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Costly Differences

A variety of factors can affect the price of wood.
by Pete Lindblad
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A variety of factors can affect the price of wood.

Country’s Best Log Homes | by: Pete Lindblad


Costly Differences

How much does the actual wood that goes into building a log home cost? It’s a simple question that has no simple answer, yet it’s one that log-home buyers are bound to ask.

The short answer: A multitude of factors can affect the cost of wood. Foremost among them is the price of shipping logs from the log producer to the job site. Say you live in the east but decide on a certain species of wood that only grows out west for your log home. The transportation costs will be higher than if you’d chosen a wood species native to the region in which you plan to build. Rob Pickett of Rob Pickett & Associates, a consulting firm specializing in log and timber building systems, says transportation costs can add as much as 10 percent to the cost of raw wood.

Then there’s the kind of sealer or gasket placed between logs, as well as the fastening, joinery and corner systems. These choices can raise or lower the price, as can chinking. So can a log-home company’s manufacturing process. If there’s much pre-drilling or shaping that has to be done in the mill to produce a log that’ll perform as it should within a company’s building system, that can affect price. And when you buy a log-home package, you’re not buying just the wood. You’re buying the construction manual, the blueprints and a host of other items that go into the final price.

Lynn Gastineau of Gastineau Log Homes brings up another issue: Are your logs graded or not? If they are, it ensures you’re getting quality wood, but it also means you could be paying more for it. About 20 percent of the logs sold in the United States are graded, according to Gastineau.

And then there’s the matter of drying. Bob Chase Jr. of Quabbin Timber, an east coast timber broker, says that kiln-drying can alter the cost by 20 percent.

Understandably, it’s hard to pin down a price for any species. But there are some general rules of thumb to go by. For instance, hardwoods are generally considered more expensive than softwoods, according to Pickett. Softwoods are more readily available than hardwoods, says Pickett, and can be easier to work with.

Oak is a hardwood and it can be one of the more expensive woods, but not for Gastineau. Why is that? It’s because Gastineau has its own oak forest near company headquarters.

The most expensive wood is western red cedar, according to Chase. "It’s an amazing product, an amazing tree," he says. Chase cites its resistance to rot and its long life span as its admirable qualities. However, the quality of the wood species doesn’t necessarily ensure a more long-lasting structure. "I can show you barns that are 250 years old in the east that are made of pine because they have dry foundations and were properly taken care of," says Chase. "And I can show you homes made of eastern white cedar that rotted after 30 years because they weren’t properly taken care of."

Here’s what to expect from cedar and pine prices, according to Dana Delano of Ward Log Homes in Maine: White cedar, on average, costs 10 percent more than pine and Western red cedar costs 20 to 30 percent more than pine. The difference, for her, is distance. White cedar grows on the east cost; western red cedar doesn’t.

Take shipping costs out of the equation and most species are relatively close in price, according to Pickett. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of indigenous woods by region:

  • West: Ponderosa pine, aspen, Engelmann spruce, cedar.

  • Northwest: Douglas fir, some lodgepole pine, hemlock.
  • Central: Southern pine, eastern white pine, hardwoods.
  • North: White pine, red pine, various spruce species, white cedar, tamarack.
  • South: Cypress, southern pine.
  • Northeast: Eastern white pine, northern white cedar.

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