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Prefab Cabins: Everything You Need to Know to Buy Your Own

From what to look for in sizes, materials, and cost to what to expect from assembly and delivery

Prefab Cabins: Everything You Need to Know to Buy Your Own

Author

Katherine Englishman

Katherine is a freelance writer and yoga teacher based in the beautiful state of Maine. She likes cabins, beer, and being outside.

Outdoor lovers, design devotees, and aspiring cabin owners alike can appreciate the versatility and accessibility of a prefab home. Often modern in design, more sustainable than traditional building, better suited for remote sites, and generally just designed in an approach that is very of-the-times, prefabricated homes and cabins are becoming increasingly popular among those who are interested in alternative dwellings. Understandably, it has been raising eyebrows and questions about how to procure one of your own. That’s why you’re here, and what we aim to answer below.

In this comprehensive piece, we cover (almost) everything you need to know about prefab homes and cabins, what they are, how to get one, and most importantly the ins and outs of choosing the best prefab for you.

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Brette Haus Compact 20

What is a Prefab Home?

A prefab home is short for a "prefabricated home," which is both a whole structure or parts of a structure that have been designed and manufactured at a factory and then delivered to a building site. The term “prefabricated” can be used broadly to describe a method of construction and design that also encompasses similar types of prefabrications, such as paneled small cabins and tiny cabins, modular log cabins, or turnkey homes. A prefabricated structure is versatile and often cost-effective that can come in many different shapes, sizes, and styles.

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Backcountry Hut System 02

What Is The Difference Between A Modular and Prefab Home?

A modular home is a type of prefab home because it has been designed and manufactured at a construction facility. However, what differentiates it is the modular shape and design, which functions like one individual component within a larger system. You can think of a modular home in terms of a “module”, which can either stand-alone or be built onto by adding more modules to create a larger structure and expand your floor plan, like the Backcountry Hut’s modular cabins. However, that’s just one type of prefab construction. Within the umbrella of prefabricated homes are four main types of builds that have a lot of crossover:

  • Modular Home - A completed modular build that can be added onto, and arrives to the buildsite with all of the exterior and interior finishings. You can expect a modular home to have roof, doors, windows, plumbing, electricity, etc. it’s available in different styles and aesthetics.
  • Panelized Home - A panelized home will arrive to the build site as individual panels (like walls) and is assembled by the company so you don’t need to hire contractors or DIY, great for tiny house hopefuls. It’s not fully-finished and thus, can be customized and added.
  • Shipping Container Home - Popular for their sleek industrial look with aluminum siding, shipping container homes function much like a modular home, but are more difficult to transform into a residence. They can be a great option for a homeowner who wants a unique place and is willing to hire contractors, architects, and other professionals with the right experience.
  • Pre-Cut Home - A pre-cut home is manufactured in a factory and shipped as a prefab cabin kit to the build site (so, yes, a kit can technically be a prefab home, but not all prefabs are kits, got it?). The main difference is that the homeowner is responsible for assembling the prefab cabin kit themselves or hiring a contractor. Depending on which type of prefab cabin kit you buy, it might not come with all the finishings, e.g. windows, roof, and doors.

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Ecokit Barn Model

What Are the Benefits of Prefab Home?

As with any home build, it all depends on individual wants and needs. However, this option has a lot of perks which for some, might make buying a prefab modular home better than a site-built home. Typically, a prefab home is about 10-20% cheaper than a new construction, depending on the size of the living area and square footage, and takes as little as a few weeks to several months to assemble.

The most obvious benefits of investing in a prefabricated home are in the name itself: it’s built offsite, in a climate-controlled facility, with precise and prefabricated measurements. This inherently removes a lot of the variables that might otherwise occur during new construction or onsite builds, leaving you with a reliable and well-made home, with the flexibility of choosing everything from a tiny home to a hunting cabin or a fully-finished log home kit.

Not only will you know exactly what to expect, but the materials will also arrive in good condition — not warped or negatively impacted by the elements. As a bonus, these modern prefab homes are often more environmentally-friendly because the fine-tuned process is able to eliminate waste of unused building materials. Additionally, there won’t be months of traveling to and from a construction site, less disturbance to the area (except for pouring a concrete foundation), and the engineered building process creates a durable home that will last.

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Bivvi A-Frame

What Materials Are Best for Prefab Cabins?

