What you need to know before building a prefab cottage

Published: October 18, 2018

prefab-home-on-land-near-lake-in-country Photo by ollirg/Shutterstock

One cottager reflects on the lessons she learned after building a prefab cottage:

In our search for relaxation and tranquility we decided to invest in a cottage on a lake. After looking at numerous areas we finally found the perfect lake: Lake Louisa in Wentworth Quebec. Sadly, there were no cottages for sale that fit our needs, so we decided to build our own. First thing we had to do was find land. We found a 1.4 acre waterfront undeveloped property with 300 feet of shoreline.  This was the place where we would build our cottage that one day we would retire to and live full-time.

With land secured, the adventure began to determine exactly how to build. We found that pre-manufactured homes, a.k.a. ‘prefabs’, offer the same energy-efficient, high-quality materials as traditional cottages. They have the added bonus of being custom-made to our design preferences and a quicker delivery.

We didn’t know anyone with personal experience with prefabs, so we did our research and thought we had it covered. We went into the project thinking that within six months we would be enjoying our finished cottage. However, that was not the case. We learned a lot over the next 12 months and realized we didn’t know as much as we had initially thought.

Here are some of the things we wish we knew before we started:

Location, location, location

This age old saying holds true in real estate and also in prefab cottage building. We found our perfect slice of heaven, only to realize our entry to the property was too steep and narrow. We had to widen the driveway, remove trees, and get a load of crushed stone so vehicles would get traction. Even with the additional cost and effort, the delivery truck was too tall for the small country roads. They ended up ripping down the power lines when leaving — a cost we found out we were liable for, even though the prefab manufacturer chose the company.

If you buy your property before you buy a prefab, pay attention to the layout of the land and where your home will be with relation to the sunrise and sunset. We loved our waterline, but this was problematic for finding a place for the septic, well, and the protected area from the shoreline. Due to mature trees and slope we had only one suitable place for the septic. This meant our cottage would be off-centre to the lake opening and our dream of a sunset view would not be our reality.

Make sure you check everything with your city, too. A lake neighbour had watched ours and decided to build on their existing property. They city would not give them the permit to widen their driveway so the trucks would be able to deliver and their dreams were halted.

The base price isn’t your final price

The base price of a prefab catches your attention. Built in a factory, usually in two days, means things like weather and having a crew on-site for months is instant savings over on-site production.

Many manufacturers include the cost of construction, transportation, and installation of the home onto the foundation. All modifications of upgraded external siding, floors, cabinets, etc., all come at a cost. Not to mention the costs of making your site suitable to install your home. Permits, soil testing, inspections, land survey, water well, septic, foundation, utility hook-ups, landscaping, driveway access, final grading of the land, interior finishings, contractor, labourers, and more can add thousands to your budget. For our cottage all the extras, furnishings, and things we hadn’t thought of like gutters and door knobs ended up costing us almost the same price as the prefab structure.

If you build it, they will not always come

We loved the turn-key option of a prefab cottage. The price tag was over our budget, but we were okay with that because everything would be handled, right? Again, no. Something not included in the prefab price are the finishings inside the cottage and a local contractor and labourers to complete the work. These prices vary depending on the size of the cottage, municipality, and location.

Our cottage was out in the country and we had a hard time finding skilled workers. A lot of the workmen we found were good at patching up cottages. We needed flooring, tiling, plumbing, fixtures installed, walls built in the basement, doors hung, etc. One person that was highly recommended for flooring took a long time and we found holes in the hardwood flooring, a big lip between the bathroom and living room and the finishing trim was incomplete. When we questioned him, he said “it looks good to me”. This was when we realized that the lake handyman who closes up windows on three-season cottages is not the person you need. When you find skilled workers in the nearest town be prepared to pay extra for travel time.

Get Creative

Take the time to think and re-think your decisions. The footprint of rooms can be changed, flipped or modified more than once. We were able to work with our designer and use every ounce of space to add a hidden closet and an extra bedroom in our space.

Delivery does not mean done

This was the biggest setback for us. When we got the magical date that our cottage would be delivered we expected to move in right away. Their crew would need 10 days to waterproof between modules, fasten interior walls, and inspect. This process contributed to delays, which meant the tradesmen we hired had to be pushed back and set us back four weeks. Ultimately you end up working with so many different schedules and a project that was planned (and budgeted) for four to six weeks took double or triple and some things are still not completed.

Remember it’s a cottage to live in

This was one of the hardest things for us to learn. Everything is so shiny, new, and perfect, you want it to stay that way. But you have to remember it’s a cottage out in nature and it’s meant to be functional. While living in a construction zone, the amount of dirt and dust creating from building walls and plastering made its way everywhere. I can recall exactly where the first nick in the wall happened and the first dent in the floor. Now we can laugh about when my son brought in a blackened fire stick in the house and unknowingly ran it along the wall — we didn’t laugh when it happened mind you.

From time to time during the experience of building our prefab cottage we took a pause. We had to come to terms with the fact that everything will not be exactly as we had dreamed — and that’s okay. The most important thing is that it is your piece of land, your refuge for relaxation and tranquility. Even when certain aspects don’t pan out exactly as you had planned, sometimes it works out better.

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