Introduction: How to Build a 12x20 Cabin on a Budget

Picture of How to Build a 12x20 Cabin on a Budget

Building a cabin yourself is much more economical than buying a prefab storage shed. The cost of materials for this build, including doors and windows, was around $2,200, which was about the same price as the install would have been on one of this large size if I’d purchased it from a hardware store. I know this for a fact because six years ago I bought a 12x16 shed from a well-known company close to where I live and it cost $2,000 for them to build it and drop it off. Today that same building would cost $4,200. With such a big price increase I decided that if I wanted to add a cabin to my property I had to build it myself.

If you decide to do the same, remember to check with your local authorities to make sure you don’t need a permit. It’s not likely that it’s required for a building of this size, but you never know.

If you would like to see the finished inside of the cabin please click here:

If you would like to see the matching modern outhouse please check this out:

Step 1: Floor Illustration

Picture of Floor Illustration

Here is the 12x20 floor plan showing where the 4x4s and the floor joists would be located.

Step 2: Drilling and Planting the Posts

Picture of Drilling and Planting the Posts

1st picture: shows my ford tractor and my neighbors post hole digger he let me borrow.

2nd picture: shows the posts planted and the bottom 2x10 stringers.

3rd & 4th pictures: show the upper 2x10x12 and the 2x10x16 upper stringers being nailed in at 7 feet 8 inches.

Step 3: Setting the Center Rafter Board

Picture of Setting the Center Rafter Board

This picture shows the center rafter board. I measured over 6 feet to the center. The roof is going to be a 5/12 pitch roof so the rafter board had to be 30 inches to the top of the board.

Step 4: Making the Angles for the Top and Bottom of the Rafters

Picture of Making the Angles for the Top and Bottom of the Rafters

1st picture: shows using a quick square. Put the pivot point at the top of the board and turn the square until the 5 on the * COMMON TOP CUT* line graph lines up with the outside of the board. Then draw the line to make the angle.

2nd picture: Once you cut your first angle then you have to measure from the tip of your cut down the length of the rafter to get your measurement for the seat cut. Once you have that measurement then you put the pivot point on that mark and turn the square until you get your 5/12 angle again. Then measure up that angle 2 1/2 inches and draw that line.

3rd picture: shows taking the edge of the square and lining it up with the 2 1/2 in line and turn the square until the tip is lined up with the edge of the board. Then draw that line.

4th picture: shows the angle seat that I just drew cut out.

Step 5: Setting the Rafters

Picture of Setting the Rafters

1st picture: shows the rafters being set next.

2nd picture: shows the rafters on and the starting of the purlins being put on the top of the rafters for roof support. This is what the metal roofing is screwed to.

3rd picture: shows the tails all cut to 9 inches long and shows the steel roofing over hanging the roof by 2 inches to support the facia boards.

4th and 5th pictures: show the roofing installed.

Step 6: Adding on a 4 Foot Porch

Picture of Adding on a 4 Foot Porch

Here is where it started to get complicated for me. I was looking for a 12x16 cabin, but once i looked at it I decided I wanted the whole 12x16 for floor space so i added a 4 foot porch to the 12x16 to make it a 12x20 total building instead of a 12x12 inside living space.

Step 7: Side Wall and Purlin Illustration

Picture of Side Wall and Purlin Illustration

Step 8: Lag Bolting the Outer Joist to the 4x4 Poles

Picture of Lag Bolting the Outer Joist to the 4x4 Poles

I had to screw (36) 3x3/8 inch lag bolts to all the outer joists into the 4x4s for stability.

Step 9: Hurricane Studs

Picture of Hurricane Studs

1st picture: shows the (20) 13 inch hurricane studs with the 5/12 pitch angle cuts.

2nd picture: shows them installed.

Step 10: Floor Joists and Insulation and Floor

Picture of Floor Joists and Insulation and Floor

1st & 2nd pictures: show the (14) 2x10x12 floor joist installed

3rd & 4th pictures: show the 1x2 furring strips nailed to the inside of the floor joist 1 inch below the top of all the joists.

