ARTICE LIBRARY: GETTING STARTED IN THE BUILDING PROCESS
Have you begun to research log homes? Were you surprised by all the decisions that must be made during the process of building a log home? With all the different choices--from choosing a log type to deciding on the right floor plan to determining the color of the stain--it is easy to understand how overwhelming the process can be. So, where should you start? While there is no set "starting place," there are several aspects to consider from the beginning. Getting a good grasp on the following items will likely result in a smoother build right from the start:
- Where do you plan to build?
- What type of wood do you wish to use in your home?
- Which style and finish of log will give you the look you want?
- What is the cost of building a log home versus a stick-frame home?
- Which log home company should you choose?
- What problems, if any, should you expect to encounter during the build?
Where should I build?
Whether you are looking for a secluded get-away in the mountains, or a home that allows you to enjoy the hustle-and-bustle of the city, chances are you can find the land that will suit your needs.
While deciding on a location, research the area's annual rain amount, average temperature, property taxes, local government, crime rate, schools, etc. If you have certain activities that you enjoy, make sure they are offered locally. Speak to local vendors. Ask them questions about the area you are considering. These people are often a wealth of information, and are just waiting to be asked!
From California to the Carolinas--and everywhere in between--you will find wonderful places to settle down in your new log home. It's up to you to decide which place is right for you.
What type of wood should I use?
Of the hundreds of wood varieties in the world, only a handful are used for building log homes. These types of wood have withstood time and the elements, proving themselves worthy resources for log home building.
Wood species, or types, each have their own characteristics. Some are known for their beauty, others for their strength; still others are known for their natural ability to resist decay and insects. Below is a very brief description of five of the most used wood species:
Is there one type of wood that is best for building a log home? No, not really. The wood species you use should ultimately be determined by your personal preferences and budget.
- Pine: One of the most popular species for log home construction, pine is inexpensive, lightweight, attractive, and strong. It also accepts stain well. Pine is very stable when dry, which means there is little shrinkage, and therefore, less settling of the log walls. Pine has a high R-Value, meaning it is very energy efficient. The popular types of pine used are White, Yellow, and Norway (Red) Pine.
- Fir: The most popular type of fir used in log home construction is Douglas Fir. It is very strong, making it a good choice for long beams and trusses. With its uniform light reddishbrown color, Douglas Fir is a very attractive wood. Douglas Fir is moderately decay resistant, and accepts stain fairly well. Fir, like pine, is energy efficient and inexpensive.
- Spruce: Used primarily in the Northern United States and in Canada, Spruce is a soft wood which is light in color. It is lightweight and readily accepts stain. Its durability makes Spruce an easy wood for builders to use. Spruce is very stable, allowing little
shrinkage when dry. Spruce is minimally decay resistant, and falls into the median range in terms of cost.
- Cypress: Cypress is a hardwood found mainly in the Southern United States. It is an aromatic, attractive wood, light brown in color. It accepts stain very well. Cypress is quite durable, but can be difficult for builders to work with. Cypress is naturally very resistant to decay and insects. It is moderately expensive.
- Cedar: Along with White Pine, Cedar is one of the most popular wood species for log homes. There are two types of Cedar, Red and White. Like Cypress, Cedar is very attractive and aromatic. Cedar is a soft wood of low strength, making it durable and easy to work with. It takes stain moderately well, and is resistant to cracks (checks) and warping. Although Cedar is somewhat expensive, it is resistant to both insects and decay, making it a good choice for wet climates.
What are the different log styles and shapes?
Are you interested in a rustic look, or prefer a more finished appearance? The style and finish of the logs you select will determine the look of your home.
There are two types of logs:
There are several shapes that can be used in log home construction. The three most popular shapes are D-Log, Traditional, and Full-Round:
- Handcrafted: A handcrafted log is typically one that has been peeled, but is otherwise essentially unchanged from its original natural "tree-like" appearance. The process is completed by hand, using an axe or knife. This gives the home a more rustic look.
Because the process is quite labor-intensive, it is the more expensive choice.
- Milled: Milled (or machine-profiled) logs have been run through a manufacturing process, which converts the logs into timbers that are consistent in size and appearance. Milled logs give the home a more finished look. The style of the log goes hand-in-hand with the log's finish to achieve a desired look.
One additional note about logs: most logs today are kiln-dried. This is beneficial, as it reduces the amount of shrinkage in the logs, and produces uniform, stable materials and a surface that provides a better base for stains and finishes.
