Garage Cabin on a Budget

Guest Post by FORREST Scott Strenzel

The better half comes in the rec room of your 1800 square foot home and says, honey lets go live TINY, so we can have more disposable income and more time together and or with the kids etc. ?I did that to hopefully gather your attention. Many couples and singles have realized the financial & emotional peace of mind and relaxing of their lifestyle once they cross over to TINY HOUSE living.

I have been into it way before just about anyone was. I am in my 70’s. In this first installment, I am going to share to do with just one of my past T.H. living experiences.

I have to meld in here that I am very knowledgeable in Tiny living in/with houseboats, sailboats, slab-sided homes, barn wood sided homes and I have friends in school buses, house barges, ( a big difference from a boat) and a few more dare to be different Tiny ways of living ALL ON A REAL LOW BUDGET!

I want to share my 16′ wide X 26′ long, cedar log garage/house that I built all alone, except for help with the roof for less than $3000! This was a few years ago and so before this article, I re-checked with the mill and the costs have only gone up about a grand, so in the “Scott’s Tiny way” we are talking $4000!

I began as everyone should with massive amounts of pre-information gathering in whatever way your lifestyle works for you. I jumped right in with the commercial log building /sales industry. I paid hundreds of dollars to spend 3 or 4 different weekends sleeping in a, share the bedroom log cabin with other wannabe buyers of log cabin kits. And we were given the experience of doing log fabricating etc. to better understand if we wanted to purchase a kit and have it built by them for that price tag or could we tackle it by ourselves? Later on, by accident, I came across just about all of the true inside secrets of one gigantic log builders. This gave me the inside never told trade ways of doing things that has them to deserve the large price tags that simply some of us can not afford.

So off I went to purchase a piece of property 100 miles north out of Grand Rapids and with access to a 400acre all sports lake. There was and still is the same two organized developments each with association lake frontage. One development has 88 lots, the other has 388 lots. Both places were selling their lots (about ½ an acre in the woods off from the lake) on a little or no down payment, land contract, with very low payments. I jumped on the 88 lot development for $2500 financed.

I realize that generally, these places do not work for us, Tiny people. But I need to tell you how I did it, working LEGALLY around the stupid rules and was able to do what I did with no problems to pass these possible ways /ideas as a thought for some of you that can get into this way of doing things really cheaply yet all to code, rules etc. I wisely choose an end of the street cul-de-sac lot that was 50′ in the front and 313′ down one side and 380′ down the other and a whopping 480 across the back. Plus that lot was at the end of the development and had nothing behind my it for literally four-plus miles of woods, fields leased to local farmers and a nice duck hunting, beaver & muskrat trapping pond of about 3 acres ½ mile to the west, all owned by a logger that lives in Kentucky. I wisely (hint hint) buddied up with him over Northern Michigan Red Neck Hillbilly Pabst beers on his Kabota. It got and let me post about 180 acres of his best deer hunting land and that was good.

He also clued me in who was who locally. And even what they drank, if they swore or were deeply religious etc. So, I on purpose ran across the local township supervisor, the electrical inspector and a guy that rents a doggone bulldozer or backhoe to you for only $250 cash. Hew comes and drops it off at daylight, then comes and gets it at dusk. If you can show you know how to run it you are good. Or if not, he will teach you for another 30 bucks for about ½ an hour. I ripped out my driveway, and leveled the log garage area, and did some stuff at another guys around the corner that I knew again would be good for me later on. He had a 4×4 pickup and wasn’t afraid to get it dirty, so I told him that I had a crap hauler any time with me tossing in the gas money. He was good with that for my cedar logs and roofing sheets later on. I used to do paint and auto body work.