5th picture: shows the 1 inch insulation board between each joist before gluing and nailing the floor to the joist.

6th picture: shows my Dad lending a hand nailing down the floor.

Step 11: Rough Sawn Lumber for 8 Inch Board and Batten Siding

Picture of Rough Sawn Lumber for 8 Inch Board and Batten Siding

1st - 3rd pictures: show my dad cutting the siding boards to 8 foot long.

4th - 6th pictures: show the boards up on the wall and the soffit and the facia boards being put on.

Step 12: Studding in the Porch Ceiling

Picture of Studding in the Porch Ceiling

This picture shows the studding in for the porch ceiling, 16 inch centers and 4 foot long studs.

Step 13: Studding in the Front Wall and Door Frame

Picture of Studding in the Front Wall and Door Frame

Studding in the front wall and front door frame, it was a hot day!! Here's my dooraggin' Dad! Just had to take a picture of this! He-he-he...

2nd picture: my friend Josh came over for a day to lend a hand on the mitre saw.

Step 14: Gable Ends

Picture of Gable Ends

Here are the gable ends finished with the batten strips attached. All that's left for them are the two vents.

Step 15: Finished Cabin Structure

Picture of Finished Cabin Structure


trigger1982 (author)2017-10-31

Is there a materials list for this in the download?

Wind2 (author)2017-10-24

Idea is sound the construction on the other hand isn't . I just skimmed the pictures and i can tell you if it needed to be inspected it violates the national uniform building code in the united states . Most places have it set so you can build up to 256 sqft with no permit as long as it isn't taller than 8 feet , not within 15 feet of a separate structure and within the setback limits . The problem with the construction is the the bracing on the top and sides are attached incorrectly , you should have notched the wood so the load placed on them would transfer to the 4x4 post. As you have built them you are dependant on the sheer streanght of nails and lag bolts for structural support wich defeats the purpose of having 4x4 post as it weekens the whole structure .

megnwayn (author)2012-09-05

Don't try building this in New Zealand! It does not comply with the Building Code and you also risk a substantial fine if it is constructed without a Building Consent.

MassSpec Man (author)megnwayn2017-07-14

No one gets caught in the USA for code violations. Never heard of it. We have sanctuary cities and states that are refuge for those with felonies to live without any penalty. Again, we have national codes AND local codes. For construction and for electrical. Whether people get permits depends on their situation. No one gets fined for code violations. Get a permit and they increase your property value and your taxes increase. With no penalty why would anyone call for a permit. There was a time about one generation ago when everyone complied with the laws. Now no one does.

serpi001 (author)MassSpec Man2017-10-23

hi massspec ! i have 40 acres in northern az! it is a betty remote place! and i soon plan on building a 16'x24' cabin (little house), do you think i will not be in trouble for building without a permit?

rendiggy (author)MassSpec Man2017-08-12

While you do not necessarily face legal repercussions for failing to get permits, you can have problems in resale and insurance. On resale, new buyers are encouraged by their realtors to check all permits for work and if there are no permits they will often require some sort of correction - either pull a retroactive and have the work inspected or they may push for all the work redone. Sometimes you just lose out on your asking price. But my father-in-law is an inspector and I get the impression from him that the building codes are more strictly enforced on the commercial side. It also comes back to your neighbors a lot of times, as they would be the ones to report work on your property. If you have nice neighbors, or neighbors who mind their own business, you may never have anyone bug you. And if you have an HOA, you can just forget it... they won't let you do anything on your own!

MassSpec Man (author)rendiggy2017-08-22

You seem very nice and I just bet you are in a different part of the country. Here it is very progressive and quickly changing with disrespect and continual breaking of laws. You see no one stop for a red light or stop sign any more. Local governments are running themselves out of money being unconservative, so there is less patrolling and protection of citizens. A policemans job is getting harder and there are fewer of them. I was asked to be a policeman... they now can't get enough interested young people. They would take an old person like myself. If government officials can break the law for the past eight years and get away with it...well? The city council made us a sanctuary city. They now open meetings with a prayer from an imom. A couple days after we became a sanctuary city, two illegal immigrants raped a 14 year old girl in the local high school bathroom. Do you think people care about getting permits in this city? We are supposed to register all of our rescue cats. Some government official decided we need to start taxing our pets. No one does it.

