The question I’m most often asked about log-home construction is, “How can I hold down the costs?” I have developed a series of suggestions that, taken together, I call “Building Smart.” Some suggestions involve compromises that not everyone wants to make, but a surprising number of them call for nothing more than common sense. Building smart is as much about the way you approach the construction process as it is about the construction itself.

Building smart starts right after you decide you want a log home. Most people begin by gathering information about the kind of log home they want. They visit models, fill boxes with sales literature and talk to numerous representatives. Some even visit the manufacturer’s facilities. But collecting information is not, by itself, building smart. Building smart starts with how that information is put to use.

A good first step is to visit someone who has the kind of house you want. Preferably, this will be someone who has lived there for at least a couple years and would not be connected in any way to the purchase of your own home.

Such research carries a word of caution. The building process can be extremely stressful (especially for someone who didn’t build smart), so you should listen carefully to criticism as well as acclaim. When a home-owner is critical, ask yourself if it has something to do with the log home kit or something that pertains to the construction process. If an owner says, “It took a lot longer to build than we expected,” find out whether the homeowners had a realistic expectation of construction time to begin with.

The second step in building smart, therefore, is avoiding miscommunication. As you visit homeowners and gather information, keep notes on questions to ask your log-home dealer or builder. If homeowners comment to you that their home cost more than they anticipated, try to find out where the additional costs came from. Did the manufacturer add costs to the package price that the homeowners weren’t expecting? Did the builder charge extra for things that the homeowners thought were included?

So the third step in building smart is to keep a scrapbook. Put into it drawings and photographs of all the details of the log home you plan to build. Include illustrations of beam work, cathedral-ceiling finishes, lighting fixtures, appliances, floor coverings (ceramic, vinyl, wood and carpet), wall coverings (drywall, tongue-and-groove wood paneling), windows, doors, appliances, heating and cooling systems, cabinets, hardware, stairs and trim (door, window, base, closet and bath). Use this scrapbook to show your log-home dealer and your builder exactly what you want.

Recognize that, unless instructed otherwise, builders base contract prices on the most basic materials and methods. Suppose you want ceiling fans in every room. What you have in mind is a combination light and variable-speed fan that can be switched independently, perhaps with a remote-control unit. Unless you tell your builder, you may visit your job site one day to find an electrician installing an off-brand, single-speed ceiling fan and light that are operated by pull-chains. What often follows is a brisk discussion of who is trying to take advantage of whom. Unless you gave your builder documentation specifying the type of ceiling fan before finalizing his contract, he has fulfilled his contract obligation.

At this point, you can upgrade to the fan you want—for a price. The price of the upgrade may be considerably more than the cost of the fans because, first, the builder is going to have to try to return the old fans for which the supply house will offer only a partial refund, if any; second, the builder will be billed by the electrician for the additional work of removing the already installed fans, waiting until the new fans arrive and then returning to the job site to install them; and third, the new fans may involve wiring changes, fishing wire through recently covered walls or removing flooring to expose wiring run through I beams, which means additional carpentry, drywall work and painting or varnishing.

Jim Cooper, a log-home consultant and project manager, is the author of Log Homes Made Easy and the Log Home Project Planner.

This story ran with more detail and with photos in the 2008 Log Homes Illustrated Annual Buyer’s Directory.