Everything You Wanted to Know About Log Home Building but Were Afraid to Ask

Best Log Home Plans
Author Robbin Obomsawin shares some excerpts, photos, and drawings from her new book Best Log Home Plans.

Author Robbin Obomsawin is the construction manager and general contractor for Beaver Creek Log Homes. She combines twenty years of log-joinery experience with her knowledge of conventional construction, and has served as vice president of the International Log Builders’ Association for Handcrafters. Her plans and home designs have been featured in many log-home publications, including the Log Home Living 2000 Planbook, Log Homes Illustrated, Log Home Design Ideas, and the Log Home Guide. She is the author of Small Log Homes. She lives in Westdale, New York.

The romance of log building has inspired American creativity for centuries. Capturing the romance requires hard work and planning.

Best Log Home Plans featured thirty of the most popular floor plans from top handcraft design professionals. Each has been thoughtfully planned to incorporate distinctive quality and timeless design. They take the dreamer beyond the standard construction drawing and average floor plan to the place of builder/owner. Each stock plan has been evaluated by qualified handcrafted log builders and has undergone numerous space-utilization studies to maximize every square foot.

 

Everything You Wanted to Know About Log Home Building but Were Afraid to Ask

Over the years of talking to log home enthusiasts, contractors, architects, and engineers about building a log home, the same types of questions are asked by everyone. I thought I would put together the most frequently asked questions to share with you. These are general questions and answers and are not in-depth as some things require more information and details, depending on your specific needs.

What type of wood is best for log building?

Log Home Craftsman We often get hung up on the “perfect” wood species and forget about the capabilities of the craftsperson. You can have the best species of wood to work with and if you do not have a good builder, the type and quality of wood does not matter! The secret to finding the best wood is to choose a better builder and you will end up with a great log home.

There are many types of woods perfect for log building. Experienced builders will understand the individual characteristics of the woods being used. There could be varying combinations of woods chosen based on many factors such as; structural properties for the roof type and expected roof load, spanning of walls and floor joists, insulating factors, and the woods’ availability. Experienced builders will choose the best wood for the overall situation, knowing that there is much less of a struggle to use the right wood for the overall design.

There are a great many species of wood to be found throughout North America. We are truly blessed with some of the best species of wood for log building. From north to south – east to west there are premium log sources to build a quality log home.

Do log homes cost more to heat than stick-built homes?

No, not if they are properly built. Log homes are very cost-effective to heat because of their thermal mass. Thermal mass is the naturally formed air pockets created by the cell structure of a log. When a log home is not energy-efficient, it is almost always one of four reasons –

    1. The thickness of the log walls is too small. The smaller the diameter of the log, the less there is of insulating value and overall thermal mass created by the size of a log.
    2. The log construction has inferior joinery due to the builder’s sub-standard construction methods, lack of education and/or experience. 
    3. Contractors or sub-trades do not respect the shrinkage details required in the log homes, which in time can create “wall hang-ups”, allowing air infiltration.
    4. There are also specific design features that cost more to heat in any and all styles of homes. Some examples are: high or vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, oversized windows and large and expansive-style homes.

How much does a log home cost to construct?

Log Home Builder The magic answer is….well….there is no exact answer. This is the most asked question in all types and forms of construction and the hardest to answer. It is like going out to buy a car and asking how much do all cars cost per square foot or how much per pound? Both conventional 2 x 6 construction and log home building cost depends on the quality of finished materials you intend to use along with the capability of the chosen builder’s experience. Factors that affect the cost of construction are closely tied to the scope of a project the level of quality materials, design details, the combinations of specifications, economic conditions of the region the home is being built. Another word, the possible outcome of cost can be endless.

The only way to get an accurate bid is to have accurate construction plans that fit your needs. Many construction plans are very vague in specifications of building materials and methods which in turn can make a great deal of difference in giving an accurate bid. Because so many plans are so vague the homeowner is left unprotected and the trades have an open translation and choice of materials or methods to be used without a set level of quality standards being determined in this form of contract. The construction plans are the largest part of the contract between you and your builder.

