Michele Ducharme is intimately familiar with the ground that she and husband Jim selected for their long-awaited Coventry Log Homes residence. She grew up enjoying family gatherings on this property in southwestern Maine near the Salmon Falls River.
“Our homesite was previously my grandparents’ property that had been used for farming for many years,” she shares. “I have very fond memories of the huge garden they planted every year, which is almost the site of our house. When we got it, the property still contained their old house, which was built in the mid-1800s, but it had fallen into disrepair. It also had a garage our family had helped build for my grandfather about five years ago, which was convenient because we were able to use it to store building materials and equipment.”
For Michele and Jim, site prep, a key component of any log home construction project, came with some distinct advantages – along with a few surprises. The good news: They were able to leverage existing site improvements, including a recently repaved driveway to the original house, a working well and even electrical and cable service. With these available, cost and time savings were immediately realized. No permitting, approvals or inspections were required.
However, there were critical elements that needed to be addressed.
For starters, a second structure, affectionately dubbed the “old shed,” was riddled with termites. Immediate action needed to be taken to guard against future infestation.
“We had an exterminator come in to ensure there were no termites present even close to where we were going to build,” Jim says. “But just to be safe, we cleared almost two full acres of top soil where our house was planned to make doubly sure there was no termite food source — and a nice cold Maine winter — prior to construction.”
Next, the existing structures were demolished to make way for new construction. The money saved on the driveway, well and utilities helped cover this expense.
“Once the site was cleared, we took three weeks to lay out the foundation using stakes and landscaping tape before digging began,” Jim recalls. “Much like the staking technique we used to get a feel for the layout, this allowed us to get a sense of the orientation of the house on the property and the natural light at different times of day. Plus it gave us a sneak peek of the views we would actually see from any room. We would sit on our imaginary back deck and watch the sunset, as well as on our imaginary front porch to decide if we wanted to be closer or farther away from the road.”
Before the first shovel of dirt was turned, the Ducharmes engaged an excavation contractor and hired a septic designer to ensure that this aspect of the project met local codes to facilitate the remainder of the footprint.
“The building site is mostly flat, but it does have a natural grade downward toward the rear of the property,” explains Jim. “This made it perfect for the full walkout basement we wanted.”
However, one bit of project angst did occur once excavation got underway.
“Our final challenge in preparing the site was when we started digging the hole for the foundation,” Jim sighs. “We hit ledge rock almost immediately and had to bring in a 10,000-pound hammer and extra excavation equipment for a full day to remove it.”
Once that rock was gone, the site’s preparation could proceed with the building contractor and his partner installing footings and foundation walls. A local insulation company used spray foam and waterproofing to firm up the full basement. In due course, the Ducharmes knew that their log home would take shape according to their vision.
“We have so many wonderful memories of time on the farm, as does my father who grew up on this property,” muses Michele. “So many holidays, family get-togethers, or just hanging out by the ‘old shed,’ where we all chatted while my grandfather passed out the Beck’s dark beer that he loved to share with the boys.”
Remembering those days past conjures up the anticipation of memories yet to be made. And soon, the home where it all would come together would begin to rise.
See also: Building a Second Home: Are You Ready?
Take a look at the other installments of Dirt to Done:
Be sure to check in with us in the new year as Jim and Michele get to work on raising the log walls.