MassSpec Man (author)rendiggy2017-08-22

The work that we do is so awesome that people fight over the houses in which we have worked. No one has ever asked to check for permits. Whether we get a permit is up to the homeowner. I prefer that they comply with the law but most people here do not. For example, you can not get a permit to finish a downstairs in most all houses that have unfinished basements in our city because the ceiling height is too short by about one inch. NO ONE tries to get a permit because they know they can't. In a basement that we have finished we have many tricks to make the ceiling as high as possible. You would never know or even think about ceiling height in one of the basements that we have done because all the work is planned out and done so well. Yes, the homeowner is the one stuck if permits are asked to be checked but then another buyer in our area would be fighting with him to buy the house anyway. They are all the best homes on the inside of the entire neighborhood. Most every home I see that we have not done is a mess inside. YOU MAKE A GREAT POINT ABOUT INSURANCE. WILL YOUR INSURANCE CHECK FOR PERMITS? AND WILL YOU HAVE ALL THIS EXTRA $100K OF WORK COVERED IF YOU HAVE A FIRE? For us we told our insurance that the work was mostly done by the owners before us. They were the ones who did not get the permits, not us. In my experience insurance companies have their own people who check things out in a very rough fashion. How many rooms are finished? Do we have a fire escape from the bedroom downstairs? And yes, we installed a casement window that passes code for fire escape. It's determined by the height of the casement window from the floor. They didn't check permits as the people who manage the permits are incompetent. Government. They came out to measure a deck we built and didn't even know how to measure it. They put a tape measure across it diagonally, two high school girls who got jobs because of quotas and they could barely read and knew NOTHING about construction. This is who the local permit and licensing office sent out... to raise our taxes. Just because we built a deck. It increased our escrow!

coolbeansbaby68 (author)megnwayn2012-09-27

What are your building codes ? Why doesnt this work

megnwayn (author)coolbeansbaby682012-09-28


Building in New Zealand is governed by the Building Code and by NZS 3604:2011 (Timber-framed building standard.)

This instructable infringes the NZ standard in so many ways that it would not pass initial scrutiny by a Local Authority if a Building Consent application was to be lodged.

A few points -

1) The joists are too close to the ground, are attached to the boundary "bearer" with nails in shear and have no approved metal hangers.
2) Foundations can be either a concrete slab with footings and steel reinforcing to suit the site or piles (set in concrete) which support bearers which in turn support the joists. A "pole" building such as this does not comply.
3) Wall framing must be by way of studs (size and spacing to NZS 3604) - a building of this sizs would need guaged 100mm x 50mm studs. Walings fixed to posts to support cladding is not acceptable for a habitable building. The entire floor, walls,roof and cladding on this instructable are supported by coach screws in shear.
4) The rafters are not connected be either ceiling joists or collar ties to prevent the walls being forced apart under live roof loads.
5) There are no moisture barriers in floor, walls or roof.
6) There appears to be no head flashings to the joinery.
7) Bracing, under the code, is inadequate for wind and earthquake.

I do not suggest that the building causes danger to its occupants - just that the NZ viewer was thinking of building it in their yard and by doing so would cause much trouble for themselves.

coolbeansbaby68 (author)megnwayn2012-10-01

Sounds like a head ache for you guys

megnwayn (author)coolbeansbaby682012-10-01

No - not really. It just means that tried and tested building methods are used -, which perform well in our local conditions. In addition a structure which requires a Building Consent can only be built by a Licensed Building Practitioner (tradesman carpenter).

coolbeansbaby68 (author)megnwayn2012-10-02

Yikes you mean you cant build it yourself?

