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30 Secrets of Affordable Design | Cost-Cutting, Budget-Saving Home Design Ideas

Cut log home-building costs without sacrificing the overall value of your home by following this handy design advice.

In order to get the log home of your dreams you sometimes need a reality check. Use these cost-cutting tips to eliminate unnecessary spending from your budget while still maintaining the integrity of your ideal log home.

Overall Design:

1. Use a Stock Log Home Plan:
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. Design a Rectangular Log Home Plan:
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. Design an Open Log Home Plan:
Keep square footage down with an open floorplan that eliminates unnecessary hallways. Also look for innovative ways to use traditionally wasted space.

4. Build Upward, Not Outward:
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. Keep Your Home’s Width Narrow:
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.

Construction & Labor:

6. Build in Stages:
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. Clear Your Home-Building Site Yourself:
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. Slab on Grade Foundations:
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. Add Basement Living Space:
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. Incorporate 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. Use Non-Log Materials:
To save money on logs, incorporate a variety of exterior materials such as stone, board and batten, cedar shake, and even stucco.

12. Choose Your (Design) Battles:
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. (Having this impressive feature as a focal point of your home also draws enough attention that other areas you didn’t invest in are often overlooked).

13. Limit Outdoor Deck Space:
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. Keep Your Driveway Short:
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. Build Walkways with Cheaper, Alternative Materials:
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.

Roof & Ceiling:

16. Keep Your Roofline Simple:
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. Keep a Low (Ceiling) Profile:
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. Consider Solar Tubes
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. Build Conventionally:
Don’t get fancy with your log work. Let the natural look of standard logs (or logs with chinking) speak for themselves…because they will. Don’t worry about intricate designs or clever log trusses. A log home envelopes it’s guests on it’s own.

Walls & Floors:

20. Use Smaller Logs:
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. Don’t Be Afraid to Use (Some) Drywall:
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. Consider Using Log Siding:
To maintain the look of full logs without the cost, consider log siding for your home’s walls, dormers and garages.

23. Use Laminate or Vinyl Flooring:
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. Use Consistent Flooring Materials:
"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. Use Dimensional Lumber:
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.

Finishing Touches:

26. Consider Using Fiberglass Doors:
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. Start With Low-Cost Lighting Fixtures – Upgrade Later:
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. Use a Factory-Made Hearth:
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. Use Granite Tiles Instead of Granite Slabs:
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. Incorporate a Simple, Straight Stair Design:
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.

Published in Charles Bevier
Comment Feed

3 Responses

  1. Great money-saving tips. Thanks.

    SSteenMay 30, 2008 @ 3:06 pmReply
  2. Lots of good ideas here, and I agree with most of them. However, I have a problem with some of these suggestions because, unless explained better, they do not make for a practical or cost-efficient application. For instance, adding porches later only works with homes that are of a almost full two-story wall configuration. Also, a masonry fireplace does not cost $50k to $100k, it is more like $12k to $15k in most homes. Slab-on-grade is not a reasonable foundation for most log homes because it eliminates any easy installation, distribution and future access of electrical, plumbing, and HVAC systems. The heavy timber second floor and roof systems eliminate hidden cavities where utilities can be installed. Slab-on-grade is usually closer to the ground (due to cost) than a conventional crawl-space or basement foundation wall, this creates future maintenance and insect infiltration issues. I only use slab-on-grade for barns or garages, and then I design the timbers to rest on a perimeter stem wall of at least 30″ in height above ground level.

    John RicketsonJanuary 9, 2014 @ 3:54 pmReply
  3. Agree with SSteen.

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