Log homes. These pioneer-like residences conjure images of Abraham Lincoln reading by candlelight or Daniel Boone and his coonskin cap. For whatever reason, there is something Norman Rockwell-esque about these rustic structures that make us feel warm and safe.
These days, however, log homes (vs. the log cabins that were built by early European settlers) look nothing like the throwbacks from our history but are, rather, more comfortable and luxurious — and perhaps that’s the appeal.
Log cabin living can be an attractive alternative to a traditional home for suburbanites looking to get away for a weekend or baby boomers getting ready to retire.
Although log home construction was estimated to be a $3.5 billion industry during the early 2000s, it took a major hit during the recession and is now estimated to be about $760 million, according to research conducted last year by Log Home Living and Timber Home Institute in collaboration with the National Association of Home Builders Log and Timber Council and the Timber Framers Guild. Now there are indications that log home construction is enjoying a slow renaissance of sorts, and sales have steadily increased from 2012 to 2015, with about 26,000 log homes built annually.
And I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Our journey began when my wife and I saw log homes perched on the shores of Lake Anna in Virginia and admired their soaring windows and intricate stone work. After interviewing several vendors and attending the log home show in Chantilly, Va., we settled on a purveyor of the log components and selected an experienced log home builder, who delivered the house in 2003. Regrettably, the home was hit by lightning in 2004, so we were forced to rebuild. In addition, because of a harsh winter, the home took longer than anticipated to build. However, when completed, we felt that our 3,200-square-foot home was put back together nicely.
If you’re interested in owning this homage to Americana, here are a few things you should know:
- Do your homework. These homes are not built like most traditional homes. They are all different as far as types of wood, shapes of the log members and how they are hewn and bolted.
- Establish a budget. These homes run the gamut from small to grandiose and everything in between.
- Determine the look you want. These homes come in all different shapes and sizes, so consider how it will fit into your surroundings.
- Get informed. Log home building is an industry unto itself. It was fascinating to learn about construction techniques that were unknown to us at the time.
- Be patient. Building a log home doesn’t happen overnight and in fact takes longer because the homes are harder to put together.
Here’s more of what to expect should you decide to take on the challenging but rewarding task of building a log home:
Many options available
Log homes typically range from 1,600 square feet to 3,500 square feet, although size is no limit. These homes can be as simple or intricate as you like. Many homeowners are opting for light, airy space with open floor plans, vaulted ceilings, big windows, and long porches and decks that take advantage of your particular views.
There are two distinct kinds of logs that make up most homes today. Milled logs are pre-cut to fit a particular design and are 90 percent of this custom market. Handcrafted logs, which are debarked and cut into the right size and shape, make up the remaining 10 percent. Logs from a mill can be identified by their uniform shape and size, but handcrafted logs (typically Douglas fir, pine or spruce) will vary, giving them that signature rustic appearance.
Log homes offer a variety of opportunities for exposed ceilings, rafters, vaulted ceilings and tongue-and-groove finishes. Interlocking wood corners add structural stability and protection from high winds, earthquakes, etc.
Another detail that gives these homes their warm appeal includes chinking, a process used to fill the gaps between logs, which is commonly synthetic now, as opposed to the traditional sand-cement chinking. The sand cement would often pull away from the wood as it expanded and contracted, allowing cold drafts, rain and bugs inside.
Costs are considerable
To understand what you’re getting into, building takes about six to eight months longer than a traditional timber-framed home and can cost 25 percent to 50 percent more because of the labor involved in handcrafting certain elements. Delivery costs are typically about 2 percent of the overall project cost because most log homes are constructed in a factory and then disassembled and numbered for shipping.
That said, kits can be found for as little as $10,000 for one-room hunting camps or small vacation getaways. However, larger second-home packages typically range from $250,000 to $350,000, not including land. Larger, more custom or luxury log homes would increase in price comparatively. Other items not included in the initial cost are the foundation, electricity, plumbing, finish carpentry, tile work and painting — all supplied by local contractors, and add-ons to your total cost.
And let’s not forget upkeep. Unlike its traditional counterpart, a log home has to be re-stained every three to five years to prevent sun damage, and rechinked as needed to prevent air from leeching in. When it comes time to re-stain the home, expect to pay north of $5,000 to $10,000 depending on the square footage of the surface area.
Kinder to the environment
To offset the sticker shock, here’s the good news: Log home construction is one of the most efficient ways to build.
Since many log homes are sold as kits or packages, the majority of building materials are delivered at one time. By doing so, this leaves a smaller carbon footprint because it reduces fuel costs and emissions when compared with traditional building.
In addition, full log walls have something no stick-framed house can claim, which is thermal mass. Think of it this way: Logs naturally soak up heat during the day and release that heat slowly and evenly, using less energy over the life of the home. What this means is that in the winter, less heat will be needed, and in the summer, the conditioned air inside the home doesn’t pass through the logs easily and stays where it should, keeping you cool.
Also, any wood that isn’t used for the home is made into mulch or wood scraps that become raw material used in carvings and other home products. For its part, the log home industry is a staunch supporter of reforestation, typically funding the planting of an average of six trees for every one it fells.
At the end of the day, these homes will stand the test of time by lasting more than a century (with regular upkeep). They are green, energy efficient, fit well into their surroundings and hold or increase their value. In short, these natural homes are as stunning as they are efficient.
Rory Coakley is founder and president of Rory S. Coakley Realty, a full-service residential and commercial real estate company operating in the Washington area since 1989.