When Bill and Martha Deuchler made the decision to build a log vacation home on 83 feet of scenic riverfront property along Oregon’s Deschutes River, they spent years researching their choices. “We went to a lot of log home shows and seminars; we researched designs and we knew the type of home we wanted,” Martha says. “We met with a lot of builders. It was really a process of elimination.” When the Deuchlers met with husband-and-wife team Cliff and Chris Wheeler, owners of Baker Pond Log Works of Bend, Oregon, and builder-dealers for Lincoln Logs Ltd., The Original, something clicked. “What we thought would initially be a one-hour meeting, turned into three hours of talking and just going through their own home and discussing design options,” Martha says. “During our 45-minute drive home, my husband and I agreed: We had finally found our builder. “After looking at a lot of the construction details that Cliff had included in their own home,” she adds, “we just knew that they could build the type of home we were looking for.”
Choosing the right log home builders is key in successfully turning your dreams of log-home living into reality. Despite the best design, engineering and milling by your log-home manufacturer, if your builder doesn’t execute well in the field and build your home correctly, your dream could turn into a nightmare of scheduling snafus, ballooning budgets and constant callbacks.
Before beginning your search for a reputable builder or contractor, it’s helpful to understand the roles of the various craftsmen and professionals found in the log home industry and how their specific duties have evolved. The majority of log homes are made in factories where the logs are precision-milled and engineered to account for shrinkage and other construction challenges. These log home companies typically market their packages through a combination of in-house salespeople and independent representatives throughout the country. These independent representatives and builder-dealers are your local link to the log home manufacturer, which may be located in another state or across the country.
Builder-dealers can offer buyers a variety of services, depending on the role they have chosen within the industry. Some builder-dealers coordinate the sale of the log home package between the buyer and the manufacturer. Many will build the shell of the log home but leave the turn-key completion or final finishes to other contractors. Still others offer a combination of all three in a full-service approach, described as “trees to keys,” in common industry parlance.
Be aware that the majority of log home dealers sell only the log home package and don’t offer the option of building your entire home. Don’t be alarmed if the dealer you select doesn’t offer construction services. He or she will have a list of area contractors familiar with log home construction. It should be noted that when the Deuchlers selected Cliff and Chris Wheeler to build their log home, it took some convincing. As authorized representatives for Lincoln Logs Ltd., The Original, the Wheelers coordinate the sale of more than a dozen log home packages every year. They typically don’t offer turn-key service, simply because they don’t have the time. “Never underestimate the powers of persuasion,” Martha says.
Even though Bill and Martha felt an instant bond with the Wheelers, the couple nevertheless did their homework by checking references carefully. “I also checked with the state contractor’s board, to see if they had any liens or judgments against them,” Martha says. “I don’t know how it is in other states, but in Oregon you can do that over the Internet.” For the Deuchlers, that research and another meeting with the Wheelers gave them the confidence to proceed with building a 1,950-square-foot, Alpine-style log home. “The relationship that we developed was great, and the house turned out just the way we wanted it,” Martha says. “Very few things went wrong, and that was due to our constant communication.”
Besides finding a builder you can communicate well with and painstakingly checking references with past customers, you also should visit finished homes to personally inspect the builder’s work. Keep in mind that it usually takes several years for a log home to completely settle and expose any construction defects. A 3- to 5-year-old home probably is the best example of a builder’s art. Before selecting your builder, you also should check with the local contractor’s board or similar state or regional authority, including your state’s attorney general’s office, to see if the builder has been involved with litigation in the past. In today’s society, a lawsuit or two over the course of a career spanning decades would not be unusual. But multiple incidents in a shorter time frame would certainly be cause for concern.
It’s wise to choose a builder who is familiar with your local building codes and the environment of your site, advises Julie Rotvolt, co-owner with her husband Dan of Expedition Log Homes of Arizona, longtime builder-dealers who offer construction service and log home package sales. “And make sure your builder is licensed and bonded, too,” she says. “Otherwise, if you run into problems, you could have little legal recourse.”
The Best Teacher
Should you hire a local builder or someone from afar? “I would recommend that a buyer use a local builder, because if there’s a problem that local builder can more easily come back and fix it,” says Lynn Gastineau, president of Gastineau Log Homes in New Bloomfield, Missouri. Is it imperative that a builder have experience in building log homes to make a project go smoothly? Most agree that if a builder is good at his craft, he can build a log home even if he’s never done it before. “Even if it’s a builder’s first time putting up a log home, I wouldn’t have any hesitation provided he or she is a quality custom-home builder,” Lynn says.
The majority of log home companies today provide detailed construction manuals, and many offer weekend construction seminars with hands-on training to educate builders and buyers on construction techniques. However, if you’re choosing an inexperienced log builder, the type of log package should be considered. A pre-cut package is a lot more user-friendly to an inexperienced builder than a package of raw logs. “A pre-cut log wall package goes up very quickly, and the rest of construction is very similar to a conventional home,” says Rich Horn of Northeastern Log Homes in Kenduskeag, Maine.
“Then there’s the matter of efficiency: An inexperienced log home builder may not be as efficient as one who has done a few before. That may not affect the quality, but the customer may pay more because of those inefficiencies, which naturally take more time and manpower.” Rich says that if you choose a builder who is inexperienced working with logs, make sure that he is willing to learn. “Sometimes a builder will say, ‘This is how I do it and I’m not going to change just because Northeastern says to do it this way.’ You may run into trouble with that kind of attitude,” he says.
Rich offers some final advice: “If a builder runs into a difficult situation on the job, have them call the manufacturer,” he says. “That’s what we’re here for.” So, if you do your homework, you and your builder can produce a log home you’ll be proud of for years to come.