Construction plans are very different than floor plans that you see in floor plan magazines, websites, and books. The floor plans and the elevations give the home owner an idea of layout and over all look or facade of the home, but the floor plans are only 1/2 to 1/3 rd of the information existing on the full construction plans. The full set of construction drawings give critical information needed for the builder to make accurate bids such as; construction and joinery details, measurements, specifications, cross-sections and other pertinent information making the biggest difference in overall cost of and quality of a project.

What is the least expensive way to build a log home?

A four corner rectangular log home is the most inexpensive to build, with the point kept in mind that nothing in today’s market in inexpensive to build. A home’s design does not have to be unusual or expensive to create a knock-out-look. Clean lines and simplicity can be in itself – spectacular!

Cost can be closely tied to the design of a home. Dormers, bump-outs, complicated detail, and dramatic roof systems can all add to the home’s cost. Although they add character and charm you can still achieve a storybook cottage or cabin without all the bells and whistles. We wish and dream of a small cabin in the woods, just a piece of Camelot, idealizing the homes our forefathers have built which embodies a much simpler life of days gone by. If a small home is well designed, you can achieve a feeling of spaciousness and character within a small foot print.

I want to build a handcrafted log home, but cannot afford the style of home I have chosen. What can I do to keep construction costs down and in check to make my dream a reality?

It costs nothing to dream. Having to deal with real costs to make that dream a reality is another story. However, do not let the sting of mortgage payments and the cost of living keep you from fulfilling those dreams. Here are some suggestions to cut construction costs that will bring your dream to reality:

  1. Look for a 4-corner building and a simple roof system. Building a home is a series of trade-offs, especially if you are on a tight budget. No matter how many years you put into designing the perfect home, there will always be trade-offs to make no matter the size of the home. 
  2. Write a list to evaluate your needs and wants in a home. Needs are must-have items to function day to day, while wants are only luxuries not needed in our every day life. You may find that living with less gives you more time to enjoy your surroundings. 
  3. Use a stock plan instead of a custom plan. Stock plans are only a fraction of the cost compared to developing custom plans. If there are a few items that need to be altered to fit your needs it is very cost-effective to have the “base plan” customized to fit your lifestyle. 
  4. Use standard stock materials in construction instead of custom materials such as stock kitchen and bathroom cupboards, stock size windows, stock trims, etc. 
  5. Build a log home with a conventional roof framing system instead of log components. If planned well in the designing stage, a conventional roof system can flow with the structure instead of appearing disjointed. 
  6. Use sheetrock in the roof system and dividing interior walls. There is a lot more light reflected with sheetrock or plaster and it can serve as a great contrast to the natural logs. It is not necessary to have everything in wood in a log home. The logs’ greatest complementary materials are textures that give depth in the home’s design. 
  7. You do not have to have stone foundation if your budget does not allow. I have seen many log homes done where there was no stone work in the foundation, only a grey parge finish that was left exposed. Once the grades are formed and a minimal amount of landscaping is in place, you don’t notice the foundation’s finish. 
  8. Incorporate the garage into the basement. The advantage is that this design hides the mess and clutter that a garage tends to harbor. The tucked away garage carries a lower profile to the overall structure and therefore will not compete with the house as if it were standing next to it.
  9. Use a pier system instead of a full foundation, crawl space or slab. You need to check with your local builder to see if this is feasible for your site’s location, but it can be a big cost-saving option if workable.

     

Top Ten Biggest Mistakes Made in Log Building

 

