Log cabin maintenance costs; the definitive guide to cabin maintenance
Owning and living in a log cabin is a fantastic and privileged experience; being surrounded by such a beautiful, natural and rustic environment can provide you with such tranquil feelings.
Having visited hundreds of log homes and being fortunate to own a log cabin, one of the common questions I’m asked about is the maintenance of log homes – especially the exterior lumber.
Whilst log cabin maintenance can depend upon site location, design prudence, maintenance and environmental factors; one thing is for sure, routine log home maintenance is an often-neglected step for ensuring the longevity of your home.
When we advise log cabin owners on ongoing care of their log home, very often they have previously received more bad information than good. So, we’ve decided to create the ultimate guide to log cabin maintenance. We start by discussing the costs of repair and maintenance by focusing on our six step process:
- Pest Control
- General Maintenance
We then conclude with the dos and don’ts of maintenance and some handy maintenance advice. Carry on reading as we take you through the most effective guide to log home maintenance.
Cost of Log Cabin Maintenance
Maintaining a log home should be a bi-annual activity, specifically during spring and fall. Regular maintenance of your log cabin reduces the damage from UV, water, insects and air infiltration.
During spring you will want to give specific focus to any water damage to exterior wood from freezing water and snow and then preparing your cabin for higher temperatures during the summer.
Whereas in the fall you will be paying specific attention to infestation of bugs, faded staining and then readying your log home for a cold winter!
Sticking to a regular maintenance schedule is far more effective and cheaper than irregular repair and fixes.
First step… Inspections
Knowing that your log home requires maintenance isn’t enough; you should have a proactive approach to inspecting various elements of your log home during different seasons.
Once in spring and once in fall, take a nice slow walk around the perimeter of your cabin to fully appraise the maintenance work required.
You will want to look specifically at areas that are exposed to the most extreme weather and temperature conditions – so start at the south of your cabin. As you start walking, look for issues (e.g. cracking, mold, infestation) especially near doors, windows, roof connections and exposed log ends.
When inspecting the roof look for; damaged or loose shingles and tiles, warped flashing, leaky or full gutters or exposed rafters. Pay close attention to the chimney – look for; damaged flue pipes, loose flashing, cracks between the flue pipe and chimney or chimney and roof.
When inspecting the walls try to find; loose or cracking chinking, cracks or checking in the timber, popped knots, signs of damp, mildew or mod, faded stain and splash back (i.e. from gutters).
When inspecting the surroundings; make sure plants and pots are at least 24” away from your log walls, decking and railings have no erosion or lose areas, drainage and check for no standing water.
Second step… Washing (Annually)
Washing your cabin is a great opportunity to remove any surface level dirt such as dust, mildew, pollen, bird feces and insect deposits (i.e. spider webs, eggs etc…).
The best technique I would recommend to wash your cabin is to use a mild detergent and a soft bristle brush. One of the better detergents is X-180’s Weathered Wood Restorer. It will cost around $150 for 5 gallons. Make sure to mix the detergent with warm water (not boiling) using a 50:50 ratio.
We recommend two cleans (once bottom-up and once top-down);
To start with, work your way from the bottom-up. Initially wet the logs and then applying the detergent mix with a soft bristle brush by gently scrubbing in circles – this will avoid streaking of your logs.
Focus on dark patches in the timber – this is typically caused by splash back.
Once you’ve cleaned the cabin from bottom-up, focusing on specific areas of mold and mildew, then work from the top down for the final clean. This will avoid dirt being washed into areas you’ve previously cleaned.
Give the cabin a final hose down and let it dry for three or four days before doing any further maintenance. Once dry this can be a good opportunity to inspect if your cabin requires a fresh staining.
Third step… Staining (Once every three years)
The first application of stain will typically last two years. After the first application, stain can last up to three years depending on how you many coats you apply and the quality of the stain you use.
Typically whichever part of your cabin is exposed to direct sunlight (i.e. south facing gable) will require re-staining more frequently.
The best way to assess the condition of your cabin’s stain is;
- If you have a latex based stain then if the finish has become dull and faded it’s time to apply a new coat of stain.
- If you have an oil based stain then look at the knots in the logs, if they have become blonde then it’s time to apply a new coat of stain too.
If you haven’t recently washed your cabin, then another quick check is to spray some water on the logs. The water should bead and very quickly run down the cabin.
