30 Secrets of Affordable Design
By Charles Bevier

1 Stock Up.
Instead of a custom design, opt for a stock plan from your log producer’s catalog. Stock designs have been built many times before, so construction errors have been eliminated. 

2 Shape of Things. Whether stock or custom, a rectangular design is the most economical shape to build. Add more than four corners and you’ll add more costs. For example, it takes 18 feet of logs to create a single butt-and-pass corner with an 8-foot wall height.

3 Open House. Keep square footage down with an open floorplan that eliminates unnecessary hallways. Also look for innovative ways to use traditionally wasted space. 

4 Going Up. To expand your living space, build upward not outward. Adding a dormer within the roof or attic will give you a loft, which is far less expensive than a complete second story.

5 Trim Your Waistline. Keep your home’s width under 32 feet, advises Lynn Gastineau, owner of Gastineau Log Homes in New Bloomfield, Missouri. "Once you go wider than 32 feet, you usually need longer rafters," she says.

6 Stage Coach. Start by building the house the first year, followed by the wraparound porch in Year Two and the garage in Year Three. Add outbuildings, such as a guesthouse or barn, in subsequent years. 

7 Clearing Up. As much as 35 percent of your budget will go to clearing your home site, excavating a foundation, creating a driveway and installing utilities. But you can earn a little sweat equity by clearing trees and foraging for found materials (rock and wood) for use in landscaping.

8 Solid Footing. Slab on grade is the least expensive foundation, butthis option is only available in frost-free regions, says Sam Satterwhite, president of Satterwhite Log Homes in Longview, Texas. Everywhere else you’ll need some form of basement or crawl space. 

9 Underground Movement. A full basement with roughed-in plumbing and electrical lines is one of the most affordable ways to add extra living space to your log home, says Rick Kinsman, co-owner of 1867 Confederation Log Homes in Ontario, Canada.

10 Stacked Baths. Putting two bathrooms back to back—or stacked above and below in a two-story design—will reduce your plumbing contractor’s work, which can save money.

11 Combo Platter. To save money on logs, incorporate a variety of exterior materials such as stone, board and batten, cedar shake, and even stucco.

12 Grand Entrance. For sheer "wow" factor, many pros recommend investing in a substantial timber-frame-style entrance. "You can achieve this economically and still make it impressive," advises Rick Kinsman.

13 Decked Out. Wraparound porches are popular but can cost as much as $25,000 for 150 feet of porch. To cut costs, design a smaller covered porch at the front door.

14 Drive Time. Locating your home far off the main road will give you privacy. But you could save thousands in grading and compacting costs if you keep the driveway short.

15 Walk this Way. Crushed stone, flagstone or concrete pavers (stones that are usually placed on top of sand) make attractive and affordable alternatives to poured concrete for walkways, patios, pool decks and more.

Top Heavy. Keep your roof simple with a single ridgeline instead of "hips and valleys" or multiple roof planes. Extreme angles, such as turrets or an angled prow under an A-frame, cost more in materials and labor.

17 Looking Up.
If you worship cathedral ceilings, use them in the great room—but keep the ceiling height in other rooms lower (in the 8-foot realm), suggests Sam Satterwhite.

18 Sky’s the Limit. If you can afford dramatic skylights, go for it. But also consider solar tubes. "They bring in natural light and cut down on installation and materials costs," explains Lynn Gastineau.

19 Timbers! To save money, use a conventional truss or rafter roof system in the attic, with smaller, decorative timbers and non-structural tongue-and-groove decking.

20 Size Matters.
Using smaller logs will reduce costs substantially. "Six-by-eight-inch logs offer the same stability and energy performance as eight-by-eight-inch logs," says Lynn Gastineau. "And you’ll save roughly $2,500 on your log package for a 2,000-square-foot home."

21 White Stuff.
Drywall is roughly half the cost of pine tongue-and-groove paneling (cedar is another step up in price). So it’s an excellent choice for framing interior walls and ceilings.

22 Halfway there. To maintain the look of full logs without the cost, consider log siding for your home’s walls, dormers and garages.

23 Floor Show.
The most economical flooring is carpet and pad, which can be a comfortable option for the bedroom or basement. For the main living space, laminates and vinyl will usually save you money over hardwood floors, though wood tends to wear better.

24 One Step.
"To reduce flooring costs, pick one product and use it in as much of the home as possible, advises Royce Johnson, a sales representative with Original Old Timer Log Homes and Supply in Mount Juliet, Tennessee. 

25 Underfoot Fetish.
Squeak-free, engineered trusses like I-joists can span long distances (great for open floorplans) and are easy to install. Dimensional lumber (2-by-6s or 2-by-10s) is more affordable and hardier in the event of a plumbing accident. But it can also twist over time—making for a house that creaks.

26 Door Jam.
A pre-hung steel unit (around $600) will work well and is easy to install. For more dent protection, upgrade to fiberglass, which offers a wood-like texture with less maintenance.

27 Light Bright. Specify low-cost lighting fixtures and upgrade them in the future. Lynn Gastineau also recommends using inexpensive fluorescent lights above and below cabinetry as task lighting for cooking.

28 Hearths. Instead of a traditional masonry fireplace (which can cost from $50k to $100k) choose a factory-made, direct-vent, zero-clearance fireplace, which can be accented with decorative rock (around $15,000 installed).

29 Counter Intuition. For a solid work surface, Lynn Gastineau recommends installing granite on your kitchen island and then using granite tile on the remaining countertops to save money.

30 Straight Shooter.
A simple, straight stair design will save you money. For the ultimate budget buy, Sam Satterwhite suggests a plain set of stairs (for a few hundred bucks) concealed under pad and carpet.

Charles Bevier is editor of Building Systems, a magazine that profiles innovative construction technologies.

Read more about affordable design in the August 2005 issue of Log Home Design Ideas.