The weekend has finally come, you have your tickets and you and your significant other enter the long-awaited log home show in a nearby city. In one booth, there’s a banner that says, “XYZ Log Company offers only the finest in engineered laminated logs.”
What in the world is a laminated log? Is it covered in plastic like your driver’s license? The salesman tells you that because of a laminating process, these logs will not shrink, twist, warp, or crack as much as a conventional non-laminated milled log. All of that probably sounds good, but you realize at this point that you still have more questions than answers.
Those of us in the log home industry have seen countless folks go through this same process at log home shows. We have also seen a dramatic increase in the number of log home companies offering laminated logs.
So what are the differences between conventional milled logs and laminated logs? Why should you choose one over the other? Is one type more expensive than the other? Are both readily available? Before we discuss answers to these questions, let’s talk briefly about log settling, shrinkage, and checking, since laminated logs address these issues.
Settling in log homes usually describes the loss of log wall height over time. The majority of wall settling takes place during the first couple of years after it’s built. A couple of inches of settling would create structural issues if it were not handled by some type of settlement system. The primary cause of settling is shrinkage of the logs due to moisture loss over time.
Checking is another term for cracks created by the natural drying process of the wood. In certain cases the cracks can be several inches wide and long. While they rarely cause structural issues, they can create maintenance headaches.
Now let’s look at some laminated log basics. Engineered wood products have been used in home construction for many years. Most of us are familiar with plywood and OSB (oriented strand board). Some of us are aware that laminated beams are widely used in residential and commercial construction.
Laminated beams are made from kiln-dried dimensional lumber that is stacked, glued together, and cut to length. Laminated beams are structurally stronger than their natural cousins, solid beams. They are more readily available and they are a good choice from an environmental sense as they are made from smaller-diameter trees than solid wood beams.
Laminated logs are essentially laminated beams with dimensional lumber stacked vertically instead of horizontally. Fortunately for the consumer, in recent years the number of companies manufacturing laminated logs has grown.
Laminated or Milled?
There are good reasons to purchase either log type. Laminated logs are resistant to shrinkage, checking, twisting, and warping. They are also very strong and structurally stable. Several manufacturers of laminated logs offer multiple services; choices range from complete packages to a logs-only supply.
Depending on the species and type of wood chosen, laminated logs alone may cost the same or be as much as 20% more than kiln-dried milled logs. But there may be a significant difference in “real” costs.
For example, a single story home with approximately 1,800 square feet of heated space and a ceiling height of 8 feet would require approximately 2,800 linear feet of logs with a log stack height of 6½ feet. Using a conventional milled log price of $4.50 per linear foot, the logs-only price for this size home would be approximately $12,600. With a hypothetical $5 per linear foot price for a laminated log, the tab is raised to $14,000. That 10% increase in log pricing yields a dollar increase of only $1,400.
Conventional milled logs are still the standard in the log home industry. When they are dried adequately and erected to the manufacturer’s specification, they provide a warm, durable structure. Since they have been around longer, you will find many more log types from which to choose. The number of companies that offer milled logs is also far greater.
In the final analysis, your choice will depend on what is most important to you and what matches the vision you have for your log home. Are you comfortable with the newer technology provided by laminated logs? Or are you a traditionalist who prefers the rustic appeal of conventional milled logs? Whatever the choice, living in the warmth and natural beauty of a log home is a dream come true for many of us.
This article included more pictures and a look at the laminated log companies and their offerings in the September issue of Country’s Best Log Homes. Order it here click here to subscribe.