expensive method of getting water flowing into your cabin.

Tip

Don’t forget firewood, propane, kerosene, and diesel as backup off-grid energy sources. They’re cheap, reliable and store well too.

Faced with so many options, the first place to go is online to fine-tune your off-grid utilities system.

Search for articles on each mode of utility and watch YouTube videos to learn how off grid stalwarts are doing it. In short, devour information that helps you make wise choices in your off-grid utility infrastructure setup.

Building a Cabin Off the Grid FAQs

Will You Move Off the Grid?

Moving off grid from the city is the first chapter of a life-changing experience.

Living off grid in the cabin you’ve built will be the next chapter, with many more chapters to follow. A move of this magnitude requires absolute attention to detail, financial discipline, and tons of creativity.

Be super-sensible and focused but keep your imagination ticking over and your magpie-eye always looking for cabin-building bargains!

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Author

  • Dan Meager

    Dan is our qualified diesel fitter and automotive mechanic. He's been fixing machinery for over 30 years and has a real passion for the old stuff - he loves reviving things that others have given up on. He'll fix anything with a cable tie and fencing wire and has had his hands on everything from log skidders, trucks, agricultural implements, tractors, and huge mining gear to outboard motors. He's plagued by OCD - but that makes him a helluva mechanic!

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