Here at Field Mag, we are wholeheartedly committed to helping you fulfill your escapist daydreams with a never-ending feed full of cabins and architectural inspiration for those who love good design and the great outdoors.
However, you can only spend so much time gawking at photos of those beautiful backcountry huts and iconic A-Frames before it comes time to buy one yourself. To help you pick the right one, this comprehensive article outlines everything you need to know about buying and building the cabin kit of your dreams.
Stoked? Us too. Here is Field Mag’s guide to cabin kits.
What Is a Cabin Kit?
A cabin kit is a convenient, affordable, and relatively easy way to build your dream cabin with a set of building plans that come with precut, premeasured construction materials for a basic structure. Kits vary from an unfinished shell to a fully-assembled cabin, allowing you to either DIY the whole build—if you have the experience, skills, and required tools—or hand over step-by-step instructions to a local builder.
A cabin kit allows you to forego hiring an architect and engineer, and the costs associated with them, but there is still a lot of labor and expenses to pay for out of pocket. This includes the land and site prep, utilities, and home finishings, just to name a few. Even though it’s a great option, it still involves a lot of manual labor and literal heavy lifting.
Today, there are a lot of cabin kits to choose from and innovative companies that offer well-designed, high-quality kits for modern or log cabin living. Historically speaking, these aren’t an entirely new concept. During a time of economic growth in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the post-war American public’s increase in interest was through the rafters in outdoor recreation, architecture, and a desire to escape from daily life. Vacation homes were in many ways, representative of the American Dream, and some of the most creative designs of the day were second homes in scenic places. As the demand for cabins and A-Frames grew, the cabin kit appeared as a solution to the problem for weekenders without the means to purchase or build their own getaway.
Cabins and cabin kits are trending once again for their affordability, aesthetic, and simpler pace of life. For cabin lovers who want a place to escape, but don’t have the time or ability to DIY it, a cabin kit will do the trick. However, we can’t stress enough that while this process can be a hugely gratifying experience, it’s a true labor of love that requires a lot of time, hard work, and expenses to do correctly.
What's the Difference Between Modular and Prefabricated?
The terms "prefabricated" and "modular" are commonly used when talking about timber homes and cabin kits, and though often similar these terms don't always mean the same thing.
The term "prefabricated" means a portion or all of a structure is constructed in a factory before being shipped to the build site to be assembled. Often prefabricated—or prefab, as they’re known–construction relies heavily on cross laminated timber (CLT), an innovative wood material that allows for fast and efficient building. The components of a build most often prefabricated are roof and floor trusses, exterior walls, interior wall panels, and staircases. For example, you could get a prefabricated bathroom, kitchen, sleeping loft, or living area.
"Modular" or "modules" refer to independent units or parts that can be assembled in a number of ways to create a bigger building. Many modular cabins are prefabricated, but not all prefabricated structures are modules. The difference is that modules are 3D structures that arrive at the building site already assembled.
Modules enclose space, while prefab structures are the flat packed components used to enclose the space.
What's Included in a Cabin Kit?
There are a variety cabin kits to choose from that vary in style as well as structure. Within that are different architectural styles; a traditional log cabin made with horizontally stacked lumber is different from a triangular-shaped A-Frame cabin with three walls and steeply pitched roof, and then there are modern cabins with sharp silhouettes, clean lines, outfitted with a mix of metal, wood, and cement materials.
There are three main types of cabin kits offered by prefab log cabin kit companies: Shell-only, Dry-in, and Turn-key or complete packages. These packages may have different names depending on where you purchase your cabin kit.
What: Shell-Only Cabin Kit
Who: Perfect for a DIYer with a lower budget who wants to totally customize their cabin.
How much: $50-$80/square foot
The shell only kit includes everything you need to build the outside shell of your cabin. This typically includes the exterior walls, roof, windows, doors, and uncovered floors. You will have to purchase flooring, roofing, doors, windows, plus interior and exterior finishes. Unless you have building experience, you'll need to hire professional log home builders, too. Shell kits are the most flexible option.
What: Dry-In Cabin Kit
Who: Cabin lovers with a lower budget, looking to gain experience and add a personal touch.
How much: $70-$130/square foot
Dry-in cabin plans includes everything you need for a basic structure, plus everything you need to finish the outside of your cabin: windows, doors, flooring, roofing, and sometimes porches and decks. Dry-in kits cost less than turnkey kits, but don't require as much carpentry or building skills. The downside is a higher upfront cost, plus purchase and installation of utilities and finishings like drywall to complete the space.
