In 2016, I bought a piece of land south of Whitehorse, Yukon. My idea was to build a small cabin on it, as a start. Even though land is quite expensive up here, I anticipated the overall cost of the land + construction to be way more affordable than buying an existing house. Building/living small means lower construction and maintenance costs, and lower energy requirements, some real advantages for an area like the Yukon. In addition to cost limitations, I had some pretty serious timing constraints. As a geologist, I spend my summers working in the field, so my time window for building was about a month and a half, from late August until whenever winter would start… So building small was also a way to build faster.
I had no previous construction experience. The whole process of building my own cabin involved asking many questions to many people, as well as reading lots of books and internet forums. I was helped by several family members and friends, they definitely saved me from spending the first winter in a tent!
For each step of construction described in this Instructable, I provide a brief summary of materials and techniques, and then I develop why I made these choices, and in some case what I could have done differently.
Note that prior to starting construction, I had to obtain the appropriate development and building permits delivered by Yukon Government.
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Step 1: Drawing the Plans
My cabin is a stud-framed building. The footprint area is 480 sqft (20’ x 24’), plus a small loft under the roof slope that is used as a storage space.
Plans were drawn to scale using Corel draw. Not the typical plan design software, but I am used to working with it… The dimensions I chose are based on the dimensions of commonly used building materials, to avoid too many cuts and waste. Also I wanted to keep the footprint under 500 Sqft.
Step 2: Building Pad Preparation
About half a foot of packed gravel (3/4 inch road crush) over an area previous cleared of trees and organics
The lot had an existing access road, part of a powerline, and an old shed mainly inhabited by mice and squirrels. I chose a new building location in a flat area where trees were relatively sparse, in order to limit the amount of tree clearing. There was still a LOT of clearing to do, but this is firewood for upcoming winters! The Whitehorse area is underlain by hundreds of meters of sand and gravel inherited from the last glaciation, which is a pretty solid foundation in itself. I got the organics and roots removed from the building pad, added a layer of road crush (3/4 inch gravel), and packed it.
Step 3: The Foundation
Cribbing foundation, made of stacked pressure treated 6x6 lumber. There is a vertical piece of metal rebar at each corner of a cribb to keep the structure together.
I was quite reluctant to the idea of pouring a concrete slab as a foundation, because this involves a LOT of prior planning. Your plumbing lines for example, should be installed prior to pouring concrete. At the time we started to build, I had no water, and no idea how I would lay out my septic system eventually. So I chose a foundation design that would allow me some flexibility in the future installation of these systems. Cribbing foundations are very common for cabins. They are an easy way to raise your building above ground, and I figured I would need some kind of crawl space to later install a water line and plumbing evacuation pipes. We built 12 cribbs total, each is 30” high (slightly shorter than the original plans). each cribb is made of stacked 6x6 PWF. We drilled holes in each corner and inserted a piece of metal rebar for increased stability. The most challenging part was to level all the cribbs with each other, the use of a laser level is highly recommended for this step!
Step 4: The Floor
2x10 joists interlayered with R32 insulation (Roxul batts), covered with glued tongue groved plywood sheets (the glue acts as a vapor barrier). Joist spacing is 16”.
Floor framing involved the construction of a central beam (see pictures). The beam is made of three 2x10 lumber boards glued and screwed together. 2x10 joists are attached to the central beam and side beams using joist hangers. Joist spacing is 16”. The floor frame is laid over an “anti-rodent mesh” that covers the whole foundation footprint. Bats of Roxul insulation were laid out in the space between joists in order to achieve R32 insulation. My building inspector suggested that I didn’t need to use a vapor barrier plastic between my floor frame and my subfloor. Instead, it appears that tongue-groved plywood glued along the joints and glued to the joists acts similarly to a vapor barrier.
Once the plywood was installed, we painted it using some deck paint for some extra rain protection. You can get cheap mistint paint from the local store, and the color didn’t really matter as it would only be a temporary living surface.
The finished floor was installed several months later as the painted plywood was a perfectly suitable living surface (until I got tired of it). I chose engineered hardwood floor, very easy to install. The finished look is much cleaner and brighter than the plywood subfloor!
The loft floor is built on a similar model: it is framed with 2x8 joists. Joists are supported by joist hangers to a central glued beam. Framed floor rests on top of the walls top plates. The central beam is supported by four 6x6 vertical timber posts. The floor joists are covered with tongue groved plywood sheets. There is no finished floor in the loft.
Step 5: The Walls
2x8 studs interlayered with R28 insulation. Stud spacing is 24”. Vapor barrier and ½ inch drywall on the inside. Outside, the house is covered with OSB plywood, Typar house wrap sealed with tape. 1x4 horizontal strapping support tin siding. Siding on the gables is cedar planks.