  1. Designing too much home for the budget — When custom building, it is very easy for things to spin out of control for the owner before he/she even has a clue that it is happening. “Live now and pay later” and “Well, I didn’t know”, doesn’t exempt you from the choices made. Overspending or insisting on having it all does not support your dream when you are suffocated by the stress of repaying the debt. Be prepared and informed of your project’s cost. Building a home is a big investment and it takes time to learn and absorb all the information.
  2. Not enough thought and planning before building starts — Any of you that have actually been through the process of building know that planning takes a lot of self evaluation, research and a focus. Detailed thought and planning about each phase of construction, including good construction plans, are critical to a successful project and the realization of your dream home.
  3. Installing the log shell or other natural framing members too close to the ground even when there is no snowfall — You must also consider the splash-back area created by the rain’s run-off from the roofline as it hits the ground and splashes back onto the house’s siding materials or log work. An exception can be made for a covered porch which has no walls, and therefore can be ground level. Just remember to have proper porch post installations.
  4. Building too short of a roof overhang — Oversized roof systems are more than ornamentation; they are a very important design feature of quality home construction. If your contractor does not have this information clearly marked on the construction plans or tries to build shorter roof overhangs to save cost, you will pay many times over in the long run. Log homes can withstand getting wet and actually thrive with humidity, but constant and repeated water saturation shortens the life of any home.
  5. The use of cheap quality materials – Low grade materials can stand out like a sore thumb in a quality log home, and devalues the appearance of the home overall.
  6. Choosing an inexperienced general contractor or log builder – Look for a contractor that appreciates or understands log homes with a solid background and experienced in general construction as well as loves his job.
  7. Purchasing the log shell or overall home’s bid solely based on price — Take time to understand the different quality and styles of log joinery. The least expensive bid is not always the best choice, whether in log work or general construction. It is often hard to know how to evaluate an overall bid, but with a good contractor, experience becomes very important. Many homeowners base their decisions solely on the bid amount and not on the content and supporting documents of the bid. I also often see homeowners who turn down well prepared, professional contracts because they are very long (and intimidating), often not understanding much of the content or do not agree with just a small part of the contract, opting for the inexperienced contractor with the one or two page contract that seems less threatening. In reality the short, loose ended contracts leaves the homeowner with an open translation of materials, content, construction methods, and builder vs. homeowners’ responsibilities. Also note that a one-sided contract or a contract you do not fully understand is also a hazard. Be sure to go over the contract with the builder in detail as well as having your attorney review the contract proposal before signing.
  8. Not allowing enough room for shrinkage in the wall systems — Never underestimate the power of shrinkage! Shrinkage and settlement is a natural process that occurs with time and is created as the content of the moisture in the logs drop. The design detail of shrinkage is not hard or complicated for an experienced carpenter to understand with proper detailed drawings. It only becomes difficult when ignored!
  9. Taking on a building project beyond your experience in construction — Without a good understanding of or experience in construction, the project can end in disaster and often cost much more than hiring out to a professional builder. Construction is much more complicated than it may appear. I understand the urge to build without practical experience, and with great embarrassment I can tell you that with our first log home built for ourselves over twenty years ago, we made every “green-horn” mistake that could be made. Even though I was dedicated to watching each and every Bob Vila’s program and read every book I could get my hands on about construction, it simply does not compare to hands-on, practical experience learned over time. I am not saying that you cannot take on a portion of the project, but unless you have a lot of time on hand in combination with experience, your home could end up like a circus in a blender.
  10. Drinking too much coffee and overworking on job sites. Stuff happens.

Avoiding the common pitfalls of construction and learning from other’s mistakes can be direct detours to the most common mistakes made in building.

Whispering Pines

Log Home Floor Plan Main floor: 1,800 sq. ft. • Basement: 1,000 sq. ft.

This home creates a stimulating atmosphere for the person with a passion for outdoor living. Its most striking features are its dramatic roof angles and dormers, which add great curb appeal when viewed from any angle, and its various porches, which wrap around the home in an artful mix of decks, patios, covered and screened porches. The four-season sunroom with cottage charm chases away the winter blues.

The multipurpose floor plan with design flexibility allows for both open spaces and quiet hideaways. The kitchen has an efficient work triangle with a modern-day butler’s pantry that incorporates the washer and dryer near the kitchen’s work center. With some small modifications to the first-floor library and bathroom, there is the possibility to create a senior master bedroom suite for future one-floor living. The double-sided fireplace can be viewed from the dining room, living room, and sunroom, and has a separate firebox in the library’s private space. This log home incorporates so many windows that there is a dance of light throughout the day.

front elevation floor plan On the second floor is a secluded bedroom. The bathroom makes good use of a dormer, and as a window seat for storing linens. An isolated loft is tucked away over the living area with another dormer that opens up to the area, allowing the maximum amount of usable space and light. Throughout this home there are structural elements of the log-roof system that are exposed for all to enjoy.

Other amenities include a walkout basement with an additional bedroom, full bath, workshop, studio, and recreation room with French doors that exit onto an outdoor patio. The layout perfect for a log home that would nestle into rock ledge outcroppings or hillsides, tying it to the land.

More books by Robbin Obomsawin