We moved to our 5 acre property in September of 2015 and while we have grand plans of building a timber frame barn + a timber frame house, we won’t have them done before winter which leaves us to continued living in a travel trailer! As we will be getting low temperatures in the Pacific Northwest, it is critical that we take the proper precautions and “winterize” our RV. As we don’t have electricity, it seemed that the only solution was building an off the grid cabin that would attach to our portable RV garage, giving us a fully enclosed, heated space.
In a way, we started this project with low spirits because as always, we aim high with our goals and we were hoping to have had our barn built by now. The original plan with the barn was to have it framed and enclosed by winter so that we could put our RV in it and heat the area with a wood stove. This would have been the most-ideal solution when living off the grid to keeping our pipes, tanks and pumps from freezing while keeping the inside of the trailer warm as well.
However, because we were so incredibly busy during month one and month two of our homesteading journey, we didn’t have time to build the barn. Well, I suppose we could have gotten it done if we would have put our minds to it, but we decided that other things were more important, that we needed to slow down a bit, that we needed to practice our skills before tackling a large project, and that we could survive the winter in our RV.
So just days before our first snow, we were still living in a travel trailer that was protected only by a garage-in-a-box, mounted on a frame + deck, with no insulation or protection from the cold whatsoever!
Even though we know how to dress for winter and we knew we needed to be able to heat an enclosed structure for our RV and just enclosing our garage-in-a-box wasn’t going to cut it; we needed to be able to heat the enclosure as well, and we didn’t want to stick a wood stove directory in the garage-in-a-box. The only solution seemed to be to get to work building a cabin add-on to put the wood stove in (plus it would give us other benefits as well), and it would be built using reclaimed building materials that we gathered just days prior!
In More Detail: How This Helps to Winterize Our RV
Winterizing an RV is much more difficult when living off grid because we don’t have electricity! While we do have a portable generator, we don’t wish to run it 24/7 to take advantage of electricity, and even if we were able to use electric heaters, we would still need an enclosed place to capture the heat.
As stated prior, this cabin helps to winterize our RV because it gives us a place for the wood stove. It wouldn’t be very safe to simply put the wood stove in the garage-in-a-box. The entire cabin is insulated (floor, walls and roof) which helps for heat retention. We’ve been working on fully insulating our carport as well with full skirting and insulation from the floor to the peak of the roof. It’s not sexy but it does the trick and allows us to focus on other things.
We then use a couple of these air movers to blow the hot air from the wood stove to the back of the carport where our water tank and water pump reside.
So far, we’ve managed to get the inside of the cabin to 68 degrees Fahrenheit and the back of the carport 55 degrees – both are well above freezing in freezing temperatures which is exactly what we wanted!
Oh yea… just days after building this cabin, we had a giant windstorm carnage that mangled our carport completely but our cabin stood tall and didn’t budge an inch to our surprise… not bad, not bad at all!
Interior Photos of the Off Grid Cabin
Building an off the Grid Cabin for $300
I think our biggest pride when it comes to building this cabin is that we were able to build it with little cash. We’ve been working diligently to find second-hand and reclaimed building materials for pennies so that we don’t have to run down to Home Depot every time we have a need for supplies. If we have quality homestead tools, then we can build just about anything if we can get the materials!
Most of the materials used to build this cabin came from our recent demolition project which resulted in us salvaging $7,000 or so in building materials. Just days after we finished salvaging materials from that demolition, we were putting screws through them to build this cabin. From that one demolition alone we were able to build the entire frame of this cabin, the roof (both the rafters and the metal roofing) and the siding.
We did the math and this tiny little cabin would have cost us around $3,000 if we were to buy the materials from Home Depot. If you’re willing to use time instead of money, you can often find great deals on materials like we were able to which can result in saving large amounts of money on your projects in the long run.
What We Had to Buy Retail
Even though we have been doing our best to find reclaimed materials for pennies, we still had to resort to the local building store for some supplies. We’ll let you know what those things were just because we can, and these are just more things to keep an eye out for so that you don’t have to buy them new:
- Endless screws and roof screws: We used so many of these on this project. If you ever find a great deal on screws or someone wants to give you a bunch… take them and run!
- Chimney: While we were able to find our wood stove for $200 on Craigslist during our first month on the homestead, we weren’t able to find any chimney parts, nor did we think about looking. We spent around $150 on our chimney, and that’s cheap! We are trying out the single wall stove pipe for now but may have to upgrade to double wall which will be even more expensive. That’s okay… at least we can use all of this on our future barn or home.
- Plastic roofing: While we were able to pick up a handful of windows for pennies, they didn’t seem like they were going to fit well with our design, nor were we interested in doing additional work! We had the bright idea to use clear roofing as our windows. We were okay spending money on this because it allows a lot of natural light to come on, we were exhausted and wanted to end the project, and we really do like the look of it. We spent $80 on these panels.
- Weather stripping: Because we built our cabin with reclaimed materials, many of them weren’t exactly to dimension which resulted in a lot of air gaps. That’s okay… but that did mean we had to buy some weather stripping. It’s cheap, but we had to buy it nonetheless.
The Importance of Starting with Small Projects
As we talk about frequently on this homesteading blog, when taking on such a large project (starting a homestead from scratch!), we can’t stress the importance enough of starting with small projects. While Jesse and I have been working together for quite a while now (we started on this 9 month house rehabbing project), are are still learning to work as a team. Whether we’re building a cabin such as this, sawhorses with leftover lumber, learning to cut down trees to mill for lumber, or building a deck for our RV, they are all of great importance and great learning opportunities.
Every project that we do together goes more and more smoothly. We built this entire cabin in 3-5 days (with help from Jesse’s sister of course!) and we were all really able to work as a team.
While part of us regrets not having the basic frame of our barn up by now, another part of us knows that things happen (or don’t happen) for a reason and if we would have gone straight for the big project, it could have resulted in failure or great frustration, and we still may not have gotten it done in time.
We couldn’t be happier with how our first little cabin turned out! Even though we’ve lived in nicer homes before, we are extremely happy to see the cabin we built when we come up the driveway. We are really stoked that we are learning to build with the materials we have, and we own our cabin outright… no mortgage payment to deal with. In lowering our standards of living now, we are able to keep our eyes on the prize which is the building of our barn and eventually, our home. At the end of the day, all we really need is food, shelter, warmth, and love is nice too which our home has an abundance of.
Living in a travel trailer is something Jesse and I NEVER thought we’d be willing to do, ever, but it turns out we are doing it and are really happy with the choice for all of the right reasons. Is living in a creative dwelling such as this something you’d be willing to tolerate if it meant you’d be able to get on the fast path to achieving your goals, and the life you want to live? What material sacrifices have you made to achieve your goals, and how did it make you feel? Love to hear it!
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