Build The Best Log Home For You

Building a rustic home in the woods? Here’s what you need to consider first.

by Charles Bevier
PHOTO: iStock/Thinkstock

Even though Terry and Debbie Dammann are retired from farming, it hasn’t slowed them down. In 2013, the couple sold their two-story Iowa farmhouse to their nephew and built their dream rustic home overlooking a lake. Initially, they thought they wanted a log home, but opted instead to build a 2,320-square-foot timber-frame home on their property in Shenandoah, Iowa.

They took a standard design and flipped it, “placing our bedroom in the back and our living area overlooking the lake,” recalls Terry, who was the project manager. “We stained every beam ourselves,” Debbie says. “We like doing that stuff. But it was the biggest project we’ve ever done.”

Many log and timber-frame homeowners say that their homes provide a powerful connection to Mother Nature that they find comforting. If you’re thinking about building one of these striking homes, use the following tips to help guide your decision-making process.

Long-Term Goals

Set some long-term, large-scale goals for yourself. Will this new rustic home be your primary residence, a weekend getaway or a home to transition to in your retirement years? Planning for the future can bring some clarity to what can be a confusing number of options.

The Dammanns opted to make their first floor handicapped-accessible, so a friend who needs a scooter to get around can access the home from the front door to the back deck. The loft is used for Terry’s office and a few bedrooms are devoted to the grandkids when they visit.

Narrow Focus

Building your dream log and timber home is likely one of the largest investments you will make in your lifetime. And because you probably aren’t a log-home expert, check in with the Log and Timber Homes Council, part of the National Association of Home Builders.
Council members must abide by a strict code of ethics, grade logs and timbers to ensure structural soundness, provide construction manuals to ensure correct building technologies, sponsor scientific studies that advance log and timber building technologies, and provide information to help consumers make smart choices. They’re an excellent resource to tap into.

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Determine Your Budget

There’s always a link between what you want and how much it costs, which is why you should meet with a lender early in the process to determine a ballpark budget. Otherwise, you may waste months of work designing a dream home you can’t afford or discovering too late that you can afford a larger residence.

Land Dictates Design

If you don’t have the land yet, you’ll need to start shopping for the right parcel. It’s best if you have land in hand before you choose a floor plan, because your design goal should be to have a home that grows organically from the terrain around it.

Style Points

Determining which style you find attractive will help decide. Your options include:

  • Milled: Machines cut logs to a specific profile (D-log, round log, etc.).
  • Half Log: Milled into siding, corner sections are full log pieces to maintain the illusion.
  • Glu-Lam: Wood is glued together and milled into specific profiles.
  • Handcrafted: Larger logs are tooled with chainsaws and other hand tools.
  • Timber Frame: Also known as post and beam, horizontal or vertical beams are either handcrafted or milled.
  • Mix & Match: If you want to mix and match these different styles, log and timber producers can help you create a new rustic style all your own.

Communicating Your Wants

If you and your spouse have differing opinions about what you want, emotions can run high. You’ll need to compromise, both between what you two want and also with what you can afford. List your wants and needs on a piece of paper and then prioritize them. Effective communication is the most important skill you can have during this process.

Tour Models

To help you decide what you want in floor plan, tour model homes, stay at log resort homes and visit developments. The variety will help you pinpoint what you like.

Gather Thoughts & Photos

Cut out photos of homes you like from magazines, even if you don’t know why you like them. Compile them into a binder, with sections on kitchens, baths, bedrooms and more. These will serve as invaluable tools to express exactly what you want to your builder.

Tracking Decisions

Because your log-home producer will likely only be supplying the shell of the structure, you will need to make decisions on a host of other materials: plumbing, electrical, cabinets, fixtures, flooring and more. By creating a schedule of tasks and a time frame to complete them, you can bring order to chaos and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

What Path Do You Want?

Speaking of builders, there are three different paths to get your home built.

  • You can have a builder construct it or turnkey it, which is often the easiest way to ensure you get a home on time and on budget.
  • You can serve as your own general contractor. By serving as your own GC, you can save 12 to 15 percent of the project that would otherwise go to a builder. But it’s a full-time job. Make sure you have room for it in your life.
  • You could also build the entire home yourself, which usually is not recommended if you don’t have extensive construction experience.

Remain Flexible

Be willing to adjust your expectations during the process, advises Sandra Selengut, who recently built a 5,000-square foot home on Johns Island, S.C. “Was it difficult? Yes. But it’s worth it. We were our own general contractor, and it took us more than two years to complete it because it’s difficult to get subcontractors in a resort area.”

No Change Orders

Once you’ve finalized your plan and begun construction, don’t make changes to the design or material specifications. If you do, it will cost you, because it can start a cascade of changes and your builder and subcontractor will charge you a premium for each one. This can also delay your completion date, which can increase your construction loan interest, costing you thousands.

Follow these strategies, and you’ll soon be on the way to the log home of your dreams.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of Hobby Farms.

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