Log Homes: What You Need To Know Before You Build

Log homes often catch the eyes of farmers and homesteaders—but make sure you know what you’re getting before you build.

by Carole Howell
PHOTO: Larry Krause/Flickr

Words such as ambiance, nostalgia and even romance have been used to describe log and timber homes. With their back-to-nature, do-it-yourself feel, living the homesteader’s dream appeals to many. Whether you’re planning a seasonal dwelling or a permanent residence with the amenities of a conventional home, investigate before you invest.

Energy Efficiency

While wood’s thermal mass means that it’s able to store heat, it really works best in temperate climates because log homes don’t give you wood-stud walls, insulation, sheathing and wallboard. Buildings are given a thermal resistance rating called an R-value, with higher values denoting more effective insulation. According to Energy Saver, a program of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, wood’s thermal resistance is just a little over R-8, while a conventionally built home is R-14.

Factors that can adversely affect a log building’s energy efficiency include the type of wood you choose, poor construction and inadequate maintenance. You can help minimize air leakage by using well-seasoned cedar and spruce logs, plastic gaskets, and specialized foam sealants, and you can continue to improve efficiency with regular maintenance. Levi Hochstetler, founder of Hochstetler Milling, a log home manufacturer in north-central Ohio, says that today’s log homes can be very energy efficient.

A 1981-82 study by the National Bureau of Standards comparing exterior building materials found that even though the log exterior had 20 percent less R-value than a conventional stick building, it outperformed them overall by 38 percent in energy use. Solid log construction has also improved over the years.

Log Home Construction Costs

Log homes, because of their custom features, tend to run a bit higher in price—sometimes even twice as much as their stick-built brothers. Like tradition houses, the cost depends on size, construction type, materials and the owner’s preferences.

Handcrafted homes, built with individually prepared logs by a log-home specialist, can be substantially more expensive than a manufactured or machine-milled home. Manufactured homes are normally sold as packages or kits. Your package could include windows, shingles and decking materials. If you have the skills, you can save money by doing some of the finishing yourself.

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Hochstetler advises that to save on construction costs, you should build up rather than out.

“Fewer corners, dormers, gables and other embellishments help reduce the cost,” he says. “Log homes, in order to look good, don’t need the embellishments compared to the stick homes. Building in 4-foot increments helps maximize material usage.”

Maintenance Musts

All houses require maintenance, but wood attracts moisture, expanding and contracting, which causes air leaks. Moisture may also lead to rot and insects, such as ants and termites. To reduce maintenance costs, Hochstetler says to use a good finish, large overhangs and quality kiln-dried material.

For the best defense, purchase waterproofed and insecticide-treated logs; build in generous overhangs, guttering and downspouts; and make sure your drainage plain is adequate. Inspect often, and plan to stain and seal every three to five years. To reduce your fire risk, commit yourself to keeping leaves and other tree debris well away from your home.

Insurancing Your Log Home

Insurance premiums don’t have to be higher for log and timber homes, but not all carriers offer policies. An agent who represents several companies can help you find and evaluate ones that do. Try to use an appraiser familiar with log homes, and make sure your policy covers the replacement cost of your home and not the actual cash value.

Resale Rewards

Some buyers— those dedicated to log-home living—may be willing to pay as much or more over a conventional home, but attracting potential home buyers could be a little trickier. Not everyone will be drawn to the log-home standards of a cathedral ceiling, exposed beams and wood walls and ceilings.

Consider your building location. A log home among the trees is a natural fit, while the same house in a neighborhood surrounded by brick and white columns may be less appealing to home buyers.

If a log home is your long-term desire, plan ahead, discuss the pros and cons with other log homeowners, and shop around to make sure that the dream of a log home is the right choice for you.

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