We’ve done a fairly large number of log home designs in the past and I thought it might not be a bad idea to use the blog as a primer for folks who might be interested in building a log home of their own. Below is my top 10 list of things to know about the design, construction, financing and living in a log home:
10: Logs require maintenance. This is an unyielding reality of the nature of wood. It will shrink, warp, twist, crack and if not protected, rot. But this is also why we love it – the character and very nature of wood itself is still alive long after it has been cut down. If you want to live with the warmth of wood, you have to protect it and plan for it to continue moving.
9: Log homes provide thermal mass in the walls. See my blog post on thermal mass and you’ll understand more about why r-value alone doesn’t tell the whole story about thermal comfort in a home.
8: Log walls settle. It doesn’t matter if the logs are kiln dried or dead standing, the material is made up of millions of tiny cells that were once living. As those cells continue to dry out, the logs will continue to shrink. As the logs shrink, the entire structure of the home settles down with it (provided you are using your log walls as bearing walls). This requires a great number of special details and very close consideration in the design by your architect so that settling components do not literally rip themselves apart from nonsettling components. Now, there are glu-laminated products that significantly reduce some of this movement and there are systems to help mitigate it, but at the end of the day, you’re working with a material that is still alive in many respects.
7: Window walls get expensive. While everyone loves the expanse of windows in certain rooms (and we do too), these window walls can be much more costly to achieve in a log home than in a stick frame home. The reason? because there is a limit to how short you can cut the logs and rely on them for bearing, so window walls tend not to be log walls at all but instead a structural grid of posts and headers. The problem is that all of the structure in a log home needs to be designed so it can settle with the logs. This means, that the entire window wall structure in a great room needs to allow the roof above to settle over it, compromising its structural integrity and thermal barrier. These are challenges that have solutions, but like every complicated solution, not at a price.
6: Electrical runs can get very interesting. Unless you pre-mill the logs (which some manufacturer’s will do), and plan very far in advance, your electrician may find that he’s pulling significantly more wire than he would in a conventional home. The reason is obvious, but also consider log homes on a slab – then the problems compound. Now imagine a log home on a slab with a SIPs roof. We’ve got to give them somewhere to go!
5: Pay very close attention to the insulation package. What insulation in a log home? Plenty. There are still some framed walls in a log home, dormers, gable ends, basement walls, slabs, roof and all of the settlement gaps above windows and doors. All of these things need to be tightly sealed but still allow for settlement which requires a number of special details.
4: Log Homes cost more to build. Some will say this is a myth, but let’s not kid ourselves here. There’s more material and more labor involved with a log home. Period. This means a premium cost of maybe 15%-20% over a stick built home. Lots of folks decide to build their own, set their own logs, etc. Sweat equity is a great way to save in your construction costs, but that doesn’t mean that you can compare to stick framing in an apples to apples comparison. CAVEAT: You can “trick out” a stick frame home and drive cost per square foot through the roof. I’m talking about equivalent homes with equivalent finishes. The good news here is that you get what you pay for.
3: Your bank or appraiser will have a hard time finding appropriate comps for your home. Unless you live in an area densely packed with log homes (where is that?), they are relatively few and far between. This is good news for the log homeowner because of the good old law of supply and demand. Remember the 15%-20% premium you paid in item 5 above? well, that can result in a 20%-30% premium on valuation over an equivalent stick framed home. This is also because the market values log homes higher than their conventional counterparts. So, don’t settle with a bad appraisal based on stick-built comps. Insist on accuracy and if your appraiser doesn’t understand what you’re talking about, find someone who does.
2: Your architectural style is NOT constrained. Sure, most people who dream of living in a log home envision traditional rustic styling reminiscent of the pioneer lodges of old. While this is a very consistent style with the materials, it is not the only style. We have designed much more contemporary, clean lined architecture with logs and you can even venture into the modern with bold forms and simpler goemetries. Remember that logs are the medium, the architecture is anything you want it to be.
1: Log homes are livable, comfortable and calm. Maybe it’s built into our psychology from centuries of our ancestors living in natural settings, but everything from acoustics to even the natural smell (no VOCs please) of wood in the home results in a very warm and comfortable atmosphere. Quiet environments and calm settings that reduce the stress of daily life and therefore promote healthy living.