The framing, insulation, vapor barrier and drywall (or whatever finished surface you chose for your inside) were required for me to live in the house. Electric wiring and plumbing rough-in need to be done right after the insulation and vapor barrier are installed. I kept my plumber and electrician up to date of my progress, to make sure they would be available when the walls were ready for them. For finished walls, I used ½ inch drywall, painted. I made simple window trims using 1x4 planks, sanded and treated with a natural wood oil. For windows, I chose 3 pane argon filled, to maximize my insulation.
Outside, once the house is wrapped with Typar and taped, it is actually quite resistant to weather and it stayed like that for a few months, until the weather was warm enough to handle tin sheets. For outdoor siding, I chose tin for durability, and because I love the colourful style of northern houses covered in tin. Installing the tin is relatively easy, but extra hands are quite necessary. Cuts around windows and outdoor plug outlets are a bit painful, finding the right snip or saw blade makes the job easier! I used cedar planks for siding on the gables, as this wood is quite durable and weather resistant.
Step 6: The Roof
Engineered trusses form a vaulted ceiling. Spacing between trusses is 24”, all trusses are braced for stability. Insulation is up to R60, and vapor barrier is covered with a finished surface of pine boards. Outside, the roof is covered with tin sheets screwed to horizontal strapping covered with asphalt sheet.
I really wanted to have a loft space I could use and stand in. So that involved building a vaulted ceiling roof rather than using regular trusses or simple rafters. I ordered engineered trusses, with the following characteristics: height to peak is 10’4”, and the roof slope is 10/12. So the roof slope is very steep, and that means I am not climbing on it unless I have a rope and a harness. But that also means I can stand in my loft. In terms of timing, the trusses were installed and then the tin roof was done so that we could keep working in a dry space (September that year was particularly humid…). So the whole insulation/vapor barrier business had to be done afterwards. Sure we were protected from rain, but I can still feel the itch from the insulation microfibers that fell on us… This is definitely one part of this whole construction adventure that was the least enjoyable!
Step 7: Heating and Ventilation
Heating: Blaze King Chinook 20 woodstove, backup electric baseboards
Ventilation: Lunos e2
During winter months, I heat with a woodstove. I chose a Blaze King Chinook 20, one of the smallest type of stove available. The performance of this stove is absolutely amazing, and I would say that -20 is the temperature that it performs the best. At such temperatures, I am able to run 12-15 hours long cycles on a single load of wood. That means I load the stove only twice a day, before work and before bed. At -30 and below, things get a bit more challenging but I still get up to 7-8 hours out of a single load. I would say that the real trick is when temperatures are warmer than -10, then I have to open the windows a bit to not turn the cabin into a sauna. In the spring and fall, when temperatures are still on the cool side, I use electric heat only. I have 2 large baseboard heaters in the main living space, and a small one in the bathroom.
Ventilation is achieved with two Lunos e2 devices, facing each other on the west and east walls. These are a very energy-efficient and silent way to induce ventilation for a small space. The units work really well until temperatures get really cold. Below -20, I have observed ice building up on the protection cover inside, and the units getting quite noisy, probably due to ice buildup inside.
Step 8: Indoor Finishing: Storage
These images illustrate some of the custom built design I created for organizing my space
Step 9: Outdoor Extensions - the Deck
- Deck foundation: packed 3/4" gravel (road mix), concrete post base and PWF 4x4 posts (length adjusted to match the natural ground slope)
- Deck framing: Joists/Rim boards 2x8 PWF, Joist Connectors H1 ties and H2.5A ties
- Decking and stair tread: 2x6 brown treated lumber
- Stair Framing: 2x12 brown treated lumber
Step 10: Outdoor Extensions - the Woodshed
- Foundation - 4x4 PWF skids over packed, leveled gravel - footprint 8 x 16ft
- Floor framing - 2x4x 8' joists
, 24’’oc(2 outside ones PWF, regular on the inside), 2x4x 16' PWF front beams
- Decking - 1x6x8’ lumber with about 1 inch spacing between each piece
- 4x4x8’ post PWF anchored to floor joist
- 1x6x8' lumber, horizontal, screwed to posts (act as bracing), and spaced out to allow ventilation
- 2x6x12’ support beams anchored to posts
- 2x4 x 10' rafters; 24’’oc
- Undulated tin roof, screwed into rafters
- There is a slope of 1ft over 8 ft on the roof
The woodshed is painted using deck paint for protection
First Prize in the
Tiny Home Contest