So that figures in next up. The gal friend of then 14 years and I wisely went to the local bar/restaurant and sat down at the local table saying hell-0 and quickly bought them all a round of beers. Backing up here, an important bit, if any of you that now live in a real city.. do NOT continue to have your clean jeans pressed to have a crease in them. And for gosh sake don’t wear those yuppie knit shirts and your Date Just Rolex. Coming across like that in a new area will have you labeled as a yuppie or flat-lander or whatever local word they locally put on you. Tis city life and hurried pace will make it harder to be welcomed with your Tiny Living on budget goals. To add to this also, if you really want to do Tiny in a rural area, don’t have a washed car, Bruno-Molly shoes pressed Car Harts that have never seen dirt. I am not saying look like a slob, just remember 90% of ALL lower to middle-class rural areas are populated with the types I am trying you to be able to blend with to get stuff done easier locally.

An example right now— I had a plumber come out in February and spent 2 hours unfreezing my good pit pipes for a beer and $30 bucks cash! If you become locally IN then you will get different prices. In Minn, W Va, and my state of Michigan I know of 3 or 4 rural RV area cheap motels that have local room prices and city dweller prices for the same rooms. And please, I am not picking on those states, it happens many other places I just haven’t found out about.

Back to my garage cabin. I got clued into save bucks and not have to do a mess more of manure, get a building permit for a GARAGE, not a Home. Then have the underground electric done by a local electrician, not a big city one. And then he will call the local electrical inspector and get your box etc sticker-ed to code and make the cell call to have the power turned on while he is checking out my 200CC Yamaha Big Wheel. He says all of the sudden giving me a cool look, saying that it would be OK for me to give him the 75 bucks for the electric inspection, that was up to code and had a sticker. So, I gave him the money, and then he spoke up kind of laughing, “gee Scott, Barry the inspector was just here. I guess you missed when he placed the OK ticker in your box.

Basically, he had township stickers in his toolbox and the inspector trusted him to do it right. And he also knew He’d get his money from the electrician.

The same with cement work, a local, or two told me to not tell them you are going to be staying in the “log garage” when you get it finished. Just gripe about the stove in the 14′ travel trailer you and Cory are staying in when Harvey the building inspector shows up to OK the cement work. Then I bought REAL CHEAP from a mill, NOT the log home sellers that wanted 3 times what I paid, the “D” cut 6” inch x 8’3” Cedar logs to build my garage with. Then I put down a double 2” X 8” treated bed plate and redi-mix fastened it to the two cement block initial bed that had to be before the required wood base. It had to be 2 boards thick to accept the way I elected to build my Tiny House based one way of the many ways I had learned at the various log builder camps. With the lowest dollars ways wanting me.

A couple three of facts that don’t get told lots of the time are needed right here.

  1. If you want it to last? ONLY USE CEDAR LOGS!! PERIOD!!
  2. Also, they are VERY LIGHT to handle!
  3. Plus, wood bores will NOT STAY IN AND EAT CEDAR! PERIOD!!!
  4. Pine has sap unless U PAY $$$ to have them kiln dried you will get sap on your clothes when you lean against any wall. Unless U spend the BIG BUCKS to have drywall, paneling or whatever. Personally I took before the roof was added a belt sander or actually two of them 1. an el cheapo harbor freight one that was excellent and a borrowed big name one and Cory and I belt sanded the hell out of the whole inside flat cedar walls and then slopped on urethane for a sealed after ONE YEAR OF AIR DRYING we ended up, shiny cedar closet walls thru out the whole darn shack.

Another note here, if you use anything except cedar when you get the full round D cut or just the inside cut flat to better keep things square. You have to remove all of the bark right away. And ask around the mill what chemical poison that’s OK to use to help keep wood bores out of your stacked cris cross and tarp covered to dry one-year logs. Unless the MILL will promise in writing that your logs have dried for 12 months, which mine were.

I used the flat on 3 side D logs that are the easy-er way to work with all alone. An 8 foot Cedar D log dry weighs less than 35 lbs for easy lifting. Look up the weight of other logs wet or dried you will be surprised. The here comes another SECRET … the D logs get stacked end to end and on top of each other. So that you will have to gasket, caulk or chink, depending on how smart you are at obtaining an in-between the logs gasket material,> NOTE AGAIN HERE: with D logs DON”T USE Chinking at all. TOO EXPENSIVE and NOT NEEDED. OK, you have to go find the cheapest at a local hardware store or chain store that has them and wait until they do an 11% of whatever off refund.

