Written by: Dave Wilber Customer Service Manager AmerLink Log Homes
AMERICAN LOG HOME ARTICLE
American pioneers were driven by an unquenchable thirst to explore the new and unknown – to be free. To find that special place in the new world that would support them and their families. A place that they could – through honest labor – make their very own, and pass along to their children.
When such a place was found, early pioneers needed to provide shelter and safety from hostile elements as quickly as they could. And to provide that shelter, they used the most convenient and abundant building material they could find – trees.
Trees are easy to cut down, easy to fashion and form, have relative lightweight for heavy load bearing, and are flexible in their many uses. They are a constantly renewable resource, and provide other uses such as heat for warmth and cooking. There were not many things the settler needed that could not be made of wood in some form. Forts, houses, boats, wagons, fences, tools, house wares, furniture, weapons, wheels, sheds, beds…the list is endless. The simple truth is that the pioneers had to make do with what they had at hand. That meant using wood from trees they cut and fashioned themselves.
There were no chain saws, power tools, forklifts, log splitters, screwdrivers, or any of the modern tools we now take for granted. All they had was a hammer (sometimes made of wood), an ax, sometimes a saw, a draft animal or two, some rope, and plenty of muscle. They also had plenty of bugs, snakes, and other wild creatures – sometimes Indians.
It was basic hard labor – hand and back power. They cleared enough of the land to form a home site, chopped the trees down and trimmed them. They stripped the bark from the logs and notched them; dragged them to the site and lifted them to form the walls. When the walls were high enough, they laid limbs and small logs across to make a roof frame. Often the roof itself was no more than sod taken from the earth, or interwoven branches. The cracks between the logs in the walls were plugged with mud mixed with grass or moss. Windows were most often just openings in the exterior walls that were closed with crude protective shutters. The floor was straw, grass, or just bare dirt.
There was no such thing as a shopping mall, neighborhood convenience, grocery or hardware store. They had to grow or hunt everything they needed to live. Some were good farmers and hunters; others had to struggle through lean times just to survive. Some were good at making the things they needed to supply food. Some were good at building tools, furniture, houses and other things they needed. Most were not. They had to try to do things in the new world they had never done in their former lives, and it was hard “on-the-job” training with no one to teach them the right way to do things. It was this ability to adapt to a new environment, coupled with a sheer determination and will to survive that marked these early successful pioneers.
Times were hard on the early pioneers, but have gotten much better since then. And today’s pioneers are those who still want to go out into the world and make their mark. Leave something of themselves behind for those who follow. To leave a lasting monument to their everyday struggles with life, character, personality and lifestyle. One way is to build that “last” home they’ve always dreamed of.
And one of the things the pioneers of today share with the pioneers of yesterday is the log home. The tools and materials to build a log home have greatly improved through the years, but the mark of the log home as a true and lasting symbol of American history is that most log homes of today look like they did in the early pioneer days. While the interior is totally modern and packed with every convenience known to man, the exterior still retains that warm, soft feel that says “Welcome to my home”. A home built with warmth, cordiality and love that invites everyone to share in the fun and casual lifestyle in close concert with the natural environment.
A log home is a dream of love come true. Most people who consider building a new home hardly ever think of what they’re going to build the house of. They know the number of bedrooms and bathrooms they want, and usually where they want them situated. Some even know the style they’re going to decorate these rooms long before building the house has even started. The exterior finish is usually decided only after the size, number of rooms and traffic patterns have been established.
Brick, wooden siding, stone, vinyl or aluminum siding – even stucco – are the exterior finishes favored most often. Then the choices get down to color and style. But few even think of building their new home out of logs. And those few are the passionate, the individualistic, the dreamers. They are the ones who want something different from the average “cookie-cutter” development house. They want a home that will tell the world that they are special – casual, warm, caring, loving and thoughtful.
Wood is the only self-renewing natural resource for building materials. And its harvesting is less damaging to the environment than the mining and processing of other materials. It is relatively easy to work with, and its density to weight ratio makes it ideal for strength and load bearing. Brick, stone, concrete, glass, steel, aluminum and other structural materials are not as flexible in as many uses and take more energy to produce as building materials. It simply takes less energy to produce logs as a basic building material than it does to produce concrete, brick, stone, glass, steel or aluminum.
And, unlike most natural and man-made building materials, a wooden log “breathes”. A good log home design will mean that almost no humidity will accumulate on the log surface to form a home for decay and insects, and rain water will bead or run off a properly treated and cared for log which soon dries completely in the open air.
The log home of the pioneer was not as airtight or weather resistant as today’s log homes. Continued improvements in log joinery, sealants and gaskets have made today’s log homes as good – or better – than the traditional stick-built home. In addition, log’s ability to absorb, and slowly release heat over time through their thermal mass allows log homes to keep the weather outside where it belongs. Research studies have shown that log buildings use less energy than same sized insulated wood frame structures.
Concerns about durability are reduced when the logs are properly treated and maintained through the use of insect treatment and decay-preventing wood sealants. Because of the weight and mass of the logs, and their being anchored to each other with long steel lag screws or spikes, storm damage is minimal.
Although log homes have been around for centuries, their popularity as modern homes began to rise in the 1960’s and has been gaining in popularity since. Today’s average contemporary log home has over 2,000 square feet of living space, and may have two or more bathrooms, porches, lots of windows and every feature and convenience that exists.
