Photo: KCJ Studios / Home: Wisconsin Log Homes / See more of this home here.
If you’ve been considering buying a log home, you likely already know that there are dozens upon dozens of companies vying for your attention, from mom-and-pop shops to international players in the log home arena. Each of them has its merits, and each asserts that its systems are “the best.” With so many choices, you’ll have to narrow the field, but where do you start? While comparing your log home options, consider the four “S” words: Style, Species, Systems and Shrinkage.
Let’s face it: The way your house will look when it’s done is priority number one. And since most log companies specialize in particular styles of fabrication, the process of elimination should start with the style of log you prefer.
As covered in the previous section, log home producers fall into two general categories: manufacturers and handcrafters. Both create beautiful, weather-tight log homes, but the methods they use to craft their logs diverge and, therefore, their homes look vastly different, even though they start with the same raw materials.
If you’re the type of person who likes symmetry, the precision and consistency of milled logs will give you that. If you like things a little more au naturel, the rugged beauty of a handcrafted home just may be the ticket.
Then there are half-log and hybrid (mixing materials and/or construction techniques) homes. (More on these later).
As you’re evaluating a company’s processes, think about how its philosophy on crafting its log walls may affect the look of your home.
2. SpeciesMany buyers set out to find which company uses the “best” tree species, only to discover this is more elusive than the Holy Grail. Truth is, there isn’t a single best species for log home construction. Log homes of varying species have been standing for centuries, and with modern wood-care preservatives, almost all logs have excellent tolerance against insects, decay and other natural enemies. Our advice is to go with your gut — choose a species that you find aesthetically pleasing and that’s available from your favorite providers. Certainly ask a representative of each company you’re considering which species he or she recommends and why.
Today’s modern log homes involve various “building systems” that combine engineering principles with specific crafting, fastening and weatherproofing techniques. Ask companies if their building systems are recognized by your local building codes. Will an engineer’s stamp be required for approval and, if so, at what cost?
Log System Options
Full-log homes are what most people envision when you say the words “log home.” Here, the process involves solid timbers cut to your desired profile. The architect or designer who creates your construction documents will specify how far apart fasteners should be between log courses to ensure the home remains structurally sound. Fasteners include spikes, screws, drift pins and bolts, and they’re usually included in the log home package. Your producer may offer more than one fastening option or use more than one type on the same wall, depending on its structural needs, the locations of the windows and doors and the type of wood species you select. When considering your options, understand that no single fastener is superior to another, but it’s imperative that your builder follows the fastener schedule exactly as outlined for maximum wall stability.
Half-log homes are conventionally built with 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 stud framing. Split logs or half-log siding is then applied inside and out. Corners generally have a full-log appearance to perpetuate the traditional log home feeling. Often, buyers of full-log homes will include a little half-log construction (say, for a gable dormer or garage) to save money on materials and labor.
Hybrid homes are a trend that continues to gain momentum in the rustic housing market. This style combines not only stick-frame/drywall construction, but also timber-framing or post-and-beam construction, as well as other materials such as stone or cedar shakes, as part of the total log home aesthetic. Beams can be handcrafted or milled, structural or decorative.
4. ShrinkageHere’s the science behind shrinkage: After a tree is felled, the moisture content drops, cells collapse and the log shrinks. Eventually, the moisture level reaches equilibrium with its environment, indicating the end of the shrinkage process.
Because of this natural phenomenon, log home producers must account for shrinkage and wood movement during the design and construction of their homes. One of the ways they compensate is by allowing logs to air dry on their own or forcing the moisture out by drying them in a kiln. Neither process is better than the other; however, kiln drying is faster and eradicates any insects that may be trying to make your logs their home.
Kiln drying is rarely an option for handcrafters who work with long, thick logs, and few people are willing to wait for these massive timbers to air dry (it can take a year or more). As a result, handcrafters who use fresh wood have devised construction techniques to offset the dimensional changes that occur as logs shrink.