A modular or prefab home can be an affordable option thanks to the relatively lower cost of building materials. Wood, concrete, or steel for the frame are commonly used to build something as basic as the wall panels or more involved turnkey prefab homes. Not only does it cost less because of the reduced waste, but a factory built home is more energy efficient due to tight seams which improves heating and cooling. Many companies offer eco-friendly options or design these manufactured homes with sustainability in mind, so ask about their priorities as it may vary. They can work well in remote locations and as a sound structure a modern prefab cabin can handle heavy snow loads (looking at you, A-Frame), resist the wear and tear of harsh elements, and be easily transported to a rugged site.

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Modular Dwelling Cabin

Designing Your Own Prefab Cabin

Check with the prefab company to find out if they offer customizable options or home packages. Since many prefab companies rely on streamlined, mass manufacturing to keep output consistent and prices accessible—meaning plans have already been created and the precise measurements down to a science—you may not be able to design the home, but consider buying a cabin design that offers more flexibility. This way, you have options to add on a kitchen, a porch, or solar panels. Panelized or pre-cut kits are also a great choices for personalization, or portable cabins, because they will arrive with just a modern wall system or timber frame of a log cabin that allows you to fill in the blanks.

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Cardinal House by Douglas Cardinal

How to Pick the Right Prefabricated Cabin Manufacturer

Look for a prefab home manufacturer who 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 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 manufacturer before, during, and after you buy. You can also ask other prefab homeowners to recommend builders in the area.

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Casa Montaña by Baragaño Architects

Do Prefab Homes Meet Building Requirements?

Excluding shipping container homes, a prefab home is required to be built in accordance to state and local building codes. For that reason, there buyers have a lot of freedom to assemble their prefab cabin where they want — picture a log cabin in a dreamy remote location — which makes prefab homes even more awesome. Make sure to check in with your local municipality to find out if you need a permit to build your prefab cabin. This varies depending on the size, location, codes and regulations of each jurisdiction, so do that research before delivery day.

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Den A-Frame

Financing and Insuring

A factory built home may qualify for a Home Construction Loan if it meets the lender’s requirements, so you don’t have to pay the total cost upfront. As usual, this depends on the type of prefab construction and location, however, you can work with the prefab company to get all of the right information, such as detailed plans, specifications, home value, and hiring a licensed general contractor to sweeten the deal.

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MADI Flatpack Assembly

Delivery and Assembly

Do the leg work well in advance to make sure the delivery and assembly of your prefab home goes smoothly. Of course, there will be bumps in the road, but you’ve already come this far, so here are several ways to prepare for a successful prefab cabin assembly.

  • Plan Ahead: Communicate with the cain manufacturer ahead of time. At this point, they should have given you a clear idea of what to expect for delivery and assembly. Ask them about delivery, transportation — do they need a wide-enough road for a semi-truck to drive to your site, or heavy machinery like a forklift to assemble the prefab cabin? — are they providing builders or are you in charge of hiring a crew? Is it a DIY kit? Each one varies so talk to the maker first.

  • Prepare the Build Site: It’s crucial to have everything onsite to assemble, transport, and store build materials if necessary. 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. Make sure to settle or level the ground and pour concrete slab foundation big enough for your cabin before it arrives.

  • Building Materials and Supplies: Once again, good communication with your prefab house maker and a solid understanding of what’s required for assembly will allow you to stock up on the best tools and supplies. While the needs of assembly may be unique to your prefab, here are a few items to have ready for construction: carpentry and power tools, tarps and shelter from the elements, detailed plans and instructions for your prefab home, and any heavy machinery.

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Lushna A-Frames at Eastwind Catskills Retreat

Utilities and Other Expenses for Prefab Homes

Before you buy, ask the manufacturer what is and isn’t included in your prefab cabin. While a modular log home might come move-in ready and assembled by a professional construction crew, a panelized prefab cabin could arrive on the scene half-finished and in need of finishing and fixtures, not to mention assembly in the first place. Or maybe it’s a prefab home that comes with that already baked into the total cost. As previously mentioned, others offer more flexibility to customize the home, leaving the remaining expenses up to you, which could be a cost-effective option or an opportunity to go big — choose your own adventure.

No matter how much is included, the unavoidable out-of-pocket expenses of a prefab home are always the cost of land and site survey, foundation, and utilities, such as water hookups, electricity, waste management and cable. Knowing that, you can budget accordingly for your dream home!

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MUJI Plain House

Putting the “Fab” in Prefab

Now that you’re ready and able to go out into the world and discover your modern prefab home, we’ve got plenty of architectural inspiration, design ideas, and prefab dreams to help you reimagine your next dwelling. Check out our favorite prefab companies and creators in the ever-expanding Field Mag archive:

Published 01-28-2021

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