You will require large long galvanized spiral spikes that you drive in the D logs every2 ½’ to 3 ‘ at different sides some from side to side in order to stop any twisting. Using a 6 ‘ thick log, you need to get halfway thru the below log or 1st the log bed wood each time. After doing all of the ways thru the log you are spiking down. And you need to have drill a maybe 1/8 th or 1/16 inch countersink hole the diameter of the spike head about 1 16th to 1/8 inch depth for the head of the spike to be driven in to keep a level area on the log top sides. You use a one lb small handle hammer sledge. BUT here’s the secret. Go buy a quart of linseed oil in a metal can. And each time you grab a spiral spike to hammer, you dip it all of the ways in so it will slide easier in the dry wood and not split it.

Then after each row of logs, you have to gasket them with whatever you found that will work, that’s waterproof, mildew, & rot proof and it does NOT NEED TO be a high dollar commercial material. Work on it …find something cheap that might be used for logs or not, whichever you can get cheap is way cheaper. I’ve seen paneling adhesive work and if a builder or their retail supplier lumber yard will give you a discount, then use what they would want you to. They are out there. I got actual 1/8 inch like half a million degrees heat shielding rolls of not quite perfect gasket material for the space shuttle heat Shields that they had to toss in the trash when it got out of perfect at a factory. I made every day a truck freight pick up at. I had over the years became friends with the owner and his son because we all had Corvettes.

When I told them what I was going to have to pay for the log gasket stuff, they chimed in that they had a mega right material that you can’t hardly ever hurt and is, water, fire and whatever proof big time. So I walked to my truck with a couple of rolls of the best stuff a guy could ever get at the best price= FREE! To be my gasket material and it was easy to cut with a razor knife too.
To keep heating costs down (logs are good insulation), and to keep in the still garage theme, I put only one window on each of three sides, plus the 36 “ side service door all large enough to be up to house code to be able to get out of in-case of fire. I found my 3 windows from the local Amish ( a good thing if they are around also) for super low dollars.

I did spring for CUSTOM TRUSSES! You HAVE TO WITH A LOG HOME, or be stupid and have problems real soon. Although Cedar is the best it still can and will fade with even the Scooter SECRET SEALER? Which is something I found it by accident at a log builders. Pay attention this is one of the biggies to do it right. You should only use FLOOD CHEMICAL’S CLEAR WOOD FINISH in a garden sprayer from top to bottom to correctly seal and keep the natural grain and look of the logs you choose, about every 2 to 4 years depending on how much sun and fresh rainwater the logs get. Also, Don’t stain them or varnish them that’s way too much for most, and after a short, while those redwood stained log homes get the look of they could actually be vinyl made of FAKE logs. My opinion.

I’m going to give you a personal true pine log & trusses story hold on its importance.
Rain and any fresh water that falls on logs of any kind are simply not good. I have a cousin that has 480 acres and cut the pine from it to build a TINY 14′ X 20” pine log cabin with a 6” X 20” screen enclosed porch with an off the grid completely home. It has, no electric (its all propane), no permit, no code, a pitcher pump water hose well drilled 48′ deep, with a good state checked the water. Plus a not to code barn use for something pair of 350-gallon vinyl barrels set up as an excellence septic system that has been good these last 15 years.

OK, I got off the path sorry. I love this Tiny stuff. Anyway, my cousin did not build it with at least a 3′ overhang of his trusses so the rainwater and melting snow splashed on the ground enough that the stupid pine had all rotted three logs up from the bottom high, and the whole cabin was beginning to slide down so some of the sides and were binding up the porch etc. So, two years ago he had to basically jack up the whole cabin and he replace the last 3 rows of rotten logs with cedar so it won’t happen again for way more years then with pine. Hence the reason I knew from the competition builder camps to have a 3′ or more overhang depending on if its a 2 or 3 story log home.

