6 Things You Need to Know Before Building a Log Home
So, you’re thinking about building a log home.
Log cabins are great homes to live in. They have a very natural warm cozy feel to them which you just don’t get in conventional homes.
With their rustic appearance and aesthetic beauty, building a log cabin can make you feel closer to nature and give you a huge sense of accomplishment.
Although there are many benefits of living in a log cabin, it’s important that you are realistic about what building a log home will actually involve.
That’s why we’ve put together this list of things that you need to know before you build, to help you decide whether this is the right decision for you.
The Actual Cost
For many people who want a huge sprawling log cabin home, cost is not an issue, they will just take their ideas to a designer and have a custom built home planned and made.
However, for the majority of us, we just want to build a simple cabin to live in. So let’s take a look at how the cost of these compare to more traditional housing.
The average cost to build a log cabin kit is $35 per square foot; you will then need to add the cost of your land, and site preparation, foundations and utility lines, permits and labor costs.
It is recommended that you multiply the price of a log cabin kit by 2.6 to find the overall cost of your cabin.
For example if the kit is $40,000, the final cost will be roughly $104,000. Following this example, a 700 square foot log cabin at $40,000 equates to an average of $58 per square foot.
If you want to build your own log cabin from scratch, it is possible to spend a lot less on your build, depending on your DIY skills and the availability of logs.
This guy built a small log cabin in just one month; the cabin cost around €500. Most of their costs came from insulation and screws.
They did everything from scratch including felling their own trees, debarking them and raising the walls.
They don’t use the traditional methods of notching, so it may not last as long as a regular log cabin, but still – not bad for one month’s work!
For a more detailed figure to build a log cabin, have a look at our article on the breakdown of costs involved in building a log cabin.
The log cabin in the breakdown above cost $25 per square foot.
Although more realistic, this cabin was still built on a small budget; I would recommend you can expect to spend roughly $40 per square foot on a hand built log cabin.
Let’s compare these costs to the average price of building a traditional home. Home advisor reports that the average cost to build a new home is $305,372, which would put a 2,000 square foot home at $150 per square foot – a substantial amount more.
Energy Efficiency of Logs
A materials ability to resist heat flow is measured by its R value. The higher the R value, the great the insulating power, and therefore the better the material is.
Logs range in r values, depending on the type of tree species.
They can range between 1.41 per inch for softwoods and 0.71 for hardwoods. Therefore, is we ignore the benefits of thermal mass, a 6 inch softwood log wall (without windows or doors) has an R Value of just over 8.
If we compare this with a conventional wood stud wall with insulation, sheathing and wallboard, this has an R Value of roughly 14.
You many think that logs are inferior to conventional building, however, logs have an added benefit, they act like thermal batteries.
A study carried out by the University of Maine, found that logs play a vital role in conserving energy. They absorb heat energy during the day and radiate it at night to maintain an even temperature.
The Log Homes Council state that the average household spends $1,900 a year on energy; log home owners typically report that they spend far less than their neighbors on heating, air conditioning, hot water and lighting.
Builder Mike Gingras, owner of a log homes company in Vermont, says:
We can build a log and timber home to be 15 to 20 percent more energy efficient than a conventional home.
More than 80% of log homes that are built in the US are built by members of the Log Homes Council. They follow rigorous procedures to ensure their log cabins ‘eliminate air infiltration and moisture and conserve energy’ explains Rob Cantrell, 2007 President of the Log Homes Council.
Logs are great natural insulators – there is a very good reason why log cabins are still being built in cold climates like the winters in Finland and Canada!
Despite logs being good natural insulators, don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ll automatically have an energy efficient log cabin.
Energy efficiency also depends on a number of other factors.
Up to 70% of your heat will be lost through the roof and floor- therefore it is vital that you insulate these areas properly.
For more information on insulating your log cabin, how to place your log cabin and the effects this can have on the efficiency read staying warm in your log cabin.
Another way log homes can lose energy efficiency is though air leakage. Let’s take a look at this next.
