Author Topic: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?  (Read 727 times)

FIKristen

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DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« on: September 06, 2017, 08:01:39 PM »
Has anyone here attempted to build a small house or cabin themselves?  What was your experience like?  Would you do it again, or hire a builder?

The situation: Local builders in my neck of the woods near a ski town in Colorado are backlogged 2-3 years and charge higher prices than Denver metro.  Since our dream cabin is only 500-600 ft, simple structure, most builders are uninterested...they want to build luxury homes that make more money for them.

We have the funds cash, so bank financing isn't an issue, and due to lack of builder interest we're considering attempting a DIY project or maybe hiring someone to complete the shell and let us finish it, saving $$ that way.  However, this would be by far the biggest project we've taken on: all our experience so far is limited to interiors: kitchen, bathrooms, basic plumbing & electrical, floors, drywall etc; not permits, foundations, framing, roof & the like.  It's pretty intimidating, but exciting as well.  Tips, advice, recommendations welcome.  Yes, we've ready all the MMM articles related to construction, including the back yard studio.  :)


Roland of Gilead

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #1 on: September 06, 2017, 08:23:45 PM »
we just built a 10x10 shed in Washington state with T-111 siding and metal roof.

A cabin as small as you are talking about would not be super hard if you took it slow.   We made our own trusses and built the base on the flatbed truck we normally carry our RV on (makes a great work table!) and used the excavator to lift the base off the truck and place it on the ground (this is totally not necessary but when you own a excavator, you want to play).  Metal roof went on super easy and I would recommend that style for snow areas (at least everyone else around here seems to use them).  It took us about a month to build from scratch but we work slooooow and take a break every hour or two to go for a hike or play games on the computer.


Fireball

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2017, 08:44:12 PM »
My uncle built a cabin about that size out in the middle of the woods in TN. Built it just like the pioneers did 150 years ago(mostly). Felled the trees by hand, hand hewn logs, notched them out, etc. It was hella hard work.

With that said, I would have a pro do the site prep and build it yourselves. Plus, you don't have to old school like he did. It is a lot of work, but it's not overly complex work and very rewarding.
« Last Edit: September 06, 2017, 08:48:34 PM by Fireball »

Syonyk

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2017, 08:51:16 PM »
Has anyone here attempted to build a small house or cabin themselves?  What was your experience like?  Would you do it again, or hire a builder?

Does an off grid office count?  I started with a Tuff-Shed and did all the interior work myself.

https://syonyk.blogspot.com/2016/07/solar-shed-summary-my-off-grid-office.html

First thing is to understand code in your area: 500-600 sq ft is large enough that it will matter.  For my build, being sub-200 sq ft (significantly), legally and code-wise it's a storage shed, so I could do whatever I wanted.

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We have the funds cash, so bank financing isn't an issue, and due to lack of builder interest we're considering attempting a DIY project or maybe hiring someone to complete the shell and let us finish it, saving $$ that way.  However, this would be by far the biggest project we've taken on: all our experience so far is limited to interiors: kitchen, bathrooms, basic plumbing & electrical, floors, drywall etc; not permits, foundations, framing, roof & the like.  It's pretty intimidating, but exciting as well.  Tips, advice, recommendations welcome.  Yes, we've ready all the MMM articles related to construction, including the back yard studio.  :)

Framing isn't that hard, though if your experience is all with interior work, I'd strongly suggest looking into either having someone else build the exterior, or going with a prebuilt shed.  Or, at least, find someone with framing and exterior experience to help you along the way.

It's entirely doable, but it will take longer than you think.  The big deal is to figure out what you're permitted to do in terms of permits and code - getting it finished and having the inspectors laugh and refuse you an occupancy permit isn't exactly an ideal outcome.

Are you going to be on grid or off grid?  How you build it differs significantly, but I'd strongly suggest looking into "more insulation than usual" and thermal bridge breaks for the construction.  If you're doing a lot of it yourself, well, you can do that - it costs a bit more, but pays back long term.