The best oil based stain I’ve used is TWP. For my cabin at 2,000 square feet I required 35 gallons for two coats which costs $2,300. As I stain my cabin every three years this works out to an annual cost of $767 for log cabin stain.
The best way to stain your cabin is to work in smaller horizontally complete areas and paint wet on wet.
To start with make sure you have properly cleaned and prepared your cabin. The key to ensuring the stain lasts for three or more years is the quality of your preparation.
Once your cabin has thoroughly dried you can apply your stain. Initially apply the stain using a garden sprayer and then back brush the stain. I find a garden sprayer to be just as effective as commercial sprayers.
See the video below for a guide how to stain and back brush;
Work in smaller full width sections as this will help prevent any lap marks. After the first coat has been applied, wait 20 minutes, and apply the second coat whilst the stain is still wet. This is known as a wet on wet technique.
Use the same technique of spraying and back-brushing for the second coat of stain too.
Once you’ve completed staining you will need to wait for another two to three days for it to dry before chinking.
Fourth step… Chinking (Annually)
Chinking is a very flexible sealant that is used during the construction of your log home to seal the joins between the two logs.
Sealant to logs is the mortar to bricks.
Chinking should last for well over two decades providing it’s been applied correctly using a backing rod – typically only extreme temperatures accelerate the degradation in chinking such as rainy seasons or extreme heat. Older cement-based chinking requires far more maintenance than today’s supple elastomeric chinking that moves with your cabin as it settles.
The most common application of chinking when maintaining your cabin will be for sealing gaps or cracks in the timber. Splitting and cracking is a very natural and common characteristic of timer and it’s known as “checking”.
The best rule of thumb is any crack or check over 2cm then seal it to prevent water pooling or bugs nesting.
We would recommend using either Log Jam Chinking or PermaChink for this type of maintenance.
For a typical log home measuring 2,000 square feet, you will require no more than 5 gallons of chinking a year; this will cost you $230.
Fifth step… Pest Control (Annually)
Timber has always been vulnerable to bugs and insects; especially softer sapwood. Regular cleaning, filling cracks, dusting and fumigation is typically sufficient when it comes to routine maintenance preventing pests from entering your cabin.
If you have a specific issue with bugs or insects it might be worth reading our remedial action guide on keeping your log home bug free!
Sixth step… General Maintenance (Annually)
Clearing gutters, controlling and monitoring the water flow and run-off is very important for your log cabin – more so than a traditional home. Your cabin’s logs can become darkened by splash back from water very quickly, which can cause decay, infestation and many other expensive problems. You would first notice this when cleaning your cabin if certain patches are darker than others.
It’s important to check your gutters are clear of obstacles such a forage and leaves, this will prevent them from over flowing. Then check each downspout carries the water run-off to a suitable location – away from your cabin.
When doing your bi-annual inspection if you notice any gaps between the windows and doors the best repair is to use expanding foam. If the gaps are large then you would notice cold air flowing into your cabin, but, smaller gaps are harder to notice. I’ve previously used foam guns that can be loaded with cans of pressured expanding foam – this typically costs around $75.
The average maintenance cost for a 2,000 square feet cabin is around $1,350 per year:
- $150 for 5 gallons of mild cleaning detergent
- $767 for 35 gallons of log cabin stain every three years
- $230 for chinking
- $75 for general maintenance (e.g. foam gun, guttering, downspouts).
Dos and Don’ts of Log Cabin Repair
Regular and proactive maintenance
We are firm believers that with the right care, and regular scheduled maintenance, taking care of your log home is an investment that will pay for itself multiple times over! Following the advice in the post will help you ensure you don’t require emergency repairs or restoration resulting from neglect.
Don’t do this!
Being proactive and sticking to a good maintenance routine is essential, but, make sure to not go overboard. Regular use of a pressure washer will cause long term damage to your logs by forcing water through the logs into your home and causing the logs to swell. The result could be accelerated log decay. Remember some surface layers of mold and mildew can age your cabin and really give it a rustic feel. If you do decide to use a pressure washer for speed or convenience then don’t use anything grater than 500 psi and don’t get any closer than two feet to the cabin.
If you only take one thing away from this blog post, regular maintenance is the only way to militate against what can otherwise become a very expensive restoration job!
If you have any questions or restoration advice you would like to share then feel free to post a comment below.