Kleinhaus: Cabin progress

Just a heads up that I’m still not dead and the cabin designs are progressing well, albeit a tiny bit slowly, since the last time I posted an actual design update. I’ve since named this whole cabin project “Kleinhaus” (German for “Small house” — I thought it was pretty clever). I moved away from fancy pure-Photoshop footwork to basic drawing and then scanning followed by a Photoshop cleanup. I found this to be a tad easier and I’ve had lots of helpful suggestions from folks since I started this journey. Many thanks to all of you.

2 Sheets done (hopefully)

The following are sheets 3 and 4 of the overall blueprint which detail the foundation. I’m still working on the elevation views and floor plan and the overall shape of the cabin has changed a bit to accommodate some much needed design overhauls. Gone are the weird 21-24-21 joist spacing of the first layout. This time, it’s all 24″ on center joists for simplicity and my own sanity. I did away with starting from estimates and then moving on to measuring and instead started with concrete measurements first. I found that this makes more sense since it’s harder to skew corners or screw up the lengths on paper. That doesn’t mean these are free of errors and you should go ahead and start with these measurements without double-checking!

These are only 1200 x 1623 full size, but the actual image I’m working with is 5620 x 7600 pixels (18.73 x 25.33 inches at 300 pixels/inch) which is a tad too large to post here. I’m going to make the full size blueprints available as a PDF or something as soon as I finish and correct any errors.

As always, these are provided as-is. Always check the measurements first, follow local building codes, there be dragons etc… etc…

Kleinhaus 16x16 Cabin: Sheet 3

Kleinhaus 16×16 Cabin: Sheet 3

Kleinhaus 16x16 Cabin: Sheet 4

Kleinhaus 16×16 Cabin: Sheet 4


Cabin design update

Oh, right. I have a blog.

Between a bit of a tenuous return to work after my flu episode (where I filled in for 2 people who quit and 4 more that also came down with seasonal plague) and the fact that I’ve been busy with a side project for a while, it’s been quite a few days since a real post.

I have been making a few strides in the cabin design in that I’ve finalized the overall layout of the interior and most of the left side framing layout is now complete. Which brings me to licensing: I want to make this design accessible to as many people as possible without making myself liable beyond the scope of due diligence. I.E. I want to do a good job making sure I cover all my bases with regard to structural integrity, but I don’t want to be sued into oblivion for my trouble.

The Cabin design will be Open Source

All the structural aspects of the cabin will be open to anyone to download (I’ll probably make a full download link available here), and modify for their own needs without having to pay me royalties. All I’m asking is for the copyright to remain intact.

That being said, I’ve been using a heavily modified ISC license for the past two times I’ve released any updates. This, I feel, isn’t really applicable to structure since these were originally meant for software. Being a software developer, naturally that was the first place I looked. I’m still using a heavily modified ISC license, but I’m open to suggestions on how I can license it.

I need to find or create a good license that will help me share my ideas without being subject to any sort of litigation. We’re talking about structure here and there’s a real risk of injury or worse if it’s done incorrectly. But I still want to let anyone feel free to modify it without too much legal wrangling while still indemnifying me.

Is it safe?

This has really been the question that’s stayed with me since I started on this journey.

I’m not a trained engineer, although I think I’ve taken reasonable steps to ensure everything is structurally sound, however I’m using OVE (Optimal Value Engineering) practices where applicable. I.E. 24″ On-center stud spacing, 6″ studs and using standard length materials (using 96″ studs as much as possible) to reduce weight, maintain proper insulation and still remain structurally sound to snow and wind loads. Also, I’m avoiding any cuts to the studs for the windows. The only cuts to the studs are at the front door and the bathroom entrance of the internal wall. I’m considering eliminating the center column by turning the bathroom wall into a load bearing one. We’ll see.

OVE is still somewhat controversial among builders for varied reasons. Some people believe it’s not as secure, others think you’re not really saving on materials, so there’s no “value”. My opinion is that the “value” comes with energy-saving. Granted you’re using less material, but this is not the primary benefit.

A sneak peek

Here’s the last sketch I did of the left side external framing layout. Note: The angle of the roof is approximately 50 degrees to accommodate year-round solar panels for the Northeastern U.S. This isn’t optimal since, ideally, you should be able to change the angle, but I don’t expect people to hop on the roof every few months to do that so this angle will have to do.

I’m still going with a 16″ x 16″ footprint with a 16″ x 8″ loft. Shaded in areas on the 1st floor are the support beams. See the previous foundation update for how they’re put together.

Left side cabin framing sketch

Left side cabin framing sketch

Special thanks to Kelly and her partner for offering me advice along the way.

