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Buy vs. Build: Should You Purchase a Prefab Cabin or Build On Site?

The age old question: Buy or build?


There are a large number of factors to consider when looking at purchasing a cabin. We're going to do our best to help guide you through this process. Today, we'll cover cost, timelines, customization and sustainability in an effort to help you make an informed and confident choice in your cabin journey!



Cost:

When comparing the cost of purchasing a prefab cabin versus building one on-site, it's important to consider several factors:


1. Initial Cost: Prefab cabins often have a fixed cost that includes materials and labor for manufacturing, transportation, and assembly. You can see the entry level prices of our cabins here. On the other hand, building a cabin on-site requires purchasing materials and hiring labor separately, which can vary based on location and market conditions.


2. Site Preparation: Building a cabin on-site may require additional site preparation such as clearing land, leveling, and laying foundations, which can add to the overall cost. Prefab cabins often have simpler foundation requirements, depending on the specific design. At a bare minimum, you will need a flat piece of land. Of you are going to be hooking up to utilities, more work may be required. Offsite can help you make sure your land is ready to receive your cabin upon delivery!


3. Customization: While we offer custom packages and can modify any model for you, there are limitations compared to building on-site, which allows for more flexibility in design and layout. Customization options can affect the overall cost of both options. You can check out our custom design package here!


4. Hidden Costs: It's important to consider potential hidden costs such as permits, utilities (electricity, water, sewage), landscaping, and finishing touches (interior decoration, furniture) for both prefab and on-site construction.


Overall, while prefab cabins may have a higher upfront cost, they often offer savings in terms of construction time, labor, and potential for cost overruns compared to building on-site. However, the specific cost comparison will depend on various factors such as location, design preferences, and individual project requirements. Once you have your site picked out, we recommend first purchasing plans, and then receiving quotes from local contractors and Offsite. If you purchase your cabin from us; we will deduct the cost of the plans from your purchase.


Timelines:

Prefab cabins are typically faster to construct since they are built off-site in a controlled environment and then assembled on-site. While every cabin is different, we typically say to expect that once a deposit is put down, you can expect your custom cabin to ship in under 3 months. The custom design process may take another 2-4 weeks depending on complexity.


Building a cabin on-site can take longer due to weather delays, site preparation, and coordination of multiple trades, but it could also go up in a matter of weeks if you already have everything in place.


Depending on your site, the site preparation may require significant work. One benefit of prefab is that you can prepare the site while the cabin is being built.


Site Preparation:

Depending on where you're planning to put your cabin, prefab units, especially those built on skids, may be difficult to place on site. Remember, you'll need to get either a trailer towed into place, or a crane and flatbed truck on location. Every site is unique, but here's some things to think through.

  • Is the road wide enough and passable by a trailer or semi-truck?

  • Are you able to provide a level platform with appropriate cover, or pilings for placement?

  • Can you run utilities, drill a well, and/or install septic if those are requirements?

  • Is there adequate solar exposure if you're hoping to use solar panels?



Customization:

The level of customization you need will play a large factor in whether or not you go with a prefab cabin. It's worth diving into some of the limitations of prefab so you can make an informed decision before purchasing.


Footprint:

Prefab cabins have limitations on their size. First, they have a max width of 14'. This is because they need to be transported, and the max width for a wide load transport permit is 14'. Next the max height is typically 13'-6" for similar reasons. If you're looking for simplicity, the max width is 8'-6" to transport without a wide load permit. Trailer lengths typically max out at 30'. While this sounds small, it's the standard width and length of our CBN001 and it is plenty of room for short term use!


Finishes:

While we can technically build using any finishes, there are a few things to consider when building prefab due to transport. First, drywall is typically a bad idea. Aside from being arguably the worst building material ever invented (it's terrible for the environment, terrible at insulating, terrible with moisture, and breaks if you look at it) it's also not suited for transport. You'll have cracks everywhere, so we don't use it. In general, the more seams, the better, which is what makes wood paneling such a great choice.


Tiling is possible, but grout sizing must be tight and we often recommend touch up's after delivery.


Finally, weight is a consideration, and therefore things like concrete floors, steel beams, large marble slabs, etc. are not typically advised.


Of course, it's usually possible to install many of these things after the unit is on site, and we can help coordinate with local trades if this is a necessity.


Additional Costs:

While the cabin will likely be your primary expense, it's important to understand the additional costs you may incur when building a cabin. Here's a common list of expenses that you may need to prepare for:

  • Permits. Permitting requirements vary by municipality. Typically, Offsite's cabins only need a temporary structure permit for non-commercial use, which are typically a single payment per cabin, usually a few hundred dollars. Commercial projects typically require proper zoning and permitting which may be significant in time and cost to obtain.

  • Furniture + Decor. On top of construction costs, you'll need to furnish your cabin! If you're looking to rent it or just love Offsite's style, we have furniture packages available for purchase, and you can take advantage of our discounted rates and vetted quality. Otherwise, your budget can range from $1,000-$15,000 depending on what you choose to purchase!

  • Utilities. This can be a big one. If you're going fully off-grid, there's not much to worry about here, but an off grid package can cost you a pretty penny. Expect to add $10K + in costs to your build for solar, backup generator, compost toilet and water tanks. If you're going fully on grid, and you're site doesn't have utilites set up yet, you'll need to factor in costs to drill a well, install septic and run power. These costs vary widely, and you may need some, all or none. It's best to contact local contractors for estimates on these.

  • Landscaping. This includes clearing trees, leveling the land, adding driveways if needed, and any aesthetic work you're hoping to do around the site.


Sustainability:

Prefab cabins often boast sustainability advantages due to their controlled manufacturing process and efficient use of materials. In a factory setting, waste can be minimized through precise cutting and assembly, with leftover materials often recycled or repurposed. Additionally, since prefab cabins are constructed indoors, they are less susceptible to weather-related delays, reducing energy consumption and emissions associated with prolonged on-site construction. Here at Offsite, we prioritize sustainable materials and practices, both passive and technological. We offer options such as eco-friendly materials (check out our cork flooring!) energy-efficient windows and renewable energy systems. We will modify our designs to match your climate, and we always build to last and source quality materials, equipment and furnishings. The most sustainable thing you can do is buy better, and buy less. You can purchase our entire list of furnishings for CBN001 here. It's got quality and sustainable goods from Schoolhouse, Branch Furniture, VSSL and more.


On the other hand, on-site building can also be sustainable when executed mindfully. Local sourcing of materials can reduce transportation emissions, and builders have the flexibility to incorporate salvaged or reclaimed materials into their designs, reducing the environmental impact of extraction and production. Building on-site allows for greater integration of passive design strategies tailored to the specific climate and site conditions, optimizing energy efficiency and reducing long-term operational energy consumption. However, on-site construction may pose challenges in waste management and recycling, as well as potential habitat disruption during site preparation, highlighting the importance of careful planning and sustainable practices throughout the building process.



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