The Heroine, a 200 sf shack in Montana

Started by frizzyrick, May 27, 2023, 10:02:20 AM

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Hey Gang! I've been doing cabin-curious internet searches for awhile now but I'm surprised and delighted to have just now found this community! I've clicked around a bit now and it seems like there is a ton of useful and knowledgeable advice. I also appreciate the user positivity and enthusiasm. I sincerely look forward to gaining your valuable insight and sharing our building experience.  

A year ago my wife's parents gifted us a couple acres on the backside of their place. They are selling their parcel and the existing cabin soon, so we've been developing an idea to build a livable off grid shack so we can continue to visit after they leave. It's about a 4 hour drive from where we live, but we try to get over to the land about every three weeks and we seldom get to stay for more than 3 days at a time.

In the area we are building there isn't much in the way of code enforcement, but in any case we can build up to 200 sf without a permit. We are planning an off grid 1.5 story 14x14 or 12x16 with a 3/4 bath, full kitchen, and a wood stove. We haven't settled on a design theme yet, but the area has lots of cool agricultural, mining, railroad, and forest service buildings to draw inspiration from.

As much as possible we would like to build in security. Most of the time the building will have to look after itself. It will need to stay dry and clean. It will need to keep out insects and four legged critters from mice to black bears. It also might have to fight fires and endure floods on it's own. It would also be nice to have some design adaptability should we decide to build a larger permitted house in the future and then bolt this one onto it.


It seems best to start planning from the ground up; footprint and foundation. We will be deciding between 12X16 and 14x14. 

My wife has a thing for symmetry and since our walls will be around 14' high, I too see a pleasant little cube taking shape. A 14' tall 12' wide box seems tipsy by comparison. Additionally, a 14' span could open up more head room upstairs without increasing the pitch. Still, I wonder if there isn't a savings to be found in lumber spanning a 12' rectangle. We've been playing with scale cutouts of furnishings and appliances on graph paper to determine if one shape footprint or the other has any functional advantages.

Regarding the foundation, we're building in an expedient location right now. We can drive almost to the spot and it's close to the electric bush (the in-laws cabin). The plan is to build on skids so we can drag it to a permanent location eventually when we decide where.

I'm seeking advice on the appropriate foundations to go under the skids.  They have to satisfy some pretty unique conditions.  The shack will need to be lifted fairly high off the ground.  A few years ago a one hundred year flood and a log jam in the right wrong place upstream drowned the property 16" deep. Our frost runs deep and the ground water is high. Also these are temporary footings and we don't want to put too much expense into them unless we would be able to reuse them in the future. 

I have an idea to build piles out of gabion. One thing the land seems to provide in profusion is rocks. Dig a 2 cubic foot hole and you somehow end up with a foot of dirt and 2 feet of river rock. My idea is to dig a hole for a pier, build a hoop out of galvanized sheep panel, wrap that in a sock of landscape fabric, drop that in the hole and fill with rock, and backfill around it. Top that all off with a concrete tile to shim off of. Please feel free to explain how dumb this idea is in the comments!

Lastly, the property can experience some exceptional winds and while I understand generally what it will take to hold the shack up, I don't have a clue what it will take to hold it down...