Pro pointers to help you save money and get into your dream home ASAP.
You’ve been waiting your whole life to build your dream log cabin, but dreaming and doing can be two very different things when it comes to building (and paying for) a custom home. Here are 15 tips we’ve culled from homeowners, builders, designers and lenders on how to build affordably — and fast — in the current market.
Do your research
We can’t stress this enough. Knowing what you want, and finding and visiting different companies that fit your needs, will help you get the most for your money. "I did a lot of research," says Barbara Padgett, a log-home owner in Slidell, Louisiana. "I started searching for companies online every night to get information on as many companies as I could find. " She and her husband, John, followed up their research with a visit to the log company that appeared to be the best fit, allowing them the floor plan and interior construction flexibility they desired.
Hire an experienced builder
Log homes are a different breed of construction than standard stick-built homes, so trusting the assembly of your home to anyone but a log-home building professional is a quick way to unnecessarily burn through hard-earned cash.
Shop around for a good lender
Start looking on the Internet for lenders with construction-loan experience. "You should make a number of phone calls. Look for someone you can really connect with," says Bob Gammache, CMPS, branch manager at Amerisave. Also, make sure you’ve got all the information upfront before you make a decision. "You need to get a good-faith estimate before committing to a lender," Gammache notes. The good-faith estimate will show the interest rate and cost of the loan. "The consumer also should ask for the truth-in-lending statement," he adds. "It’s not ordinarily done in the industry in today’s world, but it should be. It’s the only document in the loan file that shows the borrower the annual percentage rate (APR). If you’re only seeing the good-faith estimate, you’re not seeing the whole picture."
Take comps into consideration
One of the biggest hurdles to obtaining a construction-to-permanent loan for a log home is finding log comparables nearby, says Gammache. In order to properly appraise the estimated value of your new home, he explains, a similar log home needs to exist within 5 to 10 miles of the proposed home site for an appraiser to visit. "It’s hitting the appraisers especially hard," he adds, given that lenders aren’t legally allowed to speak with appraisers to notify them of such homes.
Communicate your wants
Perhaps it’s a wall of windows, capturing a breathtaking view. Or maybe it’s something as simple as a window seat. Regardless of your budget, communicate your wish list when you’re working with your log-home company; it may be more realistic than you originally thought. "Every company has a plan book," explains Rick Kinsman, owner of 1867 Confederation Log Homes. "You can pick something out of that book and get a price range on it. Perhaps you like a certain feature, but it’s over your budget. Most companies can take that look and make alterations to put it in your price range. Small details are altered, but you still get the basic look you’re after."
Consider log siding
The aesthetics of log construction are key in the main area of the home, but are they really necessary in, say, the garage? Vinyl or half-log siding can provide the same log-built look for less-lived-in spaces that may not need authentic full-log construction. Craig George covered his garage with log siding and barely notices the difference. "From an aesthetic point, it all looks like log," he explains. "There’s may be a quarter-inch difference in height between the logs in the main home and the siding logs, but it’s almost imperceptible."
If you’re in a cold-weather location but aren’t sure if you want to implement radiant-heat flooring, there’s another insulation solution you can consider: DRIcore. "These things are amazing," exclaims Norma Miarecki, who installed DRIcore panels in her log cabin in Madison, New Hampshire. "You can walk on those in the dead of winter, and your feet won’t be cold. And you can put any flooring on top." Installation costs will likely be minimal as well. "They’re all tongue and groove, so you don’t even need help installing," she notes.
Forget the foyer
Although we have featured — and certainly love — impressive entryways, this is one of the quickest areas to save on square footage if you’re looking to cut back. "Many people overlook how much wasted space accumulates in the entryway," says Rick Taron, principal designer of Taron Design Inc. "When the cost-cutting pressure starts to bear down, I start to take a close look at the entry." Also consider simple straight-run stairs with under-stair storage to really take advantage of this space.
Still find yourself in need of additional square footage? Tack on a second level to add living space rather than expanding on what you have. "When it’s a log home, it’s cheaper to build a second level than to stay on one level and spread out," says Rick Taron. It has some bonus energy benefits as well. "Many times heating the upper level is so efficient that the central heating will rarely cycle on because of the constant temperatures on the main floor," he adds.
Don’t be afraid to chip in
Even if you don’t have a construction background, there are likely some small tasks that you can accomplish on your own. Norma Miarecki, who was new to home building when she decided to help finish her home, wanted drawknife detailing for her railings and balusters, so she did it herself using materials she found on her property and a drawknife and a vegetable peeler. Don’t be afraid to ask your closest kin for a little assistance, either. "Usually there’s someone you know whom you can get to help, or you can help them, which is more economical than having to pay for the labor," says Rick Kinsman.
Take advantage of modular building
Anything you can do before actual construction will help you cut costs. "I’ve always been a big fan of modular building," says Rick Taron. "If you can pre-build something in your shop — where you have control over the elements and ease of setting up repetitious procedures — rather than building everything on site, you will be saving costs." Such modular items include upper-floor exterior walls, roof rafters, log walls, stairs, railing, cabinets — you name it.
Opt for cheaper woods
For wood accents — be it wall decor, window trim or a mantel — opt for less-costly species, such as pine. "You don’t need to get expensive oak trim," says Rick Taron, adding again that simple DIY projects also can cut costs. "Just buy No. 1 and No. 2 knotty pine boards, and make your own trim for windows, doors, baseboards and everywhere you need a stick of trim."
Embrace the old
Just because some materials aren’t brand new doesn’t mean they’re not construction worthy. Case in point: Craig George’s iron railing panels. "The railings in the loft have wrought-iron scrolls that were taken off a mansion in Cincinnati," he notes. "We got 21 panels for about $200 and built the railing around those panels." And because it’s not mass-produced in a factory, salvage material can offer a variety of features to set your house apart from others.
If you’ve ever painted a house before, you probably have a basic enough understanding of the staining process to take on this project yourself and save significantly. "Staining on the outside was a lot less compared to hiring someone to do it, and it’s relatively easy," Norma Miarecki notes. Not sure what stain to choose? Save on rehabilitation costs by leaving yourself open for additional changes. "If you don’t know what you want, go lighter first," suggests Craig.
Quality is key
Cutting back on the original scope of the project shouldn’t equate to using lesser products. Certainly look to cut costs on less-expensive materials, but there’s no need to resort to shopping from the bottom of the barrel. And don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. "Use a little bit of caution, because salespeople may resort to inferior products to cut costs," Rick Kinsman says.