Ask Andy – Cabin Costs

by Andy Sheldon

in Ask Andy

I got this question yesterday, and I thought it might open a discussion about construction costs in various areas of the country, building cheaply, etc.

Where do you get the idea that a 600-700 sq. ft. building complete will run $100,000. I am hoping to get a cabin built , including the pluming and electrical and ground for $20,000… John.

My answer to John, and anyone else interested in construction costs would be to first go to www.Building-Cost.net.  I just did that for John’s 700sf cabin.

If you want to follow along and go through the same exercise, the inputs I used are below.  (when you get to Building-Cost.net click on “Start Calculator”):

  • Screen 1: 4 corners
  • Screen 2: 700sf
  • Screen 3: All Class 3 – Standard Quality
  • Screen 4: No input, all 0′s
  • Screen 5: Housing tract=No, Outside Metro Area=Yes
  • Screen 6: Forced air heating only
  • Screen 7: No input… no fireplace
  • Screen 8: Your State (I selected NJ)
  • Screen 9: Your Zip Area (Mine is 085)

Screen 10 is the full report, and I have included the totals below:

Cabin Cost  700sf Class 3So here we are… in my area of NJ a 700sf Standard Quality cabin, contractor built, with no fireplace or porch is $141,715.  Dividing that by the 700sf we get $202.45 per square foot.

I can tell you that from my private client experience in the Princeton NJ area, that is about right.  And for custom higher end projects, it is definitely more.

I began to wonder how close we could get to the $20,000 that John is targeting.  So next I changed the quality class to the Minimum Quality of Class 6. (Change Screen 3 to all Class 6).  The results are below.
Cabin Cost 700sf Class 6
This was very surprising to me at first, until I recalled that you can double the cost of a small project simply by choosing more expensive materials.  So here we have the same cabin with minimum quality selections for $68,958 or $98.51/sf.

Now I realize that the Princeton NJ area is going to be more expensive than many other areas of the country. I did not look at how much of a difference that would make, (it might make a bunch!).

But I think it is clear that John might need to do some of the building himself to reach that $20,000 at the $700sf size.

I would suggest that if you are curious about the construction cost of your cabin, that you run through a few options with Building-Cost.net and compare it to what your local area range of square foot costs are.

Personally, I have found that Building-Cost.net is pretty close in Princeton, NJ area as well as Washington DC and the surrounding areas in Maryland and Virginia.  I had the same experience in the Adirondacks and upper State NY.

I would love to hear from you as to what you think.

As always, your comments are very valuable not only to me but to the others who drop by.

Best,

Andy

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kris Spencer April 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm

We built Andy’s Micro Cottage in a scenic Alaska Valley (524 sq feet) for 80k. (not including lot clearing, excavate, septic & well which I paid out of pocket) I agree with the conversations that it all depends on the materials that you use—and of course if you do it yourself or with friends, or contract a builder. I have never built a home and have zero knowledge in this area. While I began to study the process and educate myself on the type of materials that are recommended for our colder climate— it was necessary and helpful for me to hire a builder.

The micro cottage could have been built much more cheaply, but I wanted to upgrade materials, have a tiled floor with in-floor heat (fancy, I know), and nice hickory cabinets, appliances etc. It is TOTALLY cute!

Depending on your circumstances, there are alternative ways around plumbing and water, too so you can skip those costs and add in later as finances permit. In my case, I would be having family and friends come to stay and not too many people (even in my state) are comfortable with those alternatives. Instead, I went with bank financing—but if you self-finance, you can build as you go; the old-fashioned way that my parent’s did. There are LOTS of cost-cutting measures that make any of Andy’s plans affordable to build. By planning carefully, you can always upgrade later, too.

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Samantha July 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I can’t wait for our cabin to be completed so I can show you what we did for 70K. Now keep in mind we did 90% of the work ourselves, but using your mini cabin design we are building our 600 sq ft mini cabin mansion! We went all out with hickory floors throughout, a full loft, and the porch was changed into a sun room with a ton of windows. We used expensive materials like hardiboard siding as well. Buying locally has saved us a ton of money. The hickory floor was a mere $1.90 a square foot plus finishing costs which brought it up to $2.25 or so.

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Rick Pierce June 17, 2012 at 3:26 am

I love this build-costing tool! I am probably asking too much, but it would be nice to have available a costing tool that would take into consideration other alternative building methods, such as SIPS and ICFs, the amount of insulation and its influence on heating and cooling, heating and cooling methods, such as ground-source heat/(cooling) pumps and masonry heaters (russian fireplaces) etc. Of course, this tool is free!

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don kubecka May 31, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Hey Andy,

Are you finished with the 12 ft. cabin exercise?