- D-Log: This style is rounded (like a "D") on the outside and flat on the inside. D-Logs are the most popular style used. The curved exterior surface gives the authentic look of log on the outside, while the flat interior surface allows for the hanging of pictures, shelves, etc. Each log has a tongue-and-groove design cut into the top and bottom surfaces, so that the logs fit tightly together when stacked during construction. D-Logs are available in Dovetail, Butt-and-Pass, Saddle Notch, Corner Post, and Corner Board corner styles.
- Traditional: This style provides a flat surface on both the interior and exterior of the building. Chinking (Mortar-based or synthetic filling used between rows of logs) is often used with this log style. Traditional logs are available in Dovetail, Butt-and-Pass, and Corner Post corner styles.
- Full-Round: Just as the name implies, these logs are rounded on both sides. This offers a more authentic, traditional "log cabin" look. Tongue-and-groove is cut into the top and bottom surfaces of the logs to ensure a tight fit. Full-Round logs are available in Butt-and-Pass, Saddle Notch, Corner Post, and Corner Board corner styles.
What is the cost of a log home versus a stick-frame home?
Is it really more expensive to build and maintain a log home? Yes and no. Log homes are typically custom-built, one-of-a-kind homes, complete with cathedral ceilings, tongue-andgrove floors, wrap-around porches, etc. This "uniqueness" does cost more than your run-of-themill,
cookie-cutter, stick-frame home would cost. Custom homes that are built to an individual customer's requirements will always cost more, whether they are log homes or not. Therefore, most custom homes will cost in a range of 10% to 30% more than a typical spec home of the same size.
One popular misconception regarding log homes is that they are drafty, therefore costing significantly more to heat and cool. This is simply untrue. Many people are surprised to discover the logs actually provide their own insulation. They function using the principal of
thermal mass. Due to the density of the logs, they tend to soak up warmth and retain it better than standard stick-frame walls. The logs will, in fact, soak up the warmth from inside the home; then, as the temperature falls during the night, the log walls will release that warmth back again into the home. Alternatively, log homes remain cooler throughout the warm months, utilizing the same principle of thermal mass.
Which log home company should I choose?
There are log home companies in every state in the U.S. Each company is much alike, in that they can boast of years of experience, offer log home kits or packages, and provide a good product. The way log home companies set themselves apart from each other is by providing
excellent customer service, offering a variety of log styles and wood species, and pricing their products and services fairly.
When choosing your log home company, answer the following questions:
Many log home companies offer an in-house designer who will meet with you to design your home. You may choose from their library of floor plans, or bring your own sketches for the designer to use. The designer's services are often provided as a part of the package, without added expense. This is another good question to ask during the decision-making process.
- Are they conveniently located to your building site?
- Do they carry the wood species and log style you want? If you are undecided about logs, is someone available to make sure you have an understanding of your log options?
- Has someone in the company spent time with you? Have they answered your questions in a competent manner? Do they appear to want to partner with you?
- What materials are included in their log home packages? What will you have to purchase in addition to what the package provides?
- Do they offer a wide variety of floor plans?
- Do they offer financing, banks, financing companies, or in-house financing?
- Can the log home company begin your project in a timely manner?
- Have you met the contractor who will be overseeing your home build? If so, do you trust him or her? Do you feel comfortable working with him or her for an extended period of time?
- How long will it take to build your home?
- How much will it cost to build your home?
The bottom line: when choosing a log home company, make sure you understand and agree with the policies of the company. Even more importantly, be certain you are comfortable with the contractor--you will be seeing a lot of this person in the coming months!
What problems can I expect during the build?
Understand from the very beginning that unexpected issues will arise during the building of your log home. Below are listed some of the more typical problems you may encounter:
Regardless of how well you plan, some problems will occur. The key to minimizing problems is to know exactly what you want, set a practical budget for your project, line up financing well ahead of time, and communicate with your contractor. When issues do arise, take a deep breath and simply deal with them rationally. Don't let small problems create unnecessary stress. And, remind yourself of how beautiful your home will look at the end of this adventure!
- Weather: From winter snow showers to strong spring and summer storms, the weather has a way of derailing even the best-laid plans.
- Economic changes: Shifts in the economy can mean an increase or decrease in the cost and/or supply of building materials, causing construction delays.