I went with cheaper heavier rolled roofing that lasts as long as shingles if it’s not where you get enough wind that it could get ripped at the edges.

Now to the legal but pushed to the limit of code to get the OK from the inspector to actually allow/ build the change from a garage to a cabin. Get real…. obviously this stiff will not work near the biggie cities or large resort areas, like Malibu, Pittsburgh or Boston etc, It has to be done in a laid-back rural not big large dollar homes area. OK. I’m getting to where I want the electrician to come back and get me from temp electric to real electric to the garage. And then I best have the building guy stop by for a look see. He gets there and as you may be able to see the 1/3 roof boars on with an 8′ wide regular roll up door space showing on a purse.

I begin to talk to him with Cory right there that we had set up for her to say “Scott are you going to ask him if we can do the door for the quads and snow machines without losing too much heat? He gazes at her and I pipe up, Oh yes would it be OK if we have a roll-up door that’s only 6′ wide? That way when have to heat the garage to be able to work on the darn things we won’t freeze as much with a 6′ as an 8′ door, that would let out way more heat. His exact answer was, “Hell If its a roll-up door of any width, legally it is still considered a garage door, go ahead and maybe do some measuring and try to find or have made a 4′ or whatever foot roll-up door, Scott. I also did some of the same stuff that again in the pre-known attitude and areas just about anywhere rural, you can pay attention and learn the “local” ways.

Plus get poop done the cheaper and easier ways a lot. That to me is part of the mystique of a Budget Tiny Home, especially for those of us that either can not afford or don’t want to pay the larger dollars or if we had to, then we could not live TINY. Plus, those that can pay and are in the business will realize that my stories are not and will not rob any businesses of paying customers because my sharing my personal true stories will not be of interest to the people that can, will and want to and afford to have Tiny’s professionally built.

Moving on to finish my 16 x 26 log TINY HOUSE. I ended up with a 6′ foot front door and had a red neck HD Camo Tarp hooked to rings so it could be drawn up from one side of the garage to the other to block off the living quarters behind it if needed. The front 16′ X 6′ always had a quad, or a snowmobile on a lift with a welder, air compressor, and tool chest etc against the tarp so you could hardly get to the back room AKA living quarters. I also had mentioned a few times at the right table and when the right people were around that it rained the other day and the grandkids got wet in their little tent so we had them blow up or air bed and stay dry and go to sleep in the garage. I was surprised that one of them didn’t break his or her neck on the tools or machines in there. Just setting the stage for the staying in the garage thing. No biggie, after 3year,s it was known about the couple with the cool cedar log cabin out by the lake. So if done respectfully there are still many that will accommodate you if you don’t come across as a higher level outsider invading their areas.

If I can I will do much about living TINY on a 34′ houseboat as I did , and 10′ X 20’ like $500 dollar TINY, EL-CHEAP- O, School buses, motor homes, sailboats (I did that too) and lager power boats, barges(there is a BIG difference) , commercial buses, ambulances, slab wood sided Tinys, Patina barn wood sided Tiny’s, and more all on / with the “Scott inexpensive ways.” And eventually, I will, I hope to be able to give some of the living on the Tiny side related tasks etc. A free chicken, smaller animal cages, garden protector fences cages for free, wild animal (If and where legal ) traps, and more than most don’t think of or bother with or didn’t realize this Tiny Living is really fun. Possible cheap approved wells and more.

FORREST Scott Strenzel: As they say, “Been there & done that TINY! Since the 80’s, Including, Power & sailboats, travel trailers, barn wood sided 10′ X 20′ Tiny, a motor home, a 16′ X 26 ‘ cedar log Tiny and more, plus, a race car driver, Met Life salesman, Truck driver, car magazine journalists, and car sales.

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