Build a Small Efficient Cabin for Weekend Use

Dear James: My parents have some wooded land on a lake and I would like to build a weekend cabin for my two kids and myself. What do you recommend for the size and the building method to use? — Ron A.

Dear Ron: This is the kind of fun project that most people can only dream of. Offer the builder fishing rights for a year and you will have the contractors lined up to get the job. Most builders find it a pleasant break to build a smaller home in a natural setting.

If you have two children, plan on building a cabin large enough to sleep four people. Either you or your children will probably often bring a guest along for the weekends. Since beds take up a lot of space, plan on a minimum size of 20 feet by 20 feet, not including porches.

For construction simplicity and the lowest cost, plan a single-story cabin. Even if you are in a southern climate with little chance of heavy snowfall, build it with a steeply pitched roof. A pitch of 9-12 (9 feet vertical for every 12 feet horizontal) will provide enough height at the peak for a loft area.

Although it will cost a bit more for materials, build it with a 9- to 10-foot-high ceiling for an open feel. Adding a skylight will provide natural light in the day, ventilation and a view of the stars at night. Install a real glass one with thermal low-emissivity panes and argon gas in the gap.

If this cabin is near a major city and has good road access, choose one of the newer, efficient and super-strong construction methods: structural panels, concrete foam block, steel framing, etc. If you are building it in woods with limited access for delivery of materials, use conventional stick-built lumber framing construction.

Before you actually start construction, it would be a good idea for you and your children to spend a weekend at a cabin in a park. This will give you an idea of how much space you will really need and the amenities that you need or at least want. You will probably be surprised at the learning experience.

People often forget to include enough storage space, such as space for closets, especially if they have children. If you plan to spend many weekends at the cabin in the summer, you will find that you need a lot of “things” that you did not need on your single weekend test stay in a cabin. Consider storage under beds and in the loft area. Also, do not scrimp on the kitchen area.

Since you will not be at the cabin all week long, you have several options for security. Using strong locks will not help. If someone wants to get into a remote cabin, he has plenty of time to break down a door. It is probably best to leave it unlocked and install a battery-operated security alarm. Although the system will not dial up the police, the vandals will not know this and they will most likely run.

It doesn’t make sense to hire an architect to design a small cabin. There are many sources for building plans and kits for simple cabins: Sheldon Designs (, Behm Design ( and Shelter-Kit Inc. (

Definitely install a space heater that is large enough to make it toasty warm. Since you probably will not have all the amenities of home, such as a clothes dryer, you will want to keep it warm enough in case you get wet in a storm.

If you do not have electricity at the cabin, consider a battery or solar-powered wood pellet stove in addition to a fireplace. A pellet stove can supply heat within minutes. A single 40-pound bag of pellets will provide plenty of heat for a day or two.

Send your questions to Here’s How, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit