What Is A Portable Cabin?

Portable cabins are pre-fabricated buildings that are movable.  They are generally installed on gravel pads, concrete pads, or cinder blocks and can be easily moved using special shed hauling trailers.  Most commonly, portable cabins are used as off-grid vacation homes, hunting cabins, tiny homes, or as temporary housing.

Portable cabins are becoming quite popular these days. Having a portable cabin is not just about ease of placing it “off-grid”, it is also an opportunity to keep your options open if you ever want to move it to a new location. 

Many people love the challenge of buying a “cabin shell” and then turning it into a home as a fun DIY project. 

This story that follows comes to us from from Jason* (*not real name).  Jason lives in the city of Fargo, ND, but recently purchased some remote land in Minnesota. We share his story here for those of you who are thinking about installing a portable cabin of your own somewhere.  We have broken the process down into 11 steps. 

So here are the steps to getting a great portable cabin setup!

11 Steps to Installing and Finishing a Portable Cabin

1. Find Land

The first thing you need to set up your portable cabin is to find land.

Below is a photo of the cleared land that Jason acquired. The land is about an hour and a quarter away from his home in Fargo.  Jason was looking for land where he could get away from busy city life.  His long term goal is to build a house on the land, but in the short term he was looking for a home base to work from while he builds the house.  If you are looking for land to place a portable cabin, it is important that you check the local codes and zoning for the area where you want to place your portable cabin before you buy.

clear land for portable off grid cabin

2. Select Your Portable Cabin Design

After you’ve got some land, you can get down to the business of deciding what type of cabin that you want to install. Jason found Northland Sheds through a google search.  He said that there are a lot of shed companies out there, but the thing he loved most about Northland Sheds was being able to design his shed using the 3D shed designer.  He stated that the 3D shed designer was extremely great to work with.  After using the designer, the style he chose was a 12×24 Ranch Style Wood Garage.

portable cabins for sale near detroit lakes minnesota

3. Prepare The Portable Cabin Base

Knowing the size that he was working with, Jason was able to get started on installing the base for the portable cabin.  Jason chose a gravel shed foundation, and created the 4×4 treated perimeter for it from his primary residence.  For an extremely helpful guide on everything you need to know about installing a portable cabin base, check out this very helpful guide from Site Prep LLC.

4. Installing The Portable Cabin

With the shed base prepared, the actual placement of the portable cabin on the site is a breeze! We use a truck and specialized shed delivery trailer for delivering the shed to the customer location as well as a shed mule for precise final placement of the portable cabin.  These two pieces of equipment make the delivery and set up extremely simple.

5. Install Solar/Electrical Connections

The land that Jason is on is not actually “off-grid”.  But for this portable cabin, he felt that a solar connection would be a better short-term plan than hooking into the line dedicated for the house. We have another customer who did a similar off-grid solar project, you can read about that one here.  Jason went with 2 Kw Solar panels and 5Kw LiFePo4 battery. He connected it with a 2.4Kw all-in-one inverter/charger controller.

6. Install Insulation

Winters in Minnesota can get quite cold, so insulating the portable cabin was an essential step!  The studs of these portable cabin sheds are 16″ on center, which is the residential building standard. Thus it is simple to install typical fiberglass insulation.  Another option for insulating would be spray foam.  Spray foam insulation is an add-on option that Northland Sheds offers from the shop for customers who don’t want to do all the hand work of insulating it themselves.

7. Finish the Walls

Jason opted for a beautiful pine board finish on the walls of his portable cabin.  He added some contrasting colors on the ceiling that turned out fabulous.  Also note the stove hole for the very essential heater!

8. Heater Installation

Heat is essential in Minnesota.  Jason installed a simple direct vent wall heater that vents straight to the outside.  This one is a 22,000 BTU (LP) heater.

9. Flooring Installation

Jason went with a peel and stick vinyl plank flooring.  This is a super practical option for a cabin, since it is waterproof and very simple to clean.

vinyl flooring prefab portable cabin minnesota

10. Kitchenette Installation

For Jason’s portable cabin, a small kitchenette was sufficient.  He was able to retrofit used cabinetry for this job.

repurpose used kitchen portable cabin near detroit lakes minnesota

11. RELAX!

Now didn’t this cabin turn out super cozy?

cozy prefab portable cabin minnesota

Here is a photo of the cozy off-grid portable cabin sitting in the snow this past winter.

finished portable cabin in minnesota winter

We think Jason did a fantastic job on this portable cabin.

Having a portable cabin was important to Jason, because he really wanted to leave his long term options open.  Once the house is built, he said that he will likely be moving the portable cabin shed somewhere from its current location.  He intends to repurpose it as a guest house or in-law quarters… maybe a workshop.  The important thing for Jason is the cabin is portable.

Advice For Those Considering Their Own Portable Cabin

Want to finish your own portable cabin?  We asked Jason for his advice to those who are wanting to do just that. Jason said that he had been working in design and construction related industries his entire life, so not only was the project enjoyable, he actually knew what he was doing.

While the majority of this project is DIY friendly, Jason STRONGLY recommends that the electrical and plumbing portions of the project be completed by professionals. Jason was fortunate to have this prior work experience under his belt, but the average person really should not try to attempt this on their own.  Jason was able to finish this project in about 20 weeks, working 1 day per week.

What is the cost of a portable cabin?

Many of you are likely thinking about what a finished portable cabin like this would cost.  Jason gave us a very rough estimate of his costs to complete the job.

Cost of a similar 12×24 Ranch Style Garage shell from Northland Sheds is $12,500 (approximate as of the time of this writing).

Cost of solar $5,000

Cost of heating system $2,000

Cost of finishing the interior $4,000

Total approximate cost of this portable cabin $23,500*

*this is an approximate cost only.  Material prices are changing rapidly, and this price should in no way be seen as accurate for any project you are considering!

Are you interested in purchasing and finishing a portable cabin of your own?

At Northland Sheds, we have a variety of prefab shed styles that are ideal for usage as a portable cabin.  Why not start dreaming with our 3D shed builder?  If you need a portable cabin soon, check out our current inventory at a display lot near you!