On Design

by Jim Kemp

Log Garages
Designing a home for your car, and more.

Part of the fun of building a house is planning the master suite, the kitchen and, of course, the decor. Then there are the less-glamorous decisions, including the look, size and location of the garage. The garage? What’s there to decide except one-car or two? And making sure it is near the kitchen to ease the chore of carrying groceries indoors?

Some people devote a great deal of thought and time to planning their garage. Take, for example, the family that insists the exterior appearance of the living space and the garage fit seamlessly. Then there is the veterinarian who includes horse stalls in his garage so that, day or night, he can nurse animals recovering from surgery. Finally, there’s the avid car collector who wants a garage large enough to store 15 vehicles. Though these represent highly specialized needs, they illustrate the flexibility in garage design.

According to national statistics, the typical residential garage is wood-frame construction and costs an average of $22.90 per square foot to build. Unfortunately, there are no figures for the cost of constructing a garage with solid logs. Based on informal talks with log manufacturers, however, it seems most garages are attached rather than detached, are left unheated, and are fitted with two doors. The number of doors, though, varies, “depending on how many toys the people have,” adds Stacy Nichols of Designer Doors, a manufacturer of custom garage doors.

An attached garage is undeniably convenient: The family car is mere steps away from the living space. Vehicles are accessible without going outdoors into winter cold and summer heat. And, an attached garage is less expensive to build than the detached  version because one wall already exists.

The flip side is that, for better or worse, an attached garage placed at the front affects the look of your house. If you question that, walk outdoors and study your home from the street. A garage placed at the front, as many are, makes up 25 to 40 percent of the facade. Indeed, the appearance of the garage is so pivotal that it can determine the overall visual appeal of your house.

Thankfully, you can choose from among several options that will help the house you build shine in appearance as well as function.

Location. Rethink where you want to place the garage. Don’t be locked into the conventional idea that the garage must be at the front of the house. Granted, that is the case in many subdivisions, but only because the developer is minimizing the expense of paving the driveway. Your building plot may be such that the garage can be located somewhere else–beneath the living space, to the side or at the back.

Blend appearances. The easiest way to make the garage and living space look alike is to clad both areas with logs. Here, you have two options: The expensive route is to build the garage with solid logs. Constructing a stick-built garage that is then clad with log siding is the other method. Log siding, sometimes referred to as log veneer, costs much less than solid logs and preserves the appealing log home look. This is the most common choice, either to reduce total building costs or to free up money in the budget to buy features such as higher-quality kitchen cabinets.

Remember, though, that building with solid logs and conventional stick-framing are two separate construction methods that react differently to changes over time. For example, solid log walls tend to settle as the roof presses down and the logs lose moisture. Stick-framed walls will settle far less. Special building techniques keep conventional framing and solid-log construction in sync with each other if they are attached. Log home manufacturers have faced this problem many times and are skilled at making the necessary accommodations.

Families are
building free-standing garages with
living space where they can stay while their house is
being built.

Though solid log construction is more expensive, some manufacturers recommend this approach if the garage is to contain living space such as a room above the parking area or a workshop below. The reason is that solid logs are great insulation, thus reducing long-term heating costs.

Coordinate elements. Select the same species of wood for both solid logs and log siding. Staining them the same color unifies the two even more.

Consistent styling. If your design includes a common motif such as saddle-notch corners, use the same corner style on the garage. Be sure to select the same window shapes and sizes that are in the living space for the garage.

Details count. Many log homes have inviting architectural elements. Dormer windows are just one among many. Echoing these architectural elements on the garage goes a long way toward creating the desired look.

Local building codes make some decisions for you. It is now required that the wall between the living space and an attached garage has a one-hour fire rating. That means the wall must prevent a garage fire from entering the living space for an hour. In some areas, these kinds of restrictions might eliminate solid log walls. In its place, a conventional wall would be built that incorporates fire-resistant materials, including specially treated plasterboard. The side of the wall facing the living space can still be clad with log siding to retain the desired look.

More and more, codes are dictating that the door between living and garage space also have a one-hour fire rating and be equipped with an automatic closer. The closer, similar in function to those at store entries, also is a desirable convenience at home—as anyone who has carried groceries or a sleepy young child knows.

These requirements don’t apply to detached garages. In fact, a free-standing garage may be a better choice in some cases: The budget may be too small initially to include a garage, so a detached one can be planned but not built until the money is available. The building site may be too small for a house with an attached garage. The home owners may have an attached garage and want a detached one for additional storage.

A growing number of families are building a free-standing garage with living space where they can stay while the main house is being built. This makes it possible for the owners to be on site throughout the construction phase.

Many log
manufacturers leave garage doors out of the
they offer.

Garages are being made more energy-efficient all of the time. Most heat is lost through openings—primarily the doors and windows. As these products become more energy-efficient, so does the garage. Insulated windows and garage doors, for example, keep warmth indoors in winter and the interior cool in summer.

The choice of garage doors also plays an important role in determining the aesthetic quality of a log home. A popular solution is painting the doors a color, often gray, that is compatible with the exterior stain. Some owners go so far as to have log siding applied on the garage-door exterior. This, however, is a custom option usually excluded from most log packages. Instead, the home owner makes the necessary arrangements with a local garage-door installer. The design you purchase may not include a garage door at all. Many log manufacturers leave them out of the packages they offer, saying the doors can be installed less expensively by a local garage door retailer and installer. It certainly contributes to the customer’s flexibility—and design responsibility—in selecting the garage-door style. Jim Kemp is a freelance writer living in Bondville, Vermont.

Mike Mikula illustration