Build Outside to Inside (goes for design as well)

This is an age-old adage that really should be hammered into every would be architect and amateur alike. Your interior, while you will be facing it more of the time, will depend on what’s done on the outside. That’s your envelope, your boundary, your line in the sand. Well, proving to myself that I am an amateur at this, I realised that my previous floor plan isn’t going to fit exactly within the walls.

New Plan

I’m not scrapping the 1st floor plan entirely, but I knew I’ll be moving things around a bit after I drew the cabin exterior in profile. Here’s the left side view, which will see a some more editing after this.

Left side profile of the cabin.

Note there are 13 steps to the loft and to center with the landing window, I had to move the stairs over. I don’t want to cut studs, add headers etc… to fit the window which will create thermal bridges (not to mention add more work), so I want to fit the windows between studs whenever possible. I can widen the stairs and make extra storage space below, or do something else with the space. We’ll see…

Cabin design: 1st floor update

Well, that was quick! I got a flood of emails from a lot of interested people overnight after the last post and it seems there are few resources on the web (or few that are easy to find) that provide specific details on laying out a cabin with exact measurements. I think the biggest complaint was that most designs don’t take into account realistic use and habitation. Elbow room cannot be taken for granted!

The second biggest complaint was that few, if any, are free. I can understand this since time x effort = money and most people wouldn’t want to work for free. But I do want to share everything I can here as I see a real demand for people who can’t afford to hire someone to design a cabin for them let alone spend money on building materials.

A few people offered to pay me to do a design for them. I’m not a trained architect (there’s a shock!), but I try to make the best effort when making sure the design is sound. So I can’t in good conscience charge people for something that a real professional should be doing. As mentioned in my previous post, you do need to run these by a certified architect or engineer before any construction can begin, but if you do use these as a starting point to your own design, I’d love to hear about it.

You’re doing it wrong!

A few of the emails were from people who have built cabins, worked with plans or have studied architecture. They almost universally were not happy with the way I drew the blueprints. Well, as I mentioned in the layouts post, I know nothing about blueprints! This is quite literally the first blueprint I ever drew so, of course, there will be “issues”.

Taking their suggestions into account, I redrew the layout with proper measurements this time and a few fixes here and there plus an added window at the bottom of the staircase. I know there are still some rough spots, but this is a better attempt since the first one was only a few hours of work.

Walls weren’t clear enough in the first one and measurements needed to be provided to the center of every opening (doors, windows etc…)

Apparently in my previous drawing, my walls were not as clear as they should have been and standard procedure calls for all openings to be marked from one corner to its center and then to the center of each neighboring opening. A perfectly sensible way of doing things that I didn’t know about until today.

Thanks to everyone who made the suggestions.

After going over and over this design, I think I may move things around to get more floor space and open it up more. Not sure how exactly I want to do that yet, but I see the toilet being sent to another location. We’ll see how that will work.

Update 7:40PM. Final changes

I did end up changing the bathroom by making it smaller and more space efficient. The dedicated closet space was eating up far too much room inside so I did away with that and moved the toilet and sink. I still want to make sure all major bathroom parts are accessible. Since the space under the window wasn’t being used, I moved it to just above the toilet seat. Since this will be a raised bathroom, I can still run supply and drain lines for the sink and shower without too much difficulty.

This also allowed me to move the stairs further back and away from the front door, giving more open space.

The opened up space between the end of the staircase and the wall to the bathroom may house the electrical panel.

Besides creating space for an electrical panel or other such utility feature, there is now more space beneath the window at the bottom of the stairs. This is an important safety consideration since you don’t want windows too close to the floor. This also means the front door is not crowded as it was before by the stairs and if someone tall uses the bathroom, they won’t feel like ducking when they get under the stairs (even though there would still be ample room overhead, this will be a psychological barrier to feeling comfortable). Head room (real or not), like elbow room, cannot be ignored.

Coming soon: The 2nd floor…

Cabin design: Foundation and 1st floor

This is only a few hours of work with a lot of analysis that still needs to be done. I’m not an engineer so you’ll need to run these designs past one if you want to use them to build your own cabin. I’m not building a “Tiny House” per-se, since some of those are half this size, but it is a “Small House” or small cabin at 16 x 16 feet and two floors.

I’ve added copyrights and disclaimers all over the designs (this is very unusual for me since most content on this blog is in the public domain) only because I do not under any circumstances want to be sued! If you do find these plans useful or if you have improvements, I’d love to hear about them. Post in the comments or drop me a line via email.

The Foundation

I’m thinking the structure should be built on a pier foundation since it will be the most flexible if the land I choose is uneven. And since a slab on grade would be too expensive and a full basement would be both too complicated and expensive. Now there are local code variations when it comes to pier foundations, so it’s best to look those up on your local county and state websites or call the local building department.

