Four essential skills that will help you breeze through your dream log home construction.
By Jim Cooper
When I started building log homes, I was surprised to find that the most important skills for a project manager or general contractor were not the technical skills of construction but another set of skills. These I call coping skills and they make the difference between a successful log home project and a nightmare.
These same skills will help you build your home. You just need to learn to COPE. COPE, as you might have guessed, is an acronym that stands for Communication, Organization, Persistence and Enthusiasm.
Armed with these four skills, you can sail through your log home project, even if you have little or no construction experience. Without these skills, even seasoned professionals can become mired in frustrating and costly confusion and delays. Let’s look at each of the four skills required to COPE with a log home construction project and see how they contribute to its success.
This one heads the list with good reason. Communication is the cornerstone of any successful construction project and it is important at many levels. It begins with clear communication between you and your spouse to define what you want. Log homes are very personal dreams. When two or more people become involved in the same log home, it’s important for everyone’s peace of mind to know that they share the same dream.
Probably the best way to define your personal dream is through pictures. Start a scrapbook. Fill it with design and decorating ideas from books and magazines, along with photos that you take during visits to model homes. Don’t just limit your pictures to room views or sweeping exteriors; include pictures of details such as door and window trim, hardware and fixtures. Creating the scrapbook should be a joint project so you, your spouse and anyone else who will live in the home can share in the dream.
Good communication is also essential between you and your builder or subcontractors. Many cost overruns and hidden expenses originate because the home owners failed to communicate important information to the people doing the work.
Countless details go into finishing a log home and it’s easy for some to be overlooked. This can lead to aggravation, frustration and extra costs. Use your scrapbook and written specification sheets to convey the details of your dream to the builder and subcontractors. Make sure they understand your wishes before they submit bids. Recognize that successful subcontractors are business people, not mind readers. They rarely include anything that will raise the cost of their bids unless requested to do so, because they are competing in price against other subs.
Let’s use interior window as an example. There are countless ways to trim a window. The simplest and cheapest is to create a picture frame from standard dimensional lumber. Boards are simply mitered and nailed into the window jamb. There are no sills or other embellishments.
An alternative would be to box the window opening with half logs for a rustic look. You also could ad a wide sill for plants. Then there’s the trim itself. It could have smooth surfaces and squared edges or be shaped with beveled edges and grooves. In the absence of any instruction from you, the finish carpenter is going to base his bid on the fastest, least expensive trim methods. If you have a particular preference, show the carpenter the photos in your scrapbook and make sure includes your specification in his bid. That way you’ll get an accurate bid and exactly the look you want.
Organization is the second skill required to COPE. To keep control of your project and your budget, you should write down everything related to your home and organize the paperwork carefully. To organize yourself prior to bids, use written specification sheets (they’re often included in books about construction). They’ll help save you from overlooking details. Also, create a notebook with names and addresses of potential subs. This will help you organize the bidding process. And, create a written summary of all costs so you don’t omit major costs centers.
People unfamiliar with construction often don’t realize that the overall cost of a log home is made up of a large number of individual cost centers, including plumbing, electrical and trim work. Trying to keep track of costs in your head is inviting financial chaos.
Also develop an organized construction schedule. It is as important as the budget because without it the budget may evaporate.
You can use your schedule to track when each part of the construction is to be completed. Also, you can use the schedule to make sure materials are ordered in time so they’ll be on site when subs arrive for work. Use one of the construction schedules found in books about building. A graphically prepared schedule often referred to as a Gantt chart makes it easy to see which construction activities can overlap and which take place in a specific sequence. If weather or other circumstances cause a delay, a written schedule is easy to modify and reconstruct without fear of leaving out important steps.
This is probably the most underrated of the COPE-ing skills. Building a log home requires more involvement from the new home owners over a longer period of time than building a conventional home. In addition, home owners participate much more throughout the entire process. Actually, the opportunity to be involved in creating a log home is what draws many people. Just be prepared to pay the price in persistence.
Persistence begins with preparation of blueprints and continues with collecting bids. Proofread every design and material list to make sure dimensions and specifications are accurate. Review each bid and estimate carefully. Ask questions immediately if something is unclear. Never assume anyone understands what you’re saying unless it’s backed up with photos, sketches or detailed written explanations.
If you are acting as your own general contractor, monitor your construction schedule carefully. If you see the schedule start to drift, find out why and then go to work to get it back on track. Many home owner who serve as their own general contractors are unprepared for the hours required to manage a construction project. It means getting up early and calling subcontractors. Most subs are on the job sites throughout the day, so early morning (before 7 am) and evening are often the only times to review bids and schedules.
Also be persistent in insisting that work be completed before you issue payments. In some subcontracts, you may be required to make down payments for a sub to begin work, but never make final payment until all work and any inspections are complete. If possible, hold each sub’s final check until the next subcontractor starts work. This way you have some leverage if the outgoing sub’s works causes problems for the incoming sub.
Finally, it takes enthusiasm to COPE with building a log home (or any home). When people tell me they want to build or general contract their log home to save money, I caution them that they will probably end up spending more on the home than if they had hired professionals. The person who is focused entirely on the bottom line rarely has the enthusiasm required to generate the persistence necessary to organize and communicate clearly.
Approach building your log home as an adventure and recognize that adventures have both ups and downs. Keep your sense of humor and realize that when your project is done, you will join a select group of people who can point with pride to their home and say, “I did this!?”
Jim Cooper is a former log home builder and author of Log Homes Made Easy: A Guide to Contracting and Building Your Own Log Home. You can reach Jim by e-mail at email@example.com