Are prefab cottages an easier option?

Updated: January 16, 2019

wooden-cottage-winter Photo by photowind/Shutterstock

There have been many iterations of prefab cottages cropping up on Canadian lakes—those wooden steepled ceilings and massive water-facing windows aren’t coincidentally of the same design. There’s a template, and it has many a loyal follower.

A new prefab design will be revealed at the International Design Show next year called the Great Lakes Cabin, developed by the Backcountry Hut Compnay, taking more of a spare and modern approach form that the team behind it says is inspired by the land.

That’s all great. And the asymmetrical structure is striking—a sleeping loft, suspended woodstove, and a massive window front are just a few of the Instagram-worthy features that sweet-talk people in the city into planning their weekend in the woods.

But are prefab cottages the right option for the diverse terrain across Canada? And what should buyers know before taking this ‘easier’ option?

The specifics around what’s required before you build—or implant your prefab getaway—vary from region to region, but regardless of where you are (and as long as you’re keeping it legal) it’s not quite as easy as purchase and pour the champagne.

“The biggest concern we see with prefab cottages lies within the terminology surrounding this building form,” writes Susanne Marchison, chief building official for City of Kawartha Lakes in an email response. “Many different labels are interchanged by persons in and around the industry, such as ‘prefab,’ ‘modular’ and ‘factory built.’  Upon initial contact with the Building Department, the first thing we need to determine is what type of unit the applicant is referencing.”

In Ontario, there are three different types of buildings that qualify as prefab, each requiring a different building permit: manufactured homes, seasonal trailers and factory-built buildings. “Many times the filing of the building permit application or initial contact with the building department comes after the unit has been purchased and sometimes even after the unit is delivered to the site,” says Marchison. Not knowing which type of category their prefab falls under can lead to issues down the road with zoning.

In terms of the specific cabin, there is also a lot to consider in terms of site preparation and installation, and the manufacturer can surely offer advice in that way. And many designs, like the Backcountry Hut Company’s, offer options to scale designs up or down to fit the user’s needs, and the requirements of their property.

Before buying a prefab, Marchison gives a few tips on what to consider: know your zoning to ensure the building you plan to purchase is permitted; confirm with the manufacturer that the unit you are purchasing is compliant with the applicable standards for your lot and check in with the local planning department on any other approvals you might need—building permits, conservation approval or permits for the sewage system are still needed with prefab units; and when applying to the local building department (prior to construction!) remember two sets of drawings are needed detailing both the prefab unit itself, and any infrastructure that will be constructed on site like decks, garages or the foundation, and a site plan.

“The number one take away and recommendation is to always start with municipal staff and ask questions before you commit to the purchase of a unit,” says Marchison.

Featured Video