What makes a log home so special?

Log homes are distinguished by the solid wood they’re built with, the way that wood is stacked to form the walls and where the homes are built. They’re hard to spot but easy to recognize. To people who admire these homes, they represent a way of life as much as they do places to live.

Are log homes energy efficient?

Tests confirm what log-home owners have been saying for years: Log homes are very energy efficient. The R-value of logs ranges from 1.1 to 1.8 per inch of thickness, which in itself isn’t very impressive. But logs benefit from thermal mass, which is the ability to store heat during the day and radiate it into the house at night. In warm weather, the logs’ mass slows the transfer of heat into the home, keeping it naturally cooler. In short, what logs lack in R-value, they more than make up for by their actual performance.

What makes wood so special?

Wood is appealing because it combines strength and beauty. Wood is a natural, organic material, whose color, texture, grain, knots and other traits distinguish it as a building material. Wood also changes when used to make homes. In fact, these changes are part of the appeal of logs. Log-home owners can reassure themselves that these changes occur naturally by learning how logs behave in log homes as the years go by.

What are some of these changes?

The color changes over time and from exposure to the environment, enhancing the character of the home. In the first few years as part of a log home, logs shrink because they lose their natural moisture content through evaporation and compression while adjusting to their new position. Until now, they’ve always stood upright. In a log wall, they’re horizontal, with other logs above and below them to form the walls.

Does wood species matter in a log home?

Yes, because different types of wood have different attributes, mostly affecting the aesthetics of particular logs, such as colors and grain patterns. The size and shape of trees used for logs also determines their use. What’s more, the choice of wood species can affect the cost of a log package, owing to seasonal and regional fluctuations in availability. Prices for the same wood may vary from company to company.

But is there one wood that is superior to all the others?

If one wood were the best, surely all or at least most companies would use it The truth is that more than two dozen species of wood are commonly used for log homes. Each has its advantages, but no one species clearly outperforms all the others. What usually determines the species of wood that a particular company uses is whatever it can get enough of regularly, usually locally. To further dispel the notion that one wood is best, some companies produce logs from more than one wood species.

How are log homes built?

Some people presume that all there is to building a log home is stacking the logs to form the walls. This technique worked well enough with crude pioneer cabins, which were hastily erected for temporary shelter. Today, however, homes are more complicated and demand sophisticated engineering to stand up and withstand the forces of nature, specifically wind and snow. The result is the development of building systems, which are the cornerstone of contemporary log-home construction. These building systems prescribe not just how the logs are shaped and fitted, but also how they are fastened and sealed and how they accommodate other materials: roofs, windows, doors, interior framing.

Log walls are designed and engineered so that the individual walls perform as a unit. Above all, they must be able to adjust to each other as they settle into the position they will have for many years.

How do logs become stable so that they will work in a log wall?

The key is the moisture content—the liquid that is bound into the living tree. The tree begins to lose moisture the moment it is cut. Some companies prefer to work with freshly cut, or green, logs and build so as to predict their movement. Most companies prefer drying, or seasoning, logs to reduce the moisture content and make them more stable. Some companies air-dry their logs by leaving them outdoors to adjust their moisture content to the prevailing humidity level over a period of six months to more than a year. Other companies accelerate the process by kiln-drying their logs—putting them in an oven-like environment for two or three weeks and using heat to drive out the moisture. A few companies are able to meet their production needs by using logs from trees that died and dried on the stump. These standing-dead logs are usually used by companies in the western United States.

Is one drying method better?

No. Both air-drying and kiln-drying reduce the moisture content satisfactorily. Air-drying takes time; kiln-drying costs money. The method a company chooses is one that works for it and one it believes in, just as it does its building system.

Is one log style better than another?

If any aspect of a log home were demonstrably superior to all others, logic would dictate that it prevail. Just the opposite is true. A vast assortment of log styles and sizes abounds to cater to buyers’ different tastes. Some companies offer several styles, recognizing that one of the driving forces behind the popularity of log homes is these choices.

Why is grading advisable for logs?

Grading is a way of assuring that logs are suitable for use in home construction. It is based on structural requirements, not appearance. Two certified organizations that grade logs in the United States are the Log Homes Council and Timber Products Inspection. The Log Homes Council requires that all its members grade their logs according to the standards of either program.

How are the logs in a wall held together?

Fasteners help hold logs in position by pulling the wood together and keeping them in place. Through-bolts, alignment rods, lag bolts, wooden dowels and screws are all used to tie wall logs together and enable them to resist vertical, lateral and shear forces.

What is the purpose of the corners on a log home?

Beyond adding an aesthetic distinction to log homes, the corners hold the walls together vertically and laterally.

Why do some logs have cracks in them? Do they indicate a problem?

Cracks, which are technically called checks, are a natural part of the drying process in large timbers. Checking usually occurs indoors during the first heating season, when the inside and outside surfaces of the logs dry unevenly. Checking is also more likely to occur outdoors where log surfaces are exposed to constant sun. Some wood species or grades of logs are more susceptible to checking. Even when checks are large, they pose no structural risk. Outside, however, when checks face upward, they should be sealed to prevent moisture from collecting in them.

Aren’t log homes small and dark?

They can be. They also can be spacious, airy and bright. Even open homes, if they feature dark-stained interiors, covered porches and wooded settings, will need a greater measure of interior lighting in northern latitudes during winter than similar homes in Colorado during the summer.

Do log homes make good starter homes? Vacation homes? Retirement homes?

About two of every 10 log homes sold are used as full-time residences. Log homes may be high-quality starter homes, although more traditionally they are move-up homes for people who have already owned a home. Log homes make excellent vacation homes, in either secluded or resort settings. They are becoming increasingly popular as retirement homes, often having been built as a vacation home with the eventual goal of retirement in mind.

Why are log homes sold unassembled?

This is the way log homes have evolved. The companies that produce the logs and engineer the building system focus their attention to these aspects since the logistics and expense of employing crews to travel with the components to building sites are difficult to manage. A few companies do provide construction services through their network of sales representatives, some of whom are experienced log-home builders.

Why are the contents of log-home packages different?

Companies recognize that buyers have different needs, depending on their own level of involvement, construction skills and willingness to shop for components besides the logs and materials needed to assemble them. Some buyers prefer to cut and notch the logs themselves; others want as much of the finished home as possible for the convenience and to save time—either their own or their builder’s. As a result, companies offer a basic walls-only package, whose logs may be pre-cut or random length; a structural-shell package, which adds other components—windows, doors, roof system, etc.—to complete a weathertight "shell;" or a complete package, which adds to the previous packages virtually everything needed to complete the home.

Is there any advantage to buying pre-cut logs over random-length logs?

Random-length logs cost less than pre-cut logs and allow greater flexibility on the job site when last-minute changes are desired or required. At the same time, random-length logs, which are sold by the lineal foot and have no corner notches, involve more labor and skill to cut and fit them. Pre-cut logs come ready to assemble with no additional cutting and with their location in the wall predetermined.