I spent eight years writing the design column for Log Home Living, and during that time there were few design topics upon which I didn’t touch–and some I expounded upon more than once.

It’s interesting but not surprising that the same themes recurred. When people go through the act of conceiving and building a log home, they often run into similar challenges. To give you a head start in thinking about the issues you’ll likely face, I’ve prepared this checklist of things to consider at each phase of the log home process.

Planning and Budgeting

  • Start by writing a “program” of the rooms you require. This will give you accurate sense of your home. Include their approximate sizes and allow for hallways and wall thicknesses when determining square footage.
  • Create a realistic building construction budget (including taxes), then add a significant contingency fund.
  • Include a separate line item for site clearing, grading, roadways and utilities installation.
  • When cost is an issue, build a smaller, finer home.
  • Make areas do double duty to reduce size and cost.
  • Get your banker’s blessing before proceeding.

Site and Climate 

  • Check local zoning, codes, covenants and restrictions before purchasing property.
  • Make sure power, water and cable are available to the property–and research the cost.
  • Ascertain that water is available, as well as waste disposal (septic or sewer).
  • Purchase property before starting the formal design process. The site has as much to say about the project as any of the owners.
  • Build in context with the surroundings, the neighbors, local styles and forms. Traditional building forms and responses to the local climate are the appropriate ones.
  • Plan landscaping to protect and enhance your building.

Design

  • Collect a scrapbook of design ideas.
  • Keep your design simple.
  • A bad (design) idea isn’t worth building. 
  • Select a designer or architect who has log home experience.
  • The logs have as much to say about the project as any of the owners.
  • Design is a process. Don’t hurry it!
  • Create a plan that makes sense.
  • Keep hallways to a minimum.
  • Create a plan that allows for re-sale of the home.
  • With your plan in mind, visit the site. Follow the sun throughout the day and plan how to use its light to best advantage.
  • Protect the sides of the house from which storms are most likely to blow.
  • Build your home with wide eaves, overhangs and porches to protect the logs.
  • Use broader overhangs on the sunny sides to shield your home from the hot summer sun.
  • Plan a home that can be used by people of all sizes and ages.
  • Think in three dimensions and keep in mind how your home’s façade will look.
  • Listen to your log builder!
  • Design a home you’ll be proud to drive up to each evening.
  • Keep door and window openings proportional to each other and to the building.
  • Plan outdoor spaces thoughtfully; they create outdoor rooms.
  • Every home needs a sense of entry–both from the exterior and the interior.
  • Protect entry doors from the elements.
  • Plan a back door, mudroom or secondary entrance.
  • Group “wet” areas (bathrooms and sinks) on each floor; stack them above and below each other to make plumbing runs easier.
  • Place stud-framed walls between wet areas to accommodate plumbing.
  • Compartmentalize the sections of each bathroom so more than one person can use the bathroom at a time.
  • In a small home, provide a second entry from the hall into the master bath.
  • In the master area, plan a cozy sleeping space with a ceiling that’s not too high.
  • Make other bedrooms, offices, dens and hobby rooms generic and interchangeable; define their uses with furniture.
  • Pay attention to acoustical privacy. You don’t want the Sounds of a TV or conversation in one area to intrude on another.
  • Provide a second-floor joist system to accommodate heating, plumbing and lighting runs to your upper rooms.
  • Install a good-quality heating system, as well as backup heating for emergencies.
  • Design in flexibility so you can easily install future generations of technologies and systems. You don’t want to struggle when the next generation of something like fiber-optic lighting or high-speed computer cable comes along.
  • Provide adequate and proper ventilation.
  • Plan and provide plenty of storage, both indoors and out.
  • Build in a garage and park in it.
  • Work with building codes, not against them.

Finishes, Fixtures, Furnishings 

  • Choose natural finishes to complement the logs. 
  • Use materials that are nontoxic and have low-VOCs (volatile organic compounds) wherever possible–especially indoors.
  • Choose bold, textured finishes.
  • Not every wall should be log.
  • Not every finish needs to be wood.
  • Define the planes of each room (floors, walls, ceilings) through varied colors, textures and materials.
  • Select fewer, larger furniture pieces in scale with the logs.
  • Choose furnishings with bold patterns, colors and textures.
  • Purchase good-quality plumbing fixtures in classic or neutral colors and styles that will not become dated.
  • For countertops and cabinets, choose classic colors or easy-care natural materials that are durable and will not go out of style.
  • Select multipurpose furniture with built-in storage.
  • Introduce color through furnishings.
  • Choose larger light fixtures in styles that complement a log home.
  • Use task and accent lighting in conjunction with general lighting.
  • As much as possible, keep light fixtures, switches and outlets out of the logs.

Business Matters

  • Do business with the real decision-makers in a company, not their employees.
  • Get all agreements in writing.
  • Provide adequate construction drawings and written specifications to both the log builder and the general contractor.
  • Visit each producer’s log operation.
  • See occupied examples of a builders’ work before deciding who will bid on your project.
  • Call builders’ references; have a list of prepared questions to ask; keep notes of the answers.
  • Find a fair way to compare cost proposals for log home packages. The lowest price isn’t always the best price.
  • Hire a general contractor who understands and respects logs.
  • Be certain the log producer and general contractor are working together.
  • Work with people you feel good about.
  • Be an available, attentive, responsive and decisive client.
  • Ask questions and seek clarifications.
  • Communicate clearly–and in writing whenever possible.
  • Treat people fairly and honorably.

Maintenance

  • Plan an easy-to-clean, easy-to-maintain log home.
  • Select log finishes specifically formulated for logs.
  • Use vinyl- or metal-clad wood windows if you wish to avoid additional repainting and maintenance.
  • Plan and install native, drought-resistant plantings.
  • Create and follow a maintenance schedule for your new home, record your work annually.
  • Attach the maintenance schedule and annual record to your deed.
  • Love and enjoy your log home.

Jean A. Steinbrecher A.I.A. is a licensed architect in Langley, Washington. She specializes in log homes and is a former executive board member of the International Log Builders’ Association.