You'll probably want to go with a metal roof to help slide the snow off as well.
My random project blog - ebikes, DIY, fans, and more: http://syonyk.blogspot.com

bradne

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #4 on: September 06, 2017, 08:57:53 PM »
As others stated, it is doable.   You mentioned that you have done lots of interior stuff, so maybe having someone else to do the frame, exterior wall and roof would be the best idea.   Then you could work on the interior when the weather was bad at your leisure.   My parents did that with their house 30 some years ago.  They had a contractor come in and put up the frame and exterior (stone).  My Dad, Sister and I roofed it and we all moved in.   It then took my Dad (and I some) about three more years to finish the inside.   It took that long since my parents refused to get a loan and simply bought materials when they could afford it (ie: 5 sheets of drywall a week).  When I left home, my bedroom walls were still old sheets hung on studs.   

That being said, the "log" style cabins that are out there are usually just stick framed structures with a log veneer on the outside.   I have never done it, but it does not look difficult. 

FIKristen

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #5 on: September 06, 2017, 09:11:35 PM »
Cool projects!    Love the Tuff shed Syonyk, we'll have to try that one the main house is built (no accessory buildings allowed until a house is on the lot here).

Yes, we will need to build to 2009 International Building Code / 2009 IRC and 2009 energy code;  although I will probably go above & beyond that since I plan do install solar - I would love to do net zero and I think I can get there with enough south-facing windows and insulation!

Many of the lots around here have a lot of standing good-sized beetle-kill pine trees, which some local builder friends have suggested could be used to create a log cabin.  That seems like a LOT of work though.

Syonyk

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #6 on: September 06, 2017, 09:43:03 PM »
Tuff-Shed has some larger options that are cabin-sized you could start with.

https://www.tuffshed.com/products/#/all/

I'm not entirely convinced they've ever actually built the cabin plans, but they should work for you - maybe talk to a local dealer and ask?
My random project blog - ebikes, DIY, fans, and more: http://syonyk.blogspot.com

FIKristen

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #7 on: September 06, 2017, 09:50:20 PM »
Huh!  I didn't know they offered that.  The Colorado version isn't half bad.

Syonyk

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #8 on: September 06, 2017, 10:08:11 PM »
They're pretty much exactly suited to "What you don't have experience doing."

It'd definitely be worth talking to a dealer to see what they say about them - I'm sure they're not cheap, but they're prefabbed at the dealer and thrown up on site in a few hours (maybe a day for the big ones).  Then you can do the rest on your time.

I don't know how you'd run water/sewer in them - my office has "a water jug I carry out there" and "I wander back up to the house if I have to use the toilet."
My random project blog - ebikes, DIY, fans, and more: http://syonyk.blogspot.com

NorCal

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #9 on: September 06, 2017, 11:03:21 PM »
Building a wooden rectangle is fairly straightforward as a DIY project, although I agree with the recommendations to look at some of the pre-built options out there.

Things get more complex if electricity and plumbing are needed.  Then you're talking about power poles, utility connections, digging wells, and septic systems.  Those are typically well above DIY level projects.  Maybe you'd have more luck bidding these jobs out individually? 

FIKristen

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #10 on: September 07, 2017, 09:56:50 AM »
Thanks all for tips and recommendations, will report back!

Syonyk

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #11 on: September 07, 2017, 10:46:12 AM »
Building a wooden rectangle is fairly straightforward as a DIY project, although I agree with the recommendations to look at some of the pre-built options out there.

Certainly, though one of the advantages of going with a prefab unit (Tuff-Shed or similar) is that they build those walls in a factory, with jigs, so they're not sitting out in the sun or rain (less of an issue when it's dry in the summer, certainly).  We've got a manufactured home, and having taken a factory tour, I can understand why they're cheaper than a comparable site-built home - everything is right there when they're building, so there's no waiting for contractors, no "Whoops, it rained on us, we have to let it dry out...," and they can do things like build all the cabinets completely in the cabinet section (about a quarter of the factory floor), then just haul them over on cranes in one piece before the roof goes on.  And said roof is built at waist height on some jigs, then is lifted up and set on top.

