Planning your log home is like taking a cross-country trip: You have a pretty good idea of your final destination, but you’re not quite sure of the best way to get there. Do you want the most scenic route or the most convenient? Do you want to spend your money on certain locations or save what you can for the final stop?

Either way, it will be critical to examine a road map and choose the path that best fits with your timing, interests, and budget. Familiarizing yourself with as many options as you can — from floorplans to landscaping, from log types to roofing materials, from kitchen designs to practical location of bathrooms — will exponentially narrow your choices when you’re ready to meet with a log producer. Based on our experiences at log-home shows and in speaking with happy homeowners, here are a few things you can do to start your research.

1. Create a log-home idea binder or notebook.
Get as many log-home magazines as you can and begin clipping or copying pictures and floor plans. An important note: Make sure you include the photo credit line, which usually runs in smaller type along the left- or right-hand side of the picture; it will tell you which company produced the log home, and you may be able to get the basic floor plan from that company by calling them or visiting their web site.

Inside the binder, separate your home into rooms. Include sketches of exteriors, interiors and landscapes. Cut and paste photos from magazines of rooms or features that you like. When clipping photos, remember to include the photo credit line — it’s the small, italicized verbiage that runs along the side of the photo that credits the photographer and usually includes information on the log home company that produced the home. If you find a plan you particularly like, you can check the producer’s web site or send the company an e-mail (citing the magazine, issue month and year, and page number).

Inside the notebook, list your must-haves with reasons — these could be big (great room with a big-screen TV for kids) or small (shelving in the bedroom for a figurine collection). Chances are good that you won’t be able to accommodate everything you want, but it’s easier to pare the list than to add a budget-crusher at the end. At some point in your notebook, you’ll need to include a sketch of a floor plan with rough dimensions that you can show to a log-home producer. You’ll probably want to do another sketch that covers the exterior layout with a rough idea of landscaping.

2. Request information from companies.
There are literally hundreds of log-home producers in North America; your job will be finding the right match. So use this magazine and the internet to do a little shopping: review all the ads and the Log Home Producer’s section in our magazines, and use the postage-free Reader Service card to get free information. It’s a great way for you to get free literature on products and services from log-home companies. Companies also have DVDs, CDs, videos, and catalogs available that showcase floorplans; these may cost a nominal fee, but provide a wealth of information and pricing.

So use this magazine and the internet to do a little shopping: review all the ads and the Log Home Producer’s section in our magazines, and use the postage-free Reader Service card to get free information

3. Go to log-home shows.
Our studies show that Country’s Best readers travel an average of 180 miles to visit at least one log-home show each year. The expos are fantastic sources for meeting with local reps face-to-face, getting plans, examining log styles close-up, and researching decorating ideas. Shows offer seminars that will give you valuable information on the process of building your home. You’ll also bump into several log-home owners who can pass along advice.

Before you go to the show, arm yourself with questions to give you a solid foundation for comparing producers. Ask companies what plans are available for you to consider, what dealers and model homes are in your area, and if you can arrange a visit to any private residences in your area. Sample questions to ask include:

• What wood species do you use?
• What log profiles do you offer?
• What is your drying method?
• What corner styles do you produce?
• What is your weatherproofing system?

4. Visit log home open houses and models in your area.
There are dozens of model log homes in every state; each usually serves as headquarters for a company’s regional representative. Some open houses are literally open houses, as you’d find in the real-estate industry; others are open by appointment. Again, be prepared to ask questions of the representative; you may want to bring your binder/notebook and your sketch, and ask to review it with a designer and ask if there’s a home with a similar style in the area that you can visit.

Check out our Log Home Events Calendar to find open houses in your area.

If you don’t see an open house offered in your area by the producer in which you’re interested, ask for the names of homeowners nearby who’d be willing to show you their house and discuss their experiences with you.

Perhaps a company has its headquarters within reasonable driving distance. Take time to visit their milling operations to get a sense for how the logs for the home are produced.

5. Attend log-home seminars.
Seminars can either be in conjunction with log-home shows — speakers and topics are listed when the schedule is final, or two to three weeks before each show — or are offered at open houses. Seminar topics usually include financing ideas, construction insights, introductions to log or timber home packages, and overviews of available floor plans. Presented in small-group settings, seminars are a great source of information, and presenters are available afterward for questions.

Visit our log-home shows and seminars to meet industry experts, attend workshops, and more.

6. Ask to visit references.
When you narrow your choice of producers to two or three, ask to visit several private residences in your area to get a feel for how the home will look in several years and to ask the owners for their take on the building process. Bring a notebook and ask lots of questions of the homeowner and producer. If you’re considering a builder, make a separate visit to a site (ideally a log home) and ask about the company’s familiarity with log-home construction. If possible, visit several log homes in the area to understand how different builders constructed a package from the same producer.

One of your primary resources should be the Log Homes Council (www.loghomes.org), which provides plenty of material on the industry. The council has also established standards for grading logs and acts as a clearinghouse for information.

7. Don’t fry yourself.
The research and planning process will take months, if not years, to gather and organize your thoughts. Keep an open mind and continue to amass ideas. After all, this will be the biggest and most important investment you make; the more data you have to make informed decisions at every step, the easier the process will be.