Don

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Fred May 26, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Earlier today I saw a brand new tiny home on wheels on as I recall the Portland Oregon Craigslist. I don’t remember all of the details, but it is brand new, on wheels, fully finished, 1 bedroom loft, kitchen and 1 full bath with an 8 x 6 covered porch, and I think it is around 200 square feet, and the contractor builder has it for sale asking $12,500. So homes on a strict budget can certainly be had, but compromises in one way or another must be made to achieve those extremely restrictive price points.

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Andy Sheldon May 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Thanks Fred… When you get down to the tiny-house-on-wheels size, the costs can get lower. 200sf for $12,500 is still a low $62.50/sf. Very low for my neck of the woods. I’m glad to see it can be done.

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Kay Dayss May 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm

It is very possible to build a small cabin for $20,000 here in the Pacific Northwest if you already have the land and you have folks who will help you do all the labor yourself except for the plumbing and electrical supervisor — but NOT in the city. I live in a rural area that is still close enough in to have cable internet and great water source but far enough out that everything else is easy compared to what the midwest and east have to deal with. There are a lot more rules in other parts of the country that make it basically illegal to be poor. I think we’re more in a “no tattling” zone too. I can build a 120 sq ft “shed” without a permit as long as I don’t live in it. I built my tiny house for $2,600 including all the labor (my out of work neighbor and his children using a book) and the BEST quality doug fir lumber (it grows here). It’s 12 by 8, so that’s about $27 per sq ft. The inside isn’t finished, but I could easily finish it for about $1,000. Another way to go is with a yurt kit. My yurt has primitive plumbing and electrical. I didn’t do any of the labor as I am an old lady and I got the top of the line yurt to get a 100 pound snow load. We had snowmagedden that winter and she held up like a champ. It cost me about $20,000 total paying all the contractors (plumber, electrician, foundation buiders, and putter togetherers). That’s about $68 per sq ft as it is 314 sq ft.

Buying is much cheaper than building. I bought my fancy little 928 sq ft cabin with all kinds of bells and whistles (soaker tub, fireplace, wood floors, tile kitchen and bath, completely tiled separate steam shower, skylights, window fans, 4 bedrooms, huge deck with fire pit, propane furnace, pristine water, septic system, double pane windwos, 4 doors, double lot with tall trees all around, only 25 miles from the ocean, only 25 miles from the Mt Baker Ski Area) for $49,000 because nobody wanted to live way out here in the boonies and because people are afraid of poor people and Russian-speaking people who love living in resort areas for the beautiful nature. No, they want to live in the crowded city where they can go to their slave wage jobs and live on a little postage stamp lot in a big house they don’t need (and that the bank owns) that they paid half a mil for. Most people want to be like everyone else. Some of us like living without a mortgage and other debt.

People need to understand their priorities. Once people know what they want, anything is possible. A house like mine would have cost at least $300,000 in the city with only 1/3 the lot size and all the neighbors would have forced me to cut down the trees because they’re afraid of trees. Most people allow fear to drive their lives. Good thing I didn’t want to live in the city!

My land is valued at $30,000, so that means that my little 928 sq ft cabin with four bedrooms is $19,000 or 20.50 per sq ft. The guy who built it stripped off the walls and roof of an old existing mobilehome and stick built all around it to Canadian specs as he is Canadian. Everyone who inspects it comments on how well built it is and how strong it is.

It is all about priorities. I like freedom. I like adventure. I like solitude I like peace and quiet. I love nature. I love having no debt. I love having no joyless wage-slavery job. My buisness Earth Creativity School (http://earthcreativity.org) is right here on my double lot with me.

You don’t have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to have your dream house! Just ask the Universe to find you your dream house for an amount you can pay.

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Andy Sheldon May 26, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Thanks Kay… Thanks for makeing it clear that once you apply some sweat equity, efficient cabin size and are willing a to build in a more rural area, the cost can come way down.

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John snape May 26, 2012 at 3:47 pm

There is a company offering cabins in upper N.Y. State finished for $29900.

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John snape May 26, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Andy, I am planning to build in Missouri. non-union labor. I understand that the cost per sq. ft. in Springfield is $58.-68. per sq. ft. I may be wrong, but have a price of 5700. for 2 1/2 a. with water and septic tank. The lot needs a lot of clean up. There are two building
Foundations in bad condition on the property. I have not been able to examin the foundations. both have part of a building on them. I expect to offer 3700 for the lot

I have to put off the buying as I have a medical condition comming up.

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Andy Sheldon May 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm

Thanks, John… I had not realized that other areas of the country were still so reasonable. Just goes to show that local conditions rule when building. I appreciate your input and hope everything goes well.

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