What: Turnkey/Complete Package Cabin Kit
Who: For the weekender who wants a ready-made log cabin without a ton of manual labor.
How much: $120-$200/square foot
A complete package includes everything you need to make your perfect cabin move-in ready. This includes Built-in furniture, fixtures, and fittings. It also includes everything you need to create a bathroom, kitchen, living area, and sleeping loft – if that is part of your design.
These cost more but cut back on the amount of money and time spent to purchase and install things like windows, doors, and decor. Some turnkey blueprints are more complicated than those of basic kits, which are less involved, but you get it all.
Tiny Home Cabin Kits
Buying a tiny home cabin kit can be an easy way to gain experience for a lower price and less work. The small cabin kit provides enough space to build onto down the road and be made spacious enough by adding a loft area to the interior for storage and bedroom area, which frees up the main floor. A covered porch can extend an otherwise tiny floor plan to create extra space.
A prefab tiny home cabin kit can range in size from less than 200 square feet to a 500 square-foot shelter. For example, a 100 square-foot tiny home cabin by MUJI HUT goes for $28,000 while Backcountry Hut’s System 01 is a modular one-room cabin designed to stay small or be built-out into a larger cabin for $200 CDN per square foot.
Where Can You Buy Log Cabin Kits?
Numerous log cabin kit companies offer a variety of floor plans and designs. Many of these companies ship nationally (and many more internationally). Keep in mind that shipping costs are not always included in the price.
You may want to consider ordering your cabin kit from a company near you—or that has a distribution point close to your building site. This could save you a significant amount on shipping fees.
You can also purchase "extras" like flooring, fixtures, fittings, and even components like staircases and cupboards from a local supplier instead of having them shipped to your location.
How Much Does a Cabin Kit Cost?
The total cost of a cabin kit is split into two buckets: cabin kit cost and finished cost.
The prefab cabin kit itself will account for half of your budget and with the rest going to interior and exterior finishing, land, general site prep, utilities, and fee for professionals. The price of a log cabin kit is largely determined by price per square foot. Most cabin kit manufacturers use this price model, so it’s safe to say that the bigger the cabin the higher the cost, which means a 1500-square-foot cabin will cost more than a 400-square-foot cabin based off the floorplan alone.
Other contributing factors include, materials used, where the cabin kit is being shipped from, and which of the three types of kits you choose. It might be tempting to buy a cheaper kit, but keep in mind that a lower price could mean lower quality.
Is It Cheaper to Buy or Build a Cabin?
The price of a cabin—and a cabin kit—depends on how large you want the cabin to be, and where you’re building it. Both the actual location and the general region will impact pricing of materials and labor. Cabin costs are usually calculated by square footage, like traditional home building. That means tiny cabins will be less expensive than larger prefab cabins—though this logic isn’t water tight. Adding a few square feet to a rectangular structure won’t dramatically change the cost, whereas adding the same square feet to a more complex structure or, for example in the shape of a new bathroom, will. For this reason, a genuine “tiny home” can often cost the same as a house 50% larger but with the same finishings. As such, the fixtures and fittings that you select for your prefab cabin will affect the total cost in a way that can be rather easily dialed up or down.
It can be significantly cheaper to build a cabin than buying one (except a tiny cabin, as stated above). But, the price of a cabin kit is only a part of the investment. If you buy a prefab or modular cabin kit, you will need to assemble it. Yes, even the modules need to be assembled to form a complete structure. If you have the time, skills, and knowledge, you could do this on your own.
On the other hand, it may be less expensive to get an experienced home builder to finish your vacation cabin for you. These individuals already know what needs to be done and how to do it right. Employing a general contractor for the whole construction or hiring a builder directly could save you time and money that you may otherwise have to fork out to fix costly mistakes down the road. And it’ll mean the difference between spending all your PTO working on your vacation cabin and enjoying your time off—that was the reason you wanted to build a cabin in the first place, right?
Regardless, employing professionals to help with installation of plumbing and electrical components is very important if you don’t personally have experience with these trades. These individuals not only know how the ins and outs, but they are also likely knowledgeable about the legal requirements for installing these components in timber homes in your area.
How to Pick the Right Cabin Kit Manufacturer
A good cabin kit manufacturer will provide high-quality materials, service, follow-up or aftercare services, and a warranty of 5-10 years. The company should also offer delivery and installation (even if you decide not to use them) with clear instructions on what you should expect and any heavy machinery needed for assembly. It’s a good idea to connect with the owners and/or designers of the cabin kit you plan to buy beforehand to establish the lines of communication and feel more confident about your purchase. Overall, try your best to establish a pleasant working relationship with the cabin kit manufacturer before, during, and after you buy. You can also ask other kit owners to recommend builders in the area.