"the rafters are neither connected by ceiling joists or collar ties." just to start. This is not the bureaucracy part. These are the physics of building and engineering so it doesn't fall apart. If you wanted to design housing then you should have been an engineer. Or use an engineer's plans. Or learn about building construction. You have negated needed construction that is glaring to even an amateur builder.

megnwayn (author)coolbeansbaby682012-10-02

That's correct - you can't build yourself. You can assist a Licensed Building Practitioner who oversees your work and who must sign off all the works before a Code of Compliance Certificate is issued at job completion by the Local Authority which issued the Building Consent

The idea is to protect subsequent building owners by having property records show that the building was constructed to the Building Code by proper use of the Standard..

MassSpec Man (author)megnwayn2017-07-14

The homeowner can build if he passes tests to get certified and also if his drawings, audit of initial construction and audit of finished construction all pass by the visiting local permits engineer. Or not get a permit which 90% of Americans prefer. And yet they vote for MORE government, except the most recent election.

MassSpec Man (author)megnwayn2017-07-14

Ours is exactly the same if you go to the local government for a permit. It is evident he did not go to get a permit as they would have rejected his drawings. YES, drawings are required in the USA. It's not a swingset. You need drawings for any structure, deck, etc. that involves human beings. He knows nothing and his design is glaring that he does not know.

james.langi (author)megnwayn2014-09-14

Not entirely correct. The same building code states that if the floor area is less than 10 square metres, has no sanitary features (shower, toilet, sink) and built the same distance from the boundary as the building is high, then an unlicensed home owner can construct their own building. As megnwayn has stated, the building has to conform to NZ building standards, and if you want to add electricity and water, then you'll need licensed practioners.

The building in this constructable has a floor area of about 22.5 sq metres so you would need a builder to oversee and sign off on the construction.

karlyle.hemming (author)megnwayn2014-09-12

Well I am not a licensed building practitioner here the USA, But I could build this as good or better than a Licensed Practitioner

coolbeansbaby68 (author)megnwayn2012-10-03

Jeeez That kinda bad for the consumer trying to same money

MassSpec Man (author)megnwayn2017-07-14

This is also true here in the USA. People here just don't know it. If I went to get a permit to build a structure it has first to be 10 feet from any property line. Any electrical or building has to be done by a licensed pro who has passed tests. The people here just do not know the law because there is no one to enforce it. And no one would ever go to get permits because it increases the value of your property and so the local governments increase your taxes. Everyone avoids the permit part. There are no enforcement of laws here any longer. No one gets fined or caught. When selling a home a home inspector never asks for any documentation, their job is just to assess the property and look for safety concerns. They just put the safety concerns on a report for the buyer or for equity concerns, loans. In the USA you are responsible for protecting yourself. You have to be an everything to protect yourself from chemicals, fraud, etc. We all have to learn before we act or we face serious consequences. No one looks out for anyone else here.

andy.engel (author)megnwayn2015-01-16

I'm sure glad I don't live there!

spark master (author)megnwayn2014-07-18

I did enough construction in NYC to understand the "why" of building codes, but if I call it a shed does it still need to pass code?

Additionally what if my house /structure was built before codes existed.

In the US building codes are up to the state, although there is a national electric code, a very wimpy set of regulations, I don't know if there is a plumbing or general building code.

One thing is certain, if there is a code and you do not follow it to the letter and it is destroyed by anything, or someone trips and falls, your insurance company WILL take 3 steps back from you in court. If you have a mortgage and the bank finds out they can make you either remove it or get it passed the zoning/building departments of who ever is in loco-parentus of your area.

Where I am if you build a shed over a certain size you need a permit, to build and pay for all the inspections. A premade MUST comply with the code and will be inspected asd well....And then there are the taxes. Under a certain size (pitifully small), no tax over that size size you will pay for outdoor, non livable structure rate.

Nice job though, looks like a KOA cabin. I enjoyed it, but would like a close up of the hurricane reinforcement.