Quote
Things get more complex if electricity and plumbing are needed.  Then you're talking about power poles, utility connections, digging wells, and septic systems.  Those are typically well above DIY level projects.  Maybe you'd have more luck bidding these jobs out individually?

Right, and things like "well and septic" are things that you can't just bluff on permits and code for.  That actually does upset municipalities in a lot of areas.
My random project blog - ebikes, DIY, fans, and more: http://syonyk.blogspot.com

ToTheMoon

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #12 on: September 07, 2017, 11:03:11 AM »
Have you checked out any of the cabin kits that are available in the area?

This was the first one that popped up when I searched "cabin kits colorado": http://www.cabintek.com/log-cabin-kits-colorado.html

I know the Home Depots in our area also have cabin kits available for sale in the size range you are talking about.

gardeningandgreen

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #13 on: September 07, 2017, 11:41:12 AM »
Last built a Garage from scratch it is about 720 sf so a bit bigger than you are thinking. The only thing we didn't do ourselves was the foundation because we didn't feel comfortable messing that up. I recommend being very very nice to the inspectors. They have been an amazing resource in figuring things out. They also have had tons of random tips and tricks that we would not have figured out ourselves.

If you give yourself enough time it is definitely do-able to build your own cabin or even your own house! The only parts that can get difficult or near impossible would be doing the foundation and getting utilities onto the property. I say go for it! You will learn so much and for most things if you mess up a bit it can be covered with paint or isn't terribly expensive to fix!

paddedhat

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #14 on: September 07, 2017, 03:26:51 PM »
Step one is to explore exactly how onerous your local and state code burdens are. I was in the Longmont area a couple of years back, right after they had severe flooding. I was camped in a local campground with a local who was from an remote community where hundreds lost rural homes and cabins to flooding. He said that a significant portion of those who lost everything would not be rebuilding, due to the horrifically expensive code requirements and rules for any new construction. We have reached a point in the states where in many areas, an inexpensive, DIY cabin is no longer a possibility, due to totally out of control bureaucratic bullshit.

LizI

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #15 on: September 07, 2017, 03:39:28 PM »
I'm designing a building for work and in the process I came across SIPs (structural insulated panels) as a building material. It dawned on me today that if I were to ever build a tiny house I would use them. Massive insulation (a bonus for CO winters I'm sure), and they're relatively simple to construct. Prices in Canada run at about $5/sq ft of the 4.5" thick panels, just to give you a rough idea. They have flooring and foundation versions so in theory you can make the entire building shell out of them. In my case we're pouring a concrete pad and constructing the SIPs on top of that.

FIKristen

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #16 on: September 07, 2017, 06:12:06 PM »
Thanks all!   Addressing some questions & suggestions that came up:

1. Water & septic: the lot we're looking at actually has water & sewer taps paid, so thankfully not too much work there, just have to get them hooked up properly.   Anyone looking in the high rockies beware of "cheap" land that needs well & septic - many lots you have to drill over 500 ft to hit water, which can add up to more than the cost of the land!   Septic design also has its special challenges in the mountains.

2. Foundation - I'd like to do a post or pier foundation if possible; all houses with crawlspaces & basements around here have radon problems so I figured if we get the cabin up off the ground a bit that will help mitigate it.   I think that might be cheaper too?

3. Building inspectors - can't agree more that it's important to be nice to these guys, they're the ones in charge.

4. kits - yes, have looked at some of the kits available; kind of hard to compare apples to apples since some include less than others but definitely an option.   

paddedhat

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #17 on: September 07, 2017, 09:18:30 PM »
Thanks all!   Addressing some questions & suggestions that came up:

1. Water & septic: the lot we're looking at actually has water & sewer taps paid, so thankfully not too much work there, just have to get them hooked up properly.   Anyone looking in the high rockies beware of "cheap" land that needs well & septic - many lots you have to drill over 500 ft to hit water, which can add up to more than the cost of the land!   Septic design also has its special challenges in the mountains.