The Best Cabin Kits
After you’ve narrowed down what type of log cabin kit best fits your wants and needs, the next big question is: where do you buy it from? How do you choose a cabin kit manufacturer?
We’re always on the hunt for innovative design companies who build jaw-dropping, sustainable cabins. Check out some of our favorite design-minded cabin kit companies in the list below.
BACKCOUNTRY HUTS - Canada-based Backcountry Hut Company is owned and operated by an architect and lifelong outdoorsman. They created three modular cabin designs that go far beyond the classic hunting cabin style—Systems 00, 01, and 02—each capable of being shipped pre-cut, flat-pack, and assembled almost anywhere in North America, with a focus on delivering and installing in remote locations.
LUSHNA - Specializing in supplying cost-efficient wood structures for eco-tourist glamping destinations, Slovenia-based Lushna makes fully-equipped prefab micro cabins and sauna kits for easy delivery and installation.
ECOKIT - The Australian specialty home builder offers sustainable and beautiful modular cabin designs made from FSC©-Certified wood, with energy-efficient fixtures. They are available to ship flat packed to North America.
DROP STRUCTURES - A modern cabin kit manufactured in North America, Drop Structures’ Duo cabin is a durable and spacious shelter designed with a metal exterior, cedar deck, and beautiful Baltic birch interior.
KOTO DESIGN - Carbon-neutral homes and cabins available in the UK, Europe, and the USA. Buy off the shelf designs or commission a bespoke project suitable to your site and budget.
DEN - The New York-based design studio makes one of our favorite full DIY A-Frame cabin kits, shipping flat packed with everything needed for assembly, for just $21,000 USD. These beautiful designs could even make a great guest house (for a modern twist on the country cottage) on a large swath of property.
How to Prep For and Assemble a Cabin Kit
Before delivery day, it’s crucial to have everything onsite to assemble, transport, and store kit materials. Plan ahead for any inclement weather, make sure you have enough daylight to get it done, factor in travel and temperature (this affects the wood and shape of the log walls as much as you!) so you are ready to go.
At this point, your cabin kit manufacturer should’ve given you a clear idea of what to expect for delivery and assembly. A shell cabin kit might need a wide-enough road for a semi-truck to drive to your site, while a turnkey kit requires plenty of heavy machinery, but each one varies so talk to the kit maker first.
Make sure to settle or level the ground and pour concrete slab foundation big enough for your cabin before it arrives. Additionally, check in with your local municipality to find out if you need a permit to build your cabin kit. This will depend on the size, location, codes and regulations of each jurisdiction, so do that leg work well in advance.
What Tools are Needed for Assembling your Cabin Kit?
While the needs of assembly are unique to your kit, there are several must-have items that you should think about and prepare to have ready for construction.
Detailed Instructions and Plans - The most vital resource on assembly day are the plans and instructions that arrive with your cabin kit. These should give you the most information on how to construct your cabin, so um, don’t lose them. Ok?
Heavy Machinery - Does the cabin kit require a forklift? If so, how many? Even if the materials are flat-packed, heavy machinery like a forklift could still be required. Talk to the manufacturer first and then contact a local professional to have the right size and amount of forklifts ready and onsite for delivery day.
Tarps and Shelter from the Elements - Keep your kit materials protected from the elements by having tarps on hand. Lay them on the ground in case of rain or dampness, and even save the wrapping that the bundles arrive in for an extra layer of protection. If it’s possible, find a cool, dry place to store all materials even if it only takes you a weekend.
Carpentry and Power Tools - You might not need all of these items, but here are some common tools needed to assemble a cabin kit: ladders, hammers, tape measure, high speed and electric drill, wire cutter, pipe clamps, caulk gun, drill bit, screw gun and utility knives, among others.
What Is the Best Quality Lumber for a Cabin Kit?
In general, the type of wood you’re using will vary depending on your location, and not every kit maker will give you the option to choose. However, in the United States, the most common types of timber used are: Pine, Spruce, White Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Cypress. Cedar is a popular choice for its high-quality, stability, aesthetic, insulation, and energy efficiency. Since it grows slowly it costs more than a fast-growing species like Pine, which costs less and is equally as durable, beautiful, and makes for a good structural insulating panel in a log cabin home.