Here in New York, most pier foundations are built with a concrete footing under treated lumber. The depth is usually 4 feet + 6 inches or so of gravel to allow for drainage, but it may change if your frost line is higher or deeper. Even though this isn’t the standard for all locations, it’s best to make this the minimum since it will account for the frost line in most cold climates in the Northeast.

Note: There is a 1″ standoff anchor connecting the post to the concrete pier since this will prevent premature decay of the wood. Yes, even treated lumber can decay if it’s kept in contact with water for too long so a standoff anchor is not only part of most building codes, it’s also a good idea.

There will be up-thrust down-thrust (see Wally’s comment below) as water takes more volume as it freezes and you want to make sure the concrete is well below the frost line to prevent this from happening.

I don’t know if the rest of this is 100% sound so please consider carefully before blindly copying (disclaimers notwithstanding). I’m thinking of using double 2 x 12 treated lumber as beams since I’m hoping to avoid a solid beam (extra weight/cost), but if this isn’t enough, I’ll need to go with a solid beam anyway.

When using 4 x 4 posts, generally a 10″ diameter concrete pier would be the minimum, however for 6 x 6 posts, you’ll need at least 14″. I’m going to go with 6 x 6 posts with 18″ for insurance since I do not want my cabin to move once it’s built. If 6 x 6 isn’t strong enough, I’ll have to bump that up to 8 x 8 posts with 20″ diameter concrete pier.

I’ve seen a lot of examples out there that show posts connected to beams via carriage bolts alone and I think this is a very poor choice from an engineering perspective. The entire load is then depending on the shear strength of the bolts. A better option would be to notch the posts in, rest the beams on the notch and then attach them via carriage bolts since that would ensure the post is bearing the load and not the bolts; their job should be just to keep the beams attached to the post, not to bear weight.

Notching the post in and setting your beams is better than having the carriage bolts carry the weight of the beams alone.

You’ll also need support braces between posts since the span is over 4 feet (it will be 8 feet specifically) with 9 posts total since this is a 16 x 16 cabin. As mentioned above, if this isn’t good enough, I’ll have to go with a solid beam and 16 post layout every 4 feet. It will mostly depend on soil conditions.

This center post arrangement adds a great deal of stability to the structure. Naturally, the posts in the corner can only have one brace. This too must be notched as mentioned above and not merely rest on the carriage bolts.

Here’s the post and beam layout. Note, even though it looks like I’ve wrapped the beams around the post, they are to be notched. I’m just putting them outside the post for emphasis.

Posts beams and joists laid out. Note the measurements are for mostly 24 on center.

I went with 24″ on center to allow for more insulation and I think I can get away with it since the joists will be 2 x 12 (just like the beams), I’ll be using 23/32 or at least 5/8 plywood for the subfloor with hardwood flooring on top. This should also keep deflection down even with 24″ joists.

The 1st Floor

After going over some of the ideas from my last post on designing the bathroom, I realized that it would be best to put most of the plumbing inside a shared non-load-bearing wall with the kitchen. This would simplify both plumbing and electrical runs and I wouldn’t need to knock out holes in critical structure.

All the windows are 24″ wide (height to determined) and the window on the staircase will be at the same height off the landing as the rest of the windows are off the floor.

Lot of stuff happening here. The bathroom can be elevated a foot off the floor giving a 7 foot clearance to the ceiling if the rest of the floor is 8 feet (96″). This elevation will allow me to run plumbing underneath the bathroom without cutting into the load bearing joists below. It will also alow me to reach the shower lines without too much trouble. The small square in the middle is actually the load bearing column continuing from the floor to the ceiling. The 2nd floor joists will also be tied to this post.

The sink location is variable, but I want it near a window so I can look outside while washing the dishes. The landing and stairs heading toward the front door can house a closet so I’ll have plenty of storage space.

The one thing I really wanted to make sure was to have all “walking areas” at least 36″ wide. This is just a personal preference since I like to walk up and down a lot, especially when I’m thinking, and I want to make sure there’s nothing in my way. The copious amount of windows is to also make sure I don’t feel cramped. I figure there’s plenty of room for a convertible couch and maybe a couple of futons on the first floor alone in case I have folks drop by to stay overnight.

Finally, here’s the layout and foundation superimposed.

Note how 24″ on center joists and 24″ wide windows go well together. Also note, that if I do need to cut under the floor, I don’t need to cut any joists to get to the plumbing wall since they’re between joists, not on or across them.

The second floor will more or less be completely open. I don’t want to have too many walls in between main areas (in fact, I’d rather not have any interior walls at all) and notice the only wall on the 1st floor is to separate the bathroom and to provide plumbing and electrical space. I think the 2nd floor won’t extend the full length of the cabin and instead will open up to the 1st floor via a balcony facing the front door. This will make the place feel much larger and also let me see who’s at the door without coming downstairs.

I’ll come up with something on it later.