2. Foundation - I'd like to do a post or pier foundation if possible; all houses with crawlspaces & basements around here have radon problems so I figured if we get the cabin up off the ground a bit that will help mitigate it.   I think that might be cheaper too?

3. Building inspectors - can't agree more that it's important to be nice to these guys, they're the ones in charge.


4. kits - yes, have looked at some of the kits available; kind of hard to compare apples to apples since some include less than others but definitely an option.

Nice is good. Understanding exactly what is permissible is key. For example, in some local jurisdictions here in the mid-Atlantic, you can build a limited use recreational cabin permit with far less restriction that a typical dwelling, other areas will not consider a cabin permit. In some areas you are committed to spending $20-50K for onsite well and septic systems before you can get ever hope of getting a certificate of occupancy for any type of dwelling. I have built in many areas where there is a requirement of a minimum of 900 SQ. FT. of habitable space to get a permit for a detached single family dwelling.  When folks here talk about having no issues when staying below 200 sq. ft. it's important to understand that they are speaking of what the code sees as an "accessory building" not the primary building on a lot. In some jurisdictions I worked in I could build a 1000 ft. building with little code interference, as long as it was an "outbuilding, on a lot that had an existing single family home. Trying to build the same 999 sq. ft. building on an empty adjoining empty lot was pretty much never going to happen. These are just a few of the issues you may face, and depending on what area of CO. you are talking about, you may have a very difficult, to impossible task ahead of you. Don't get too excited until you have a clear idea of what is, and isn't, going to be acceptable to the local jurisdiction. For much of the front range, and other highly developed, and pricey areas, I would tend to assume that it's going to be nearly impossible, and end up pleasantly surprised if you find a way to pull it off. Good luck.
« Last Edit: September 07, 2017, 09:26:53 PM by paddedhat »

FIKristen

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Re: DIY cabin in Colorado - can it be done?
« Reply #18 on: September 08, 2017, 11:16:27 AM »

Nice is good. Understanding exactly what is permissible is key. For example, in some local jurisdictions here in the mid-Atlantic, you can build a limited use recreational cabin permit with far less restriction that a typical dwelling, other areas will not consider a cabin permit. In some areas you are committed to spending $20-50K for onsite well and septic systems before you can get ever hope of getting a certificate of occupancy for any type of dwelling. I have built in many areas where there is a requirement of a minimum of 900 SQ. FT. of habitable space to get a permit for a detached single family dwelling.  When folks here talk about having no issues when staying below 200 sq. ft. it's important to understand that they are speaking of what the code sees as an "accessory building" not the primary building on a lot. In some jurisdictions I worked in I could build a 1000 ft. building with little code interference, as long as it was an "outbuilding, on a lot that had an existing single family home. Trying to build the same 999 sq. ft. building on an empty adjoining empty lot was pretty much never going to happen. These are just a few of the issues you may face, and depending on what area of CO. you are talking about, you may have a very difficult, to impossible task ahead of you. Don't get too excited until you have a clear idea of what is, and isn't, going to be acceptable to the local jurisdiction. For much of the front range, and other highly developed, and pricey areas, I would tend to assume that it's going to be nearly impossible, and end up pleasantly surprised if you find a way to pull it off. Good luck.

Yep, we've done our homework.  The minimum residential size is 500 sq ft, so good there.  No HOA so no design review restrictions.  This would be our primary home, so limited use is not an option.   We may do an accessory structure in the future as well, but not until the main cabin is up.   Since the lot is on water & sewer, not well and septic, we don't have to put those in.   You just have to show paid tap fees to get the permit.