Policy On Cabins

photo of cabin

A 'Cabin' is defined in the Larimer County Land Use Code as: 'A structure that contains at least one habitable room for living, sleeping, eating, cooking or sanitation that is designed, arranged and intended to be occupied by one occupant or living unit. 1. A Cabin that includes a primary heat source and living facilities for sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation will be considered to be a single-family dwelling. 2. Cabins are permitted in the applicable zoning districts (See Section 4.1 [of the Larimer County Land Use Code]) only in the West Half of Range 70, in Ranges 71-78 and in Townships 11 and 12.'

Minimum Floor Area And Room Dimensions

  • 144 square feet of habitable space and minimum width and length of walls of 12 feet
  • One or more habitable rooms, one a least 120 square feet in floor area for living, sleeping, eating or cooking
  • Other habitable rooms except kitchen, at least 70 square feet in floor area
  • 7' ceiling height required for habitable rooms, hallways, corridors, bathrooms, toilet rooms, laundry rooms, and basements.
  1. All cabins must be designed and built to comply with Larimer County's Snow, Wind and Foundation requirements (all cabins must be placed on a permanent foundation). Building plans and permit required for all cabins.
  2. A letter of final inspection as to code compliance will be issued for cabins (if requested). No Certificate of Occupancy will be issued on cabins.
  3. A permit is required from Larimer County Health Department. Cabins may have holding tanks or other approved types of sewer systems. Consulting with Larimer County Health Department on system requirements is highly recommended. (It is a good idea to address both your current and future use plans at the start of your project.)
  4. If plumbing is installed in the cabin, all plumbing lines shall be equipped with drain down valves to remove water from the various systems to prevent freeze damage and drain lines must be protected with approved anti-freeze during winter months to prevent freeze damage. It is the owners responsibility to provide the required maintenance to protect the plumbing system.
  5. Cabins may use a fireplace or wood stove for heating. If heat is provided by a fireplace or wood stove, no insulation is required. Other heat sources (such as propane or electric) require compliance with Larimer County minimum insulation requirements (exterior walls and crawl spaces, attic spaces and cantilevers), and such insulation must be covered by a class III wall covering.
  6. Smoke detectors are required on each basement, floor level, bedroom and sleeping loft. Code compliant egress windows are also required from each basement, bedroom and sleeping loft.
  7. All guardrails and stairs must comply with adopted Larimer County Building Code requirements.
  8. All electrical systems require a separate permit from the State of Colorado Electrical Board. Applications for permits are available at the Larimer County Building Department but must be sent to the State of Colorado Electric Board for processing and electrical permit issuance. On cabins using battery or generator systems, consult the Colorado State Electrical Board for specific requirements. To convert a cabin to a single-family dwelling (R-3) the electrical system must be brought completely up to code for typical full-time use as a single-family dwelling, and a permit from the Colorado State Electrical Board is required prior to any work on the electrical system. Consulting with the Colorado State Electrical Board to see how these requirements might affect your project both now and in the future is highly recommended. Contact phone numbers (303) 894-2300 or 223-9838 between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.
  9. Consult with the Larimer County Wildfire Safety Coordinator concerning specific requirements at your building site. Contact phone number is 498-7718.
  10. A separate permit is required to convert a cabin into a single-family dwelling (R-3) or other use. A cabin is classified as a single-family dwelling when the structure contains a primary heat source and living facilities for sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation. After successfully completing all code compliance upgrades and required inspections successfully, a certificate of occupancy (CO) may be issued on such conversions.

Interpretation Note: To be classified a single-family dwelling and receive a CO, the following items must be present:

  1. Approved electrical system for a single family residence with permit from State of Colorado Electrical Board.
  2. Approved sanitation system with permit/approvals by Larimer County Health Department or sanitation district having jurisdiction. (Indoor bathroom and kitchen sink are required).
  3. Approved potable water system meeting requirements of county adopted Plumbing Code, and approval of other agencies required dependent upon type of system-public system, well or cistern).
  4. Approved hot water heater installed.
  5. Approved 'primary' heat source. Such systems are to be gas or electric, unless some other system has been approved by the Larimer County Building Official as an approved alternate method of heating.

If any one of the above listed items is NOT present, the structure will be classified as a Cabin. See the above 10 listed items concerning Cabins.

Intent Of Larimer County Land Use Code Changes Regarding Cabins

The term 'cabin' presented a problem in the past in the enforcement of Larimer County's zoning regulations. All of the zoning districts, except for the business, commercial and industrial zones, allow single-family dwellings. The definition of 'dwelling' previously included a restriction that the building had to contain at least 600 square feet. Historically, the Building Department issued building permits for residential structures in the mountainous areas of the County containing less than 600 square feet and called them "cabins.'

The distinction between a dwelling and a cabin is determined by how the building is constructed, rather than by the size of the structure or the amount of time the building is occupied during the year.

According to the Building Code, a dwelling must have living facilities for cooking, eating, sleeping and sanitation and it must have a permanent heat source, such as a furnace, that will maintain a constant temperature in the structure to prevent the plumbing from freezing during cold weather. A structure that lacks any of the living facilities or a permanent heat source is a cabin.

Since cabins have always been allowed, changes were made to the Larimer County Land Use Code to clarify the difference between a cabin and a single-family residence. It is important to note that a cabin is a principal use that precludes a property owner from having more than one cabin or a cabin and a dwelling on the same parcel. Listing 'cabin' as a principal use in the appropriate zoning districts addressed this concern.

In summary, the following sections of the Larimer County Land Use Code were revised:

  • Subsections 4.1.2, FA-1 Farming; 4.1.3, FO-Forestry; 4.1.4, FO-1 Forestry, 4.1.5, O-Open; 4.1.6, E-Estate; 4.1.7, E-1Estate and 4.1.8, RE-Rural Estate by adding 'Dwelling, Cabin' under the residential uses in each district.
  • The definition of 'Dwelling, Cabin' was added to the definitions section of the Code.
  • The definition of 'Dwelling' was revised to include 'cabin' and to remove the 600 sq.ft. minimum requirement.
  • The definitions of 'Dwelling, Duplex', 'Dwelling, Multiple Family', 'Dwelling, Single Family', 'Dwelling, Single Family Attached', and 'Dwelling, Single Family Detached' were revised by adding the words 'containing a primary heat source and living facilities for sleeping, eating, cooking and sanitation.'
  • The definition for 'Primary Heat Source' was added to the definitions section of the Code.
  • A category for 'Cabin, Dwelling' was added to the tables for County and Regional Transportation Capital Expansion Fees that will be 30% of the fee for a single-family dwelling.