Shangri La

Shangri La

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Incredible Shrinking Cabin

Once upon a time, restoring old British cars – usually MGBs – was my diversion of choice. The LSW endured a parade of clunkers for which I tried to combine concourse-quality restoration plans and a shoe-string budget. While almost 50% of these projects resulted in something that could be safely driven, all of them reinforced something I grew up hearing about projects in general:

It will take twice as long as expected, and cost 3 times as much.
And so I’m finding as the estimates begin rolling in:
  • 16 x 28 frost-line crawl-space foundation with a ‘rat-slab’: $5,000 (rats and excavating not included)
  • Power: Needs to be estimated, but I’ve heard stories of $2,000 - $4,000
  • Septic (as currently proposed): $10,000 - $13,000
  • Well: $5,000 - $7,500
  • Land Clearing: $2,000 - $3,000 per acre
With each new piece of information, the cabin in my imagination gets a little more modest. The kit becomes DIY stick-framing, 20x30 shrinks to 16x28, the full-size kitchen becomes a stove, sink and under-counter refrigerator, CVSC power becomes a solar panel, and indoor plumbing becomes (at least at first) a mulching toilet and 5-gallon water containers. In short, the “cabin” really does become a cabin. *sigh*

I have mixed feelings about this process of ‘right-sizing’ my expectations. To be brutally honest, I like the idea of having the kind of ‘camp’ that makes friends, relations, and neighbors envious. It’s a side of me I don’t care for, but can’t deny. There’s another side, though, that is attracted to the idea of a small, off-the-grid, minimal maintenance getaway that provides the experience of being mostly outdoors and close to nature. And one that bucks most to the materialistic pretensions we’ve been awash in over the last decade.

The interesting thing is that, while many of our friends were upgrading locations and square footage over the last decade, we’ve willingly (even enthusiastically) embraced smaller, older homes. Our current house - built in 1940 and clocking in at just less than 1,800 square feet - is the biggest – and newest – we’ve ever had. With its original kitchen, windows and [lack of] insulation, I’m confident that it inspires very little envy in our friends, relations and neighbors. So why would I care what they think of our little shack in the woods? Not that they’ll have an opportunity to form an opinion; it’s now grown too small for visitors.

I still occasionally surf the real estate adds for Vermont for ‘turn-key’ properties, wondering if I shouldn’t use the project budget as a down payment. But here’s what keeps me on the straight-and-narrow: I want to own the property and anything on it outright. And if that means a shipping container with a window, at least we’ll never have to worry about seeing ‘foreclosed on it’.

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