Log Walls Settle and Shrink
It is normal for log homes to settle and shrink slightly, even the ones that have been built with kiln dried logs.
The reason that logs shrink, is that a living tree has a high moisture content and as soon as it is felled, it starts releasing water.
Air dried logs still have a moisture content of 15-20%, the logs will continue to lose moisture until they reach their equilibrium moisture content (ECM). ECM is when the logs neither loose moisture nor take on moisture due to the surrounding environment.
As moisture is lost from the log, the log walls will settle and shrink, causing the logs to crack or ‘check’.
It is therefore important to use appropriate finishes, caulking and chinking to allow this movement to happen. If your log home isn’t chinked properly, and your logs start to check, you log cabin could quickly become energy inefficient, and you may experience air leakage.
What is important to remember, is that shrinking and settling is not a problem, it is simply a characteristic of working with logs.
When this does become a problem, is when it isn’t taken into account, and the wrong materials are used which don’t allow for the logs to settle properly, and restrict the movement of them.
Understand that shrinking and settling will happen, and plan appropriately for this. Most modern chinking materials are flexible so that as the logs move, the chinking can expand and stretch to maintain a tight seal.
Window Walls are Expensive
While you might think that having a whole wall to enjoy that glorious view out of is up there on what you want from your log home, the practicalities may override this.
Although window walls can make your room seem larger, and bring the outside in, they can also be a huge source of heat loss. This can be very costly in the long run as it will increase your utility bills. It is possible to have a few small well placed windows to still enjoy the views, and maintain good energy efficiency.
By placing the majority of the windows on the south side of your building you will also be taking maximum advantage of the sun’s energy.
In the winter, the sun will be low and will shine directly through your windows providing natural light and heating. In the summer when the sun is higher in the sky, if you have a small overhang on the roof of your log cabin, this will act as a shade and will keep the heat out.
If you live in a very hot climate where air conditioning is needed more than heating, place the majority of your windows on the north side of your log home.
Maintenance is Ongoing
Just like a regular house, the maintenance required to look after your log cabin will be ongoing. I’m not saying it will be more difficult, or easier, it is just different.
You’ll need to take a proactive approach to inspecting your log home to keep maintenance costs to a minimum.
Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule is far more effective and cheaper than irregular repair and fixes. Regular maintenance of your log cabin reduces the damage from UV, water, insects and air infiltration.
So what does maintenance of a log cabin look like?
You should inspect your cabin twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. During your inspection you should be checking the chinking, checking for evidence of pests and checking the general condition of your cabin.
You cabin should be washed once a year to remove surface level dirt. You should stain your cabin roughly every three years. For a detailed guide on maintenance, check out this article on Log Cabin Maintenance Costs.
Before you build your log home, it is vital to think about the location of your build.
The location of your build can have a big effect on what exactly you want to build.
The vast majority of areas have zoning and planning laws which you must adhere to, and in some specific areas you may struggle to get permission to build a log home.
For example in England, it’s very unlikely you’ll get permission to build a log home in an area with new housing and no similar buildings.
Contact your relevant local agency to see what permits and regulations you need to adhere to. You will want to check for code restrictions, zoning, development restrictions, future development plans and other legal considerations.
There are a number of Log Home Hotspots that are home to plenty of log cabins, these areas are a great starting point if you are unsure where to build your home.
Once you have found the area you want to build in, and you start thinking about parcels of land, you also need to consider how suitable a piece of land is for your log cabin.
Is it accessible, do you have access to resources and amenities?
For more information on finding your log cabin location, read this article.
It’s important to be realistic about the different aspects of building a log home. By understanding these aspects you can start to make informed decisions about the practicalities of building a log home.
Remember, regardless of their low cost and energy efficiency in comparison to the average house, these positive factors can quickly turn into negative factors if you don’t plan for inevitable things such as settling, and maintain you home correctly.
Make the most of your planning an d preparation period and find out as much as you can before building a log home.
The more prepared you are, the more successful your build will be.
Have you come across anything unexpected while planning to build your log home? Let us know in the comments below.