Wilderness Cabins (Greystokes International) is a cabin kit supplier based in Kelowna B.C.. I bought my cedar cabin kit from Wilderness Cabins in July 2008. If I was to do this project again, I’d definitely custom build locally and not go with a kit, and here’s why;
Myth #1: You’ll Save Money With a Kit
The number one reason I went with a cabin kit was cost. The idea was that the time saved by using pre-cut materials would reduce labour costs incurred with a custom build. So, to ensure this was true, I chose the smallest, most basic and inexpensive kit that Wilderness had to offer : The Chilko. Basically a 24′x24′ box cabin. It already included a 6′ deck off one side, but I added an exterior chimney and gabled side entrance. Nothing fancy, just a covered entrance to act like an outside mud-room, and a cubby for my wood stove to save indoor floor space. The basic cost was quoted at $31,500 plus the porch and chimney additions got me up to over $43,000 all-in for the kit delivered. The sales person continuously quoted the bare-bones cost, but the reality was that any modifications which are added significantly increased the cost.
Cost per Square Foot Higher With a Kit
With a cabin, you are dealing generally with under 1,000 square feet, so cost per square should be relatively higher than a full sized house. With this in mind, I had budgeted for $150 to $200 per square foot for our 600 square foot Chilko model cabin. The kit alone gave us $75/square foot, but that’s just the start. After all labour, materials and finishing, my latest estimate is $280/square foot assuming all low-end cost options.
Shipping Costs Will Kill You
The nice thing about a kit, in theory, is that you’ll have everything in one place, and save countless trips to the hardware store. The reality is that not only do you have to pay huge shipping cost (I am only 4 hours away from the company in B.C., so I can only imagine what US client would have to pay), but also you’ll need to rent a fork-lift and likely a crane to unload the delivery. My shipping cost $1,500 and a full day of unloading to the site as well as rental of a forklift that totalled another $2,000, for a grand total of $3,500!
Materials Are Marked Up
Another hidden cost is that the materials such as lumber, roofing, windows, doors and accessories all include a mark-up. Buying yourself directly from your local hardware store will save you money, especially if they offer free delivery, which most do on larger orders.
Myth #2: You Can Do It Yourself
My friendly salesman at Wilderness Cabins told me that with a crew of 2 or 3 inexperienced guys, my cabin would be up in 2 weeks max. 7 weeks later using an experienced Journeyman lead, with 3 registered carpenters and it’s still not close to being done. Oh, sure, the basic 4 walls that were pre-cut (pretty much the only part of the kit pre-cut) went up in under a week, but without a professional crew, there is no way you’ll finish your kit in a season. The reality is that these guys actually target builders with their kits, not just do-it-yourselfers, and so having building code and carpentry knowledge is vital to building and assembling a cabin kit properly.
Myth #3: It Will Arrive All Pre-cut
My sales rep assured me that the kit just needs to be assembled, and all the cutting is already done. In fact, other than the 4 basic walls, nothing was fully pre-cut — despite my signed contract saying that it was to be as per the design. The roof look-outs, chimney, sky-light and entrance porch all had to be customized by my crew and were not precut (again, despite my contract saying all was to be “Pre-cut” as per the design indicating these features). In fact, the roof rafters were miscut to varying lengths by 3/8″ and did not properly butt together as per the plan drawing. My guys had to recut all the main rafters and install a ridge beam (again, not covered by the drawings) rather than use blocking as recommended by wilderness. Of all things to pre-cut incorrectly, the roof rafters are potentially the most dangerous – especially in an area like ours which has high snow load.
That friendly salesperson also advised me that a single coat of stain would be more than sufficient for my siding. He said “we dip the siding to ensure full coverage, and so a single coat will be more than enough”. The reality is that the single coat of solid stain was not dipped, but rather was hand applied and thinly/poorly at that. In fact, the cedar siding was wet before application, and the single coat did not adhere. Even during siding installation, where-ever hand pressure was applied, the solid stain actually rubbed off!
Myth #4: You Will Get Support/Service
After seeing this rafter cutting error and confirming all was plumb/true with my crew, remeasuring and reconfirming that the cuts were 3/8″ off and not butting, I immediately called Wilderness for support. I spoke to my production contact who was unable to help solve this issue. It should be noted that Wilderness actually hand-cuts each rafter using one as a template (they do not laser cut or automate this process as you would expect), leaving lots of room for error. I’ve ordered other wood kits online (a cedar hot-tub for example) where they use laser cuts to ensure better than 1/16th of an inch accuracy.
After calling the business manager (vs salesman) and owner of the company to explain these precut issues in more detail, he got defensive, said he’d pre-cut them himself and that there were no issues. He then proceeded to hang up on me! At that point I issued a formal complaint to the Better Business Bureau of Kelowna to report this incident and the previously mentioned issues. About a week later, the business manager calls me back to say that they are willing to compensate me in part for some of the issues listed, at a rate of $25 per hour.
Myth #5: Drawings Will Be Accurate
The computer drawings at first looked impressive and detailed, until we started building. There were huge gaps in how the main ridge beam was to carry the rafters, how the porch entrance beams were to attached to the main envelope of the cabin, and nothing at all on the chimney cubby. These guys design for their local Kelowna building codes, and then try to extrapolate for other areas. For example, they recommend 1 foot look-outs, which is fine for relatively temperate Kelowna, but in the interior, 1 foot looks are not enough to take rain and snow away from the walls of your cabin. Thankfully, my crew was able to install 2 foot look-outs, which is the standard for our area. If I did not have professional carpenters and a lead journeyman, I would have really been up the creek!