Most people think of log cabins or homes as being vacation places located in the rough-wooded scenic outback. But the truth is that almost 90 percent of log homes are the primary residence of the owners, with 84 percent of these homes in or near metropolitan areas. Most owners who build log homes as getaway places, eventually move into them full time because living there is like being on a perpetual vacation.
And log homes are becoming increasingly easy to find financing for, insure and re-sell. The inherent strength, durability and stability of log homes are attractive to financial institutions, insurance companies and potential buyers.
The average log homebuilder takes about four times longer than a traditional homebuilder to research and develop plans for their home. Log homebuilders must resolve considerations of budgets, financing, home features and where to build, and also how to build. They are faced with a number of decisions not applicable to stick-built homes – log species, log profile, log size, type of corner treatment, etc.
Log homes are either handcrafted or built of manufactured components. A handcrafted log home is built by specialized craftsmen who strip, shape and custom fit each log in place. This method is more specialty skill oriented and takes more time and money. Manufactured log homes contain smooth, uniform logs milled to strict tolerances, and come numbered and packaged with all materials needed to construct the shell of the designated home. Logs with pre-cut tongue-and-grove alignment for stability and strength, floor and roof beams, various roofing system options, logs with integral rain drip edge, insulating sealants and chinking to hold back the outside weather. The more components the package contains – such as windows and doors, pre-cut logs, flooring systems and roofing systems – less labor time will be needed.
Logs can be made of air-dried, kiln-dried or standing dead wood. They can be pre-treated with insect and preservative solutions, or left in their natural state. They can be ordered with all corners, log lengths and gable ends completely pre-cut, or can come with rough or no cutting that will be finished at the home site.
Log profiles can be full round, flat on inside or outside, round inside or outside, rectangular, Swedish cope or lap siding. Sizes of logs can be from 4” and up. The corner intersection details for the log walls can be saddle notch, which produces the overhanging look; dovetail, where the logs are tightly fitted together; interlock-overlap, where both logs extend past the intersection; butt and pass, where only one log extends past the intersection; and corner post butt, where neither log extends past the corner intersection.
Types of fastening devices include steel spikes or lag screws; liquid, foam or caulk sealing or chinking systems; and finished or rough trim cut on site for that classic log home look. Roof systems can include asphalt, fiberglass or composition shingles; or cedar shakes, slate, ceramic or metal. Construction of the roof itself ranges from the conventional home roof to the more natural log home roof with exposed beams.
This feeling of warm hospitality and soft friendliness has evolved into modern log structures other than family homes. Now much larger buildings such as conference centers, club houses, restaurants, condominiums and apartments, office buildings, motels and entire resorts are built of logs to project that warm, cozy and personable “Welcome!” feeling.
The species of wooden logs is mostly a personal preference. Some of the more popular wood species choices include; white pine, lodgepole pine, red pine, southern yellow pine, ponderosa pine, poplar, white cedar, western red cedar, cypress, redwood, Douglas fir, eastern fir, hemlock, larch, eastern spruce, engelmann spruce, oak and walnut. Pine and other coniferous woods are used most often because they grow straighter and are easy to harvest.
White pine is more abundant, easy to work with, offers excellent insulation properties and is cost efficient. Western red cedar is considered by most to be the premier wood species to use because it lasts longer when properly maintained, has excellent insulating properties, and is naturally decay and insect resistant. It is, however, more costly initially.
The cost of building a log home varies widely because of personal preference, size, style and features, but compares favorably with that of a similar traditional framed home. Its overall energy efficiency, however, is greater than a stick-built home of the same size.
Along with its unique individualistic character, today’s log homeowners demand creative design flexibility with the optimum use of interior space. They can do this by adding complimenting log structures such as workshops, gazebos, garden sheds, garages and other outbuildings. By combining a variety of other natural building materials such as stone, glass and brick into their home, they are able to combine visually pleasing design aesthetics with function to fit their family’s needs and purposes. And, because of the relative light weight and layered assembly of the log walls, future room additions or alterations fit perfectly with the rest of the original home.
Logs can be used to build any size or style of home, not just small primitive backwoods cabins. And, today’s manufactured log homes allow the new homeowner to put as much of himself into his home as he has time and skill. A contractor can be retained to build part of the structure with the homeowner applying the finishing touches. Some log homeowners build their entire home themselves; from clearing the lot to erecting the foundation and walls, to plumbing and electrical, to cabinetry and painting. The only time factor for completing your log home is the one you set for yourself. The secret is in knowing your limitations and pacing yourself.
Log homes have been around for a long time, and served as solid refuge and safe haven in a sea of perpetual change. And they will be around for many more generations to come. Primarily, because log homes of today are built to last not only your lifetime, but your grandchildren’s as well. They are true symbols of national history and a personal heritage that can be passed down through generations with pride. Secondarily, because the methods and tools of building homes with logs will continue to improve in overall efficiency and ultimate worth. And lastly; because building your own log home is like constructing an everlasting monument to your personal abilities, individual character and determination modeled with your own contributions of ingenuity, energy and vision. It is a living testimonial of who you are and the lifestyle you chose. You did it your way! And, in America, that will never go out of style.