Consider the following when choosing high-quality wood:
- Lumber that is air or kiln dried
- High R-Value (insulating and energy-efficient)
- Durable enough that it won’t settle or shrink too much
- Decay resistant
- Good aesthetic/appearance
DIY vs. Outside Help for Cabin Kits
Installing a cabin kit requires basic building knowledge, skills, and the physical ability to put it all together. What’s easy for one person could be complicated for another, not to mention proximity to the building site. If your cabin kit is a three hour drive and needs a crew of 3-4 people with decent skill level and expertise, that might warrant some outside help. If it’s above your skill level, hire a general contractor to assist you with things like running wiring or putting up drywall or choosing log siding. You may also need to hire pros for heating, cooling, and site prep.
Adding Electricity and Plumbing to Your Cabin
If you are connecting to utilities, decide on which fixtures you want in your cabin, their measurements, how many, and where they will be installed. This will help you map out an electrical and plumbing plan that is up to code and hire a local plumber and electrician to do the work.
Going Off-Grid or On-Grid?
The land you build your cabin kit on is as much of a personal decision as is connecting to utilities or going off-grid. It also plays a big role in how you power your cabin, manage septic waste, and where you get your water. Discussing the finer points of this topic could warrant an entire article of its own, but it boils down to those three factors: water, power, and septic.
If you’re going off-grid, make sure you have easy access to a nearby water source that is safe enough to use for drinking, cooking, and cleaning, like a well or spring. Alternatively, you’ll have to pay for and connect to local water supply.
Second, are you using renewable energy, like solar panels or rainwater catchment, or keeping things totally unplugged? Solar panels are a popular option that need enough sunlight, proper roofing, installation, plus a steep cost upfront, though will likely be worth the investment.
If size, in which case, you’ll need to look into what utility companies are available nearby.
An off-grid solution for managing septic waste is a privy, in which case, doesn’t cost much but requires additional construction and minimal maintenance—and willing users. Or, purchasing a composting toilet that fits with your kit. If you’re staying on-grid, there’s the option to install plumbing or install a septic tank.
Log Cabin Care and Maintenance
Once you have built your perfect cabin, you will need to maintain it. Log cabins need a little more TLC than regular homes. That is because moisture, extreme temperatures, sun exposure, microorganisms, and insects can all affect your cabin's integrity if you do not keep it maintained.
Keeping a cabin maintenance checklist on hand will help you track the maintenance that needs to be done on your log cabin—or any type of vacation home.
Checking with your log cabin maker for advice on maintenance is a good first step. That said, the following are a few things to consider when creating a log home maintenance checklist:
- Inspect your log cabin annually. This is the most crucial step in log cabin maintenance. Inspecting your home's exterior and interior will help you recognize areas that need attention before they become a problem
- Regularly wash the exterior of your log cabin with a gentle soap
- Get rid of any stains, mold, or mildew as soon as you notice it
- Check the chinking on your cabin regularly and add or repair as needed
- Seal and maintain any upward-facing checks
- Apply a wood stain or topcoat only when needed. In many cases, but not all, this needs to be done annually. You may need to do it more or less frequently than that, depending on the existing layer of topcoat or wood stain condition
- Ensure there is sufficient drainage around the cabin
- Stay on top of pest control before you see signs. Seal any cracks or openings where bugs or insects can enter. Keep food in sealed containers and remove the garbage from your home often. You may even need to fumigate your log home from time to time.
If the Kit Fits...
A cabin kit strikes the right balance between aesthetic and adventure by being a cost-effective option that offers convenience with some good old-fashioned hard work. We love a cabin kit for a myriad of reasons, with modern design, simplicity, and sustainability at the forefront, but at its core, a cabin offers an easy way to connect back to nature. If you’re still looking for more outdoor and architectural inspiration, we’ve got plenty of that for you to scroll through.
- 9 Affordable A-Frame House Kits Available Worldwide
- Prefab Cabin Company Bivvi Introduces First Portable A-Frame Cabin
- Japanese Retailer MUJI Introduces Minimalist Prefab Country Home
- Ecokit Introduces Modern Prefab Cabin Kits Starting at $45k
- The 10 Most Unique Joshua Tree Airbnbs for Nature Lovers
- Sleep Among the Old Growth at the Klickitat Treehouse in Washington State
- The Scottish 'Bothy' Gets a Modern Make-Over at Inverlonan
- This 191-Square-Foot Micro Cabin Is a Dream Island Escape