I would add 1 thing to it Solar electric and water panels, if you are in the right part of the US. And you need NOT put them on the roof, you could build an awning for picnicing. I have seen an entire buildings worth of solar panels set on a roof on Long Island about 10 feet high and length of the property. In a storm they sustain no damage. Underneath you can use for parties. Snow can be squeegied off the panels or they can be covered in case of storms.

oops I saw the studs in place I would love a picture pulled back , but it is built! and a lovely build it was!

highnote606. (author)megnwayn2015-02-21

I guess NZ is another place I would never live. Who wants more bureacracy?

People in the USA are voting for more bureaucracy. The current president is undoing what damage was done. Why do people here vote for more taxes and more federal government in our lives?

wishes (author)megnwayn2015-07-30

Technically you could build it in NZ if it was less than 10sqm and not connected to the ground (classed as mobile building). However in saying that, it looks like it would not last well due to the way its built (see reasons below in NZ building code).

Better to keep the wood well away from the ground, and do the roof right so it doesn't push the walls apart.

This would also not pass building codes in Canada and most other countries with decent building regs :)

MikeRathke (author)2017-07-30

Wow! Very cool! I'm gonna bookmark this for future reference. Thanks for sharing!

aebe (author)2017-07-15

A source for plans and other goodies is the US Forest Service , and other Dept of Agriculture agencies .

Bobammax (author)2017-07-09

Untreated lumber, termites will destroy, it within a few years. Floor and Posts need to be treated

Mark 42 (author)Bobammax2017-07-10

It should be on concrete piers too. You can get pre-made ones at the hardware store with brackets for floor beams already in them.

MassSpec Man (author)Mark 422017-07-14

If you do not mix concrete for piers then they are not piers. The holes should be approximately 36" deep and large at the bottom (read to see why). First pour in about a 6 inch high "disc," this is a base at the bottom and let it harden (wet cement mix). After that dries put the post on top of it and surround with either wet concrete or dry concrete, fence builders mix with dirt but this is not a fence. The idea is to make large surfaced feet at the bottom, like the moon lander. Large surface feet at the bottom made of concrete BELOW THE FROST LINE (I deepen the hole 12" more than code for my area). The best builders make the hole for the pier larger diameter as they dig down. DO NOT EVER PUT LOOSE DIRT BACK IN BEFORE ADDING CONCRETE. YOU WANT SOLID GROUND AROUND AND BELOW THE CONCRETE PIER. You can add large blue stone or what is called stone dust, which is not dust it just has not been run through a size screen. It is also called "base." If you use base then you need to pack it in with a heavy compacting tool.

You should be using pressure treated 6 x 6 posts. 4 x 4's twist and bow. I can see in your pic that the front right post of your "stoop" is bowing.

Lastly, if you use pure wet concrete in hard undisturbed ground then at the top of the concrete pier... slope the concrete downward as you go away from the post to keep water from puddling at the top of the concrete in contact with the wood post. Do this whether the top of the concrete is above or below ground.

and no nothing is sagging . All the electric is redone properly now ill post some pics at another time

And pressure treated wood is not all the same. It needs to be rated for ground and or water contact. In some areas, like the beach, a post is below the water line.

MassSpec Man (author)Mark 422017-07-14

Mark 42 is correct. Clarify: he means stainless steel, galvanized or other that has a rebar like bottom to imbed in the concrete pier and the top has a strong "L" shape with holes to use lag screws or bolts to fasten the weight support beams. They can hold any size, for example a 2 x 8 or double (called "sistered") 2 x 8's, a 6 x 6.... You get the idea, the PT wood rests on the bottom flat metal and is bolted to the one side, thus the upper metal looks like an "L" from the side. THEY ALSO SELL ADJUSTABLE PIER WOOD SUPPORTS! How cool! Use a "hose level" and adjust them all exactly the same height relative to gravity being orthogonal. You can adjust them after the piers settle to re-level your barn or shed perfectly. Check the oil in all your engines in your barn because you know it is perfectly level if you use a hose level. Check into a hose level, it is wonderful, used by ancient Egyptians. No kidding. It is simple and works exactly perfect and reliable. Water in a clear hose will have the surface of the water at exactly the same height on both ends. Buy long flex clear tubing OR hard clear plastic cylinders that screw on both ends of a garden hose. Fill the hose with water till it is reasonably close to the ends. The shape of hose in between does not matter. Excess hose does not matter. Just make sure there is no air and all water between the ends of the hose.

actually the holes are drilled in the ground then pour concrete in the holes let dry put your pressure treated 4x4 in the ground and cover it up. thats all you do !! holes have to be no less that 42 inches deep to be below the frost line .

