When it comes to rustic architecture, log cabin homes are instantly recognizable by all ages anywhere in the world. From the Adirondacks to the Ozarks, Rockies to the Cascades, the pioneer’s choice for hand hewn home is a distinct architectural style as iconic as the much-loved A-Frame. Though the log cabin archetype has a decidedly rectangular shape and distinct architectural style that sets it apart from its triangular counterpart, the traditional rustic charm remains a common denominator. And much like the A-Frame, Log Cabins exude a sense of escapism, of freedom from the rat race. Because of this, and their ease of build, the classic log cabin has lodged itself firmly in the minds of many North Americans as the very definition of “vacation home.”
From an owner's perspective, it's also a remarkably approachable—and extremely functional—style of cabin. A small log cabin kit (like a Lincoln Logs set come to life) is a great and beginner-friendly way to bring cabin dreams to life. If this DIY approach sounds like the right fit for you, then read on as we dive into the intricate details of small log cabin kits (not lodges, sorry folks), complete with architectural style breakdowns, suggested kits ready to buy and build, and everything else you need to know to build your very own small log cabin.
The Basics of a Small Log Cabin
Log cabin homes come in a variety of styles, to the extent that no two log cabins are exactly alike. By definition, a log cabin is a small home built with logs notched at the ends and stacked horizontally, one atop the other. Trademark design elements of a log cabin include a sloping single-gabled roof and small windows, plus a small interior that often includes a loft. The very definition of cozy.
But what makes log cabins so unique is the variety of log profile styles, which hearken back to the design's old-world roots in Europe and Scandinavia. These structural components can be functional, cosmetic, or both, providing various options to choose from when building a log cabin. Log profiles influence the construction type and style of log home that you’ll end up with so it’s an element worth diving deeper into before purchasing a kit to see which one, if any, you prefer.
The Different Types of Notching Systems:
Dovetail Corners - Log ends are cut and stacked to create a fan-shaped wedge
Interlocking Corners - Logs are cut at all four corners to intersect on the same plane, like Lincoln Logs
Butt and Pass - One log extends out to the corner, while another is cut at the point where they meet perpendicularly
Corner Post - Logs lock into a single vertical post at each corner
Saddle-Notching - A rounded log with a crescent shape cut off at the bottom that allows it to sit on top of the below logs, like a saddle
The various notching methods make log cabins extremely sturdy and even resistant to harsh elements. Stacked logs create a naturally energy-efficient structure that traps heat when it’s cold that can also easily ventilate hot air out when you need to keep it cool (especially when there’s a loft).
How Is a Log Cabin Different from a Timber Frame Home?
While they are both made from lumber, the difference between a log cabin and a timber frame home is that a timber frame utilizes a post-and-beam style that offers more flexibility when designing the structure. Timber frames are popular for folks who want elements like the soaring cathedral ceilings you see in many fancy vacation cabins.
More humble in nature, log cabin homes are crafted with horizontally stacked lumber, so they aren't as customizable and you can't add exterior siding or an interior finish (the logs make up both these elements). But what you do get is a more simple, classic home with primo rustic cabin vibes that'll never go out of style.
What Is a Small Log Cabin Kit?
A cabin kit is a home that has been designed, built, and manufactured at a factory and then delivered to a building site either as a completed turnkey log cabin home or as a set of prefabricated components that the owner will assemble themself.
This type of prefabricated structure makes for a versatile and often cost-effective building process that is an ideal entry point for the beginner builder or cabin-lusting homeowner. To be clear, a log house kit can technically be a prefab home, but not all kits fall under the category of prefab. That’s because prefab is a larger umbrella term that includes modular builds and panelized homes, among others, that don’t all apply to small log cabin kits. One is not necessarily better than the other, and each cabin kit is different depending on the manufacturer; it’s up to you to do the research and find out what is and isn't included in the kit to make sure it’s the right log cabin home for you.
The Benefits of Small Cabin Kits
Aside from getting a ready-made home exactly how you want it, buying a prefab cabin kit automatically eliminates a lot of the hassle and risk that inherently comes with a new build. To start, the home is built offsite with precise measurements in a climate-controlled facility, automatically giving you a professionally made home (with everything from a bathroom to a front porch, plus interior finishings) that’s built to last.
Cabin kit materials are delivered directly to a build site in good condition rather than undergoing the months of start-and-stop delivery that can leave lumber and supplies exposed to the elements and at risk of warping. What's more, such a fine-tuned process helps reduce waste and results in less site disturbance, making it more sustainable and environmentally friendly.
How Much Does a Small Log Cabin Kit Cost?
Not all log cabin kits are created or priced equally—and since the onset of the global pandemic, prices for everything from lumber to glass and even labor have sharply increased. The price tag of a cabin kit can range from a couple of thousand dollars to well over $200,000 for a luxe turnkey kit home. Even though they are intended to be affordable and are typically 10-20% cheaper than new builds, the total cost of building a small log house can quickly add up. So, before you do anything else, set a budget.
From there, you break down the cost of a small log cabin kit into several categories: kit cost, property and site prep, interior and exterior finishes, and utilities, local taxes, or permit fees. Add it all up for the most accurate total cost of your build from start to finish. Even from there, however, the answer to the question of cost is and always will be: it depends.
