You have a wealth of choices when it comes to the type of wood to use for your home.
Gathering together fans of various log species can be as contentious as, say, groups of Yankees fans and Red Sox fans. But if you haven’t yet cast your lot in favor of a single heartwood, it can be a bewildering choice, especially after you hear the proponents’ arguments in favor of one or another specie.
Here’s the good news: The types of wood used in the log-home industry, particularly those companies who subscribe to the Log Homes Council standards, are going to be good choices no matter what. And, as with all good things in life, it’s going to be a matter of compromise. As you gain something with a specific choice, you probably reduce the benefit in another area. No single specie is perfect, but neither should you expect a disappointment. There’s a lot to love from your log, no matter what you choose.
And there’s the rest of the story: When it all comes down to getting serious about log selection, you’ll have to give up all those other lovely materials and settle on just one. Not so bad after all, but often a bit of dilemma.
Country’s Best wouldn’t presume to tell you which specie would work best for you, but here’s a brief rundown of the more popular species and a few facts about why they’re so appealing:
Pine. The most prevalent log of choice, in part because there are so many varieties and sub-species, is pine. But it’s such a wonderful and durable wood and that’s why it’s found in nearly all forms of building. The plethora of pine means generally lower prices without giving up color and character. And, depending upon what you are looking for, the variety of sub-species of pine means you can likely find what you want.
The most common types of pine in the western part of North America are lodgepole and ponderosa, both of which have rich tones. Generally harvested as "dead standing" (meaning they were killed by forest-fire scorching, disease or drought), these sub-species have experienced a natural drying process that can speed the overall time from timber to building.
Red pine is similar to the ponderosa in color but grows east of the Mississippi River. White or eastern pine are also found in the East, and because they are so easy to work with and have a good insulation factor, these are the most popular of the pines for building.
There are many other sub-species of the pine family, and prospective homeowners may be surprised to learn that hemlock and larch &mdash some of the so-called spruce and cedars &mdash are actually members of the pine family. This is a good thing, actually.
Oak. The mighty oak has never been more popular. Because of its tensile strength, soothing neutral color and wonderful grain, it has long been popular in the building trade. While not as plentiful as pine due to over-harvesting in generations past and also a slower growth pattern, oak’s cost is offset by its durability.
Cedar. Ah, the wonder of cedar’s marvelous scent! Many are the homeowners who decide not to seal the interior of a cedar home so they can continue enjoying the welcoming aroma. Since its lovely grain and color radiate from the center of the log, cedar is often displayed with exposed ends. Because it doesn’t grow just anywhere, cost may vary across the continent.
Spruce. Another charming and very workable specie, spruce is native to New England, but can be found in the Midwest and South as well. It can be classified as white, red or black, but to the untrained eye, the color varies very little. Spruce has many construction characteristics to recommend it, as well.
Douglas fir. Found in the West and popular because its length at maturity allows for lengthy spans, Douglas fir can be pricey. But it holds its true straightness for generations and is ideal for homes that will be passed down through the generations.
There are other species found in the various geographical regions, such as cypress, walnut and redwood that are outstanding for logs. All have qualities that argue for use in a log home, and the decision ultimately resides on choice and taste.
As heating and air-conditioning costs have risen, more and more potential homeowners look to structural and thermal values of individual logs. Unfortunately, it’s often a case of comparing apples to oranges because there are so many variables impacting test results. The USDA Forest Service and the Department of Energy have supervised a wide range of tests over the years, and if you wish to work your way through the eye-crossing, mind-numbing statistics, they are available in print and online.
Greatly simplified, according to the USDA Wood Handbook 1974, the "thermal conductive properties are a measure of the rate of heat flow through a material subjected to a temperature gradient."
A very general rule of thumb is that the R-value of a log is 1.5 times the diameter, but it’s a little dangerous to apply factor that overall. What the experts look for is the amount of conductivity. In other words, the conduction of heat is related to density, and the species proportion of cell cavities. It matters whether the cavities are filled with air or moisture, too, as well as ambient air temperature surrounding the log. You need to also realize that your heating and cooling efficiency is significantly impacted by the doors and windows (amount and style), the type of roof and foundation and whether there are air traps such as attics and basements.
It’s a great deal to absorb, so allow us to condense down to this generality: The vast majority of logs have been found to have an excellent insulation factor. They retain and gently disburse heating and cooling and in harsher climates can be backed up with insulation. Homeowners will also tell you how pleased they have been with the sense of comfort that comes from living with logs.
Now, isn’t it time to find out for yourself?