MassSpec Man (author)Bobammax2017-07-14

In our area if untreated wood touches the ground at all then the termites will make tunnels up to and in the wood. In New Orleans asian termites were brought over and they are worse than anywhere. The wood for posts and floor framing should be Pressure Treated and rated for touching ground.

djkulp (author)2015-11-26

Without any vertical support for the ridge beam ... you put 1 foot of snow on that roof ... and you will be wearing that roof.

coolbeansbaby68 (author)djkulp2015-11-27

well i live in upstate ny 6 foot and no problems yet been 6 years now.andthere is truss supports tied into the ceiling ..

Your trusses are just sitting on top of the walls. They are just resting on the walls like a brick on a beer can. There is no structure to hold the angle of the trusses to each other in place, only the ends and the trusses are up against each other at the top. The roof is not an independent structure at all. It is like two poker card edges touching each other forming a triangle with nothing holding them together. Your shed is a house of cards. There is no support. Why purposely build it this way? Why did you not use PT wood? why only 4x4's?

TonyK45 (author)coolbeansbaby682016-02-10

bit late comment pal. but really like the cabin. I live in the uk and build cabins/sheds/garages here surrounded by building regs supervised by kids fresh out of college don't know shxt except what they get taught. no hands on experience. your lucky to be able to build your own. might look at moving somewhere same

LiaP2 (author)TonyK452016-04-06

Hi Tony, how much wold you say a shed like this would cost to build here in the UK? Just the materials. Thank you :-)

MassSpec Man (author)djkulp2017-07-14

Absolutely Correct "djkulp!" There are no joist spans, also called collar ties. No vertical supports for the rafters of the ridge also called ridge beams. See pic everyone. This or different design is required to meet code. This coolbean design here does not meet code anywhere that I am familiar. Hurricane ties are not meant to replace joist spans. Hurricane ties are to prevent aspirating air of high winds from pulling roof up and off...not support. He needs plywood triangles and/or joist spans. Plywood triangles are at apex and both sides of ceiling joists or collar ties. (see photo for triangles, diagram for collar ties) His roof load capacity is ????? below all specs for this type of structure.

ender_scythe (author)djkulp2015-11-27


TheodorE2 (author)ender_scythe2016-05-08

...or near sand dunes...(Rujberg-Knude Lighthouse Station in Zeeland, Denmark)

TheodorE2 (author)djkulp2016-05-08

Thanks for your hint, but this project is not for the "First day DIYer". Anybody tackling anything of this magnitude will realise what Rules of Static will have to be applied in their area.

MassSpec Man (author)2017-07-14

Why am I just getting this Instructable to my email today? This is 5 years old?

MassSpec Man (author)2017-07-14

Below comment missing photo and drawing. This "shed" is missing roof support structure as shown here:

MassSpec Man (author)2017-07-14

Absolutely Correct "djkulp!" There are no joist spans, also called collar ties. No vertical supports for the rafters of the ridge also called ridge beams. See pic everyone. This or different design is required to meet code. This coolbean design here does not meet code anywhere that I am familiar. Hurricane ties are not meant to replace joist spans. Hurricane ties are to prevent aspirating air of high winds from pulling roof up and off...not support. He needs plywood triangles and/or joist spans. Plywood triangles are at apex and both sides of ceiling joists or collar ties. (see photo for triangles, diagram for collar ties) His roof load capacity is ????? below all specs for this type of structure.

Costarus (author)2014-06-27

Great! I love such things. But I use a slightly different construction technology framework.

About This Instructable




Bio: Just a normal guy trying to make it in life .Good paying job but mindless sometimes .I enjoy making things in my garage to keep ... More »
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