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DIY Cabin Leah Report: Progress on My Self-Built Retreat

Welcome to our interview series on DIY construction. Today, we have a story from someone who built their Leah cabin from scratch. We’ll explore the challenges and successes they faced and learn about their process and the help they received along the way.

Have you been building it to yourself (DIY) or with some professional help?

I built it all by myself. The only help I got is from my neighbor Steve who helped me to erect the big walls. Thank you, Steve! 

Have you considered equipping the cabin with grids? (Water installation, electricity, …)

I’m harvesting rainwater from Leah’s large roof to the stock tanks for livestock. Rain barrels wouldn’t work because the fascia board is only 2.5 ft away from the ground. All rain barrels that short are very small capacity so I use stock tanks covered with mosquito nets; works for me. I have no plumbing inside the shed. 

To charge my cell phone and the tools I use a small solar generator and a solar panel, it’s enough for now. 

How do you plan to manage the heating?

Fortunately it’s warm more or less all year around here and the shed doesn’t need to be heated. I had a different problem: the metal roof gets super hot during the daytime. First, I laid a reflective foam between the rafters and purlins; it helped a bit but still was hot anyway; so I added fiberglass batts between the rafters and enclosed all of it with ½ inch plywood ceiling. 

Plywood Ceiling

How long did it take to build your cabin? 

I started construction right before Christmas 2022 and on Christmas 2023 I already camped out in my shed in the hammock for a couple nights. Even though the shed wasn’t completely finished, it still was nice to spend a night in the place you built during the past year especially if it’s the first place you have ever built. 

Which stage of the building process are you now at?

Right now I am working on the walls and cabinets inside and getting ready to install sheet vinyl flooring soon. 

The plywood in the interior is nice, what finish did you choose? Did you sand the surface of the plywood? 
The plywood I bought for the ceiling wasn’t treated against termites so I had to treat it with borate by myself. It gives me a piece of mind now, when termite season has started and they fly and attack the shed. Before treating, I sanded the plywood a little bit, only if I needed to remove manufacturer’s stamps or some spots. The next step I plan is to stain the plywood with whitewash. 

The roof panels are attached with screws and nuts. It looks very solid, is it because of possible hurricanes? 

For roofing I chose screws over nails because I didn’t want to damage corrugated panels with a hummer (I often miss hitting a nail with a hummer). I learned that roofing screws come with thick rubber washers and to get them fit snugly on the corrugations I needed to do my best to screw them at right angles to the roof. That job seemed to me like one of the hardest until my ex-husband advised me to pre-drill the holes, which made the process so much easier (thank you, Dave!).

The space under the roof overhang on both sides is suitable as a storage space, what do you store here?

Once I finished the roof, I could store lumber and other building materials under the large Leah’s roof overhangs. When the construction is over, I could store gardening tools under those large overhangs. The more I work on this project, the more I am amazed by its thoughtfulness and smart design.