What Makes a Dwelling a Cabin or a Summer Home?
The distinction between a "cabin" (or "cottage") and a summer home or vacation home is often misunderstood by prospective buyers. I've even noticed that some real estate agents make the same mistake when describing a dwelling.
In our Madeline Island community, the percentage of year-round dwellings is increasing, particularly as a result of zoning regulations which require that new dwellings conform to the Wisconsin Uniform Building Code. A new construction home on Madeline Island must meet certain criteria. Manufactured doors and windows must be used, and the R-value of walls, windows and roofs must meet minimum standards. A new dwelling must have a central heating plant. There are published standards for air infiltration and heat loss. Building permits and inspections are required.
The words "cabin" and "cottage" imply a dwelling that is small and cozy, maybe somewhat rustic. Log cabins and one or two-room structures come to mind.
Here are the primary differences between cabins and homes:
- Cabins and cottages are designed for seasonal use, not as year round dwellings.
- A true "cabin" is usually not adaptible to year round use without significant alterations to the structure (adding a furnance or upgrading doors, windows, improving wall and ceiling insulation)
- Most cabins in our part of the country are winterized in late autumn and are shut in for the winter months.
The following are typically found in a true year-round vacation home (at least in the Upper Midwest):
- The dwelling in question is designed for year round use.
- The dwelling can be kept heated and habitable twelve months per year.
- The dwelling may or may not be winterized during winter months.
The above distinctions become a bit blurred when one is looking at a structure that is seventy-five years old or more. An historic six thousand square foot Victorian-style dwelling may not have a central heating plant, but I have trouble calling it a "cabin" or a "summer cottage".
[Below is an example of a year-round log home that looks like a "cabin", but is actually a three-bedroom, two bath vacation home on Madeline Island. It has in-floor heat, manufactured doors and windows, modern appliances (glass-top range, microwave, dishwasher) and main floor laundry/pantry area.]