Even fully-assembled cabins require you to add the finishing touches and, typically, a log cabin kit will most likely only come with log walls, roof, windows, and doors. Clearly, that leaves a lot of gaps to fill, all of which you, the homeowner, are responsible for sourcing and installing. This includes everything from the foundation to the interior and exterior finishes, plumbing, electricity, and more. Don’t simply take the kit cost at face value and assume that this will be the total cost for the log home; do talk to your manufacturer ahead of time to find out what supplies and materials you need to buy to accurately calculate the total cost of any small cabin kits.
Additionally, keep in mind that the timeline of your building process depends on manufacturing and assembly time. For a cabin with a smaller floor plan or even a tiny home, the entire build could take less time, but again: a chat with your manufacturer and your general contractor (if you’re hiring one) will help you answer these questions and plan accordingly.
Tiny Homes as Small Cabins
Cousin to the small cabin is the tiny home, a recent trend in housing where full time residents downsize dramatically to squeeze the functions of a regular home into as efficient a space as possible. In tiny homes, you might see a timber frame home built to contain an area the size of a medium-to-large van; despite its smaller size, a tiny home can fulfil all the needs of a living area, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and more—so long as you’re willing to keep everything within arm’s reach. Many tiny homes make good use of verticality, stashing storage or, often, the bed, up in a loft area.
With these principles of tiny homes in mind, the benefits of a “tiny cabin” should also become clear, especially if that cabin is a prefab log cabin. Many tiny homes are self-constructed by their owners, which, while it allows for a great deal of customization and personality for each one, also means that it can take a long time to finish one of these projects. Additionally, there are a lot of architectural, building, and fabricating skills that are required when you’re constructing a tiny home from scratch.
With a tiny cabin, you get to make decisions about the interior of your living area without having to worry as much about making the exterior and structural choices. Built around a straightforward timber frame, your prefab log cabin could feature all the important parts of a tiny home: a living room with easy access to a bathroom; a small, functional kitchen; an attached loft (perhaps doubling as a bedroom) above the main floor... all in a rustic style that you can enjoy, while knowing that you’re living in a smart, simple way.
What Else to Know Before Buying and Building a Small Log Cabin Kit
Here’s a basic overview of what your checklist should include before delivery day:
Obtain a permit: Get in touch with your local municipality in advance to check on whether or not you need a permit to build. Each jurisdiction varies depending on the size, location, regulations, and codes, but most local governments do require a permit for a cabin that has a floor plan over 150 square feet.
Site prep: Before the delivery of your small log home kit, make sure the building site is prepped by leveling the ground, pouring a concrete foundation or similar cement pylon structure, and checking that the area is easily accessible.
Be ready for delivery: Work closely with your cabin kit manufacturer to determine what's needed for a successful delivery and assembly. Kits are large and heavy, and many manufacturers will require a road that has sufficient access for heavy machinery or a forklift. It’s also essential to ask early on if the company will deliver and assemble the cabin. Some might not offer on-site assistance, so you may have to hire a general contractor and have a professional crew on-site to help unload and assemble the kit. For the ambitious DIY-ers among us, remember that even if it is doable with a small group of capable friends, you may still need skilled and licensed pros to operate heavy machinery for you.
Small log cabin kit plans: Do not forget these. Period. Full stop! Your cabin manufacturer should supply these to you beforehand, but do your due diligence by asking about the assembly instructions and cabin kit plans ahead of time. These will give you the most detailed and salient information on how to construct your cabin.
Tools and supplies: Round up the following materials to get ready for your cabin kit build: tarps or shelter to keep your materials covered from rain or inclement weather, ladders, hammers, tape measure, a high-speed electric drill, wire cutters, pipe clamps, caulk gun, drill bits, screw gun, utility knives. No, this is by no means an exhaustive list. Yes, you should be prepared to hit the hardware store many, many times as you build.
The Best Quality Wood for a Log Cabin Kit
The type of timber for your small log cabin home kit will vary depending on your location and the cabin kit manufacturer. If you’re keen on a certain material, it’s worth talking to the manufacturer, however not every kit offers the option to choose.
In the United States, it’s most common to find timber like spruce, pine, white cedar, douglas fir, and cypress. Cedar is a high-quality and popular choice of timber for small log cabins that's prized for its energy-efficient qualitie, natural resistance to rot and pests, and also its aesthetic. It’s arguably one of the better choices of timber for a small log cabin, but since it’s a slow-growing species, it's also far more costly. Pine is a great option that costs less and is equally as durable and beautiful as cedar.
Look for these factors in high-quality wood:
- Lumber that is air or kiln-dried
- High R-value (a measure of insulation and energy-efficiency)
- Durable enough that it won’t settle or shrink too much
- Good aesthetic/appearance
Generally, it’s not challenging to keep up with log cabin maintenance. The primary tasks involve cleaning the exterior regularly and keeping an eye out for bug infestation, mildew, and mold.
7 Best Small Log Cabin Kits Available for Purchase in North America Right Now