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How can you build a log home on a budget?

How to save money when building or renovating a cabin.

By Daphne Howland

Everyone knows that when you’re building or renovating a cabin, you should have a carefully devised financial plan. But planning your retreat becomes especially crucial when funds are limited. The most important factor is something integral to any important relationship: communication with your builder and architect. “It’s a personal relationship,” says Cordelia Pitman, an architect who is the director of pre-construction services at Wright-Ryan Construction in Portland, Maine. “Most issues come from lack of communication or lack of understanding.”

First, be clear with yourself

Before you can articulate to a builder or architect what you have in mind for your cabin, it must be clear to you first. Collect pictures from magazines, even show the design professionals knobs or paint colors you’ve chosen. Show your landscape architect the gardens and plants you admire. If you have a fat binder of ideas, you may want to cull it to a manageable thickness, Pitman says. But taken together, the choices you’ve made help demonstrate your taste.

“A lot of times, as a designer, you can flip through people’s choices and get a sense of what people like,” says registered landscape architect Marci Camacho, who has worked on various public, private and commercial projects in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Then you can work with shape, colors, textures. You can do something that gives the home a similar flair without using the most expensive materials.”

Think about how you live

Builders and architects have distinct expertise that comes from education and professional experience, but you are the best expert on your own taste, and how you live in and use your cabin, Pitman says. Think about how you will be using the space, now and in the future. For example:

  • How many children and grandkids do you have (or even anticipate), and how will they use the rooms?
  • How much storage do you need?
  • Are you planning to keep your place long term? In other words, will this cabin need to work for future owners, or will it only need to cater to your needs?
  • In a renovation, what historic details would you like to preserve or enhance? Write down all such considerations.

“Some people like being told what they need, while other people have their own ideas or are more collaborative,” Camacho says. “It’s key to find a trustworthy person to help. But so much depends on the client, what they want. After all, they’re the ones who are going to live there.”

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