Log Home Information and Resources from Hochstetler Log Homes
23 Most Frequently Asked Questions about Log Homes
By Levi Hochstetler
#1: Does a log home cost more than a stick build home?
If you priced a simple home with four walls, one with solid logs and the other with 2x4 stick framed, and both with conventional roof–trusses the price would be a wash. However, people who love log homes also like cathedral ceilings, exposed timbers, quality cabinets, nice chandeliers and they don’t want just any old front door. All these added niceties make log homes generally more expensive.
#2: How much does a log home cost?
This question is virtually impossible for me to answer as there are too many variables. However, let me give you some helpful ideas in order for you to establish a budget.
Here in the Midwest in a rural setting you can expect to pay anywhere from $140 to $225 per square foot (at this printing 2017) with the average around $170* for a 2 story and $185* for a single level home. So, if you take $170 times a 2000 square foot home = $340,000. This is for a turnkey build and includes excavating through the final finish of your home. This does not generally include site improvements such as septic, well and drive. For a standard 24x24 garage add another $30,000. The closer you get to any larger metropolitan area, the more your home will cost, and if you’re building in the New England states add 50%, but plan to double it in California.
Remember, it’s all in the components. Just like on a bicycle, components can vary 500%. Depending on the water faucet you choose, the cost can vary anywhere from $25 to $500 each. Kitchen cabinets can vary for the same plan anywhere from $2,000 to $40,000. The front door can vary from $300 to $20,000. (*Average cost as of 12/1/2017)
#3: Can I build it myself?
Yes, if you have: general carpentry experience/skills; aren’t much older than 50; have more time off than just evenings and weekends (ideally off several months during the summer such as a school teacher); and lots of friends that won’t disappear when the work starts. But if you don’t have at least some of the above criteria, think twice before you commit to it. Believe me, it’s not the easiest endeavor, even when qualified. Also consider being your own general contractor instead. Hochstetler Milling has a do-it-yourself workshop every spring that you should consider attending if you decide to try it. Attending the workshop can help determine if you’re up to it or not. Note: banks normally require a larger down payment with a self-build.
#4: Could I save money by building myself?
Yes, but not as much as you might think. A contractor with the proper tools will be far more efficient than what a typical homebuyer could ever hope to be. I expect, on the average, a builder with the same amount of labor can do about twice the amount of work. For one, by the time you have the cords and air hoses unwrapped in the evening it would be about time to wrap them back up again. However, if you don’t consider you and your spouse’s labor it can be the difference between being able to afford the home you need or not.
One added savings benefit for building it yourself is the fact that your own labor is before income tax, whereas what you pay for labor to a builder is after tax money. Depending on your tax bracket it can be significant.
#5: Does precut actually save me labor over random length logs?
The idea is that with precut you have less labor in the field. However, builders have told us time and time again that precut doesn’t save them any labor! With random, you can put any bundle of logs on the deck, grab any log and start stacking. Whereas in precuts, you have to find the right bundle with the first course and next you’ll have to start looking for a certain log that goes where you would like to start laying logs, only to discover that it’s clear on the bottom.
Another down side to precut is that if the foundation happens to be too long or too short it could be a major problem, whereas with random length logs, there is no problem. Several other benefits of random length logs is that if you, the homeowner, would like to move a window or door, or you happen to damage a log or two with the forklift, no problem. Not so with precut logs. You’d have a major expense and lost time having to order new logs from your supplier.
However, it’s important that when you buy random length logs to make sure they are end squared and that the saddle notches or dovetails are pre-cut. There is a major labor benefit in using end-squared over rough end logs, and if your home has dovetails or saddle-notches that those are pre-done.
#6: How long does it take to have a log home built?
From start to finish the building part takes from 6 to 9 months on average for a 2000 square foot home. Typically, the design process takes about three months. If financing is needed, which it usually is, expect three to six months for that depending on the bank, your credit and a host of other potential setbacks.
#7: Can I modify a standard plan?
Most log home manufactures have an in-house design staff that can modify their plans. We find that very few log home buyers will buy stock plans “as is” and will have us modify them to their individual taste. In fact, while most have us start with a stock plan, quite a few have us begin from their own sketch or even sometimes just from their ideas.
#8: Could I or a friend design our log home?
It depends on what experience you or your friend have. Most manufacturers have experienced designers that often surpass even seasoned architects. Take our design staff as an example. Steve Lykins heads up our design department and reviews every plan that we produce. He has designed 100’s of log homes, not taking into account the fact that he is a registered engineer and has taken 4 years of architectural school. This is in addition to our other experienced designers and company experience gained thru the design and production of 1000’s of log and timber homes over a period of more than thirty years. For medium size homes we charge $3300 down and all but $1300 goes towards the purchase of the package. So in actuality you are paying only $1300 for your design work. This is, hands down, the best bargain of your entire home. Never will you get more valuable professional guidance for the price. So why, if you could get such an extraordinary value, would you want to second-guess one of the most important steps of buying your dream home with less experienced designers?
#9: Are log homes energy efficient?
Yes, very much so! Several years ago the National Bureau of Standards did an energy-efficiency study on homes near Washington D.C., using various different construction types including solid logs. The test was named “Mass Wall Field Study.” The purpose of the experiment was to study how the thermal mass effects the energy-efficiency of a log home compared to a stick home. The stick-framed building used approximately the same amount of energy as did the solid log building during the winter heating season. However, the stick-framed building used approximately 32% more energy than the solid log building during the summer cooling season and 82% more energy during the spring and fall. Accordingly, a significant thermal mass effect was observed during the spring and fall heating season as well as during the summer cooling season. Overall the solid log building performed about 38% better than the stick framed, even though the solid log had 20% less R-value! The key thing to remember is that a log home, when properly sealed with gasket etc., is a very energy efficient home. On the other hand, a log home that is not properly sealed and has air leaks is a very difficult home to heat.
#10: Should I go with a 6” or 8” thick log?
Here in Ohio, in climate zone 5, it’s a toss-up. It isn’t cost effective with today’s fuel prices to justify the added cost of going with the 8” thick log. However, it does make it easier to meet or exceed energy codes by using the thicker log. If you’re building in Vermont, which is zone 6, there is no question you should use the 8” thick wall. On the other hand, if you’re building in zone 4 such as in Kentucky, 6” is more than adequate.
#11: Don’t log homes have more maintenance then stick homes?
On the inside, there’s actually less. Most log home owners want mostly wood rather than drywall on the inside walls which, like wood furniture, has very little to no maintenance.
Generally, on the outside though, like any wood sided home, there is more maintenance than on, let’s say, a vinyl sided home. However, with all things considered, there’s not as much difference as one might think. In fact, when you consider the expensive type of maintenance, such as wind and hail storms, or even little-league baseballs, log homes perform much better. Right after hurricane Katrina we got multiple calls from the coastal areas of folks who saw how log homes weathered the storm when everything else was wiped off the map!
A log wall is an honest wall; if there is a problem you can see it the first day. In fact, because of this, log homes are often given a bad rap. Whereas, in a stick framed cavity wall, there can be an insect or water problem hidden behind the siding or drywall for years, and it may not be until extensive damage is done that the unsuspecting homeowner is finally aware of it.
Wood is a natural material, making it warmer and cozier than any man-made material such as drywall, vinyl or concrete. Perhaps there’s more maintenance, but so it is with natural grass compared to artificial turf. The question is: who would want to play with their grandchildren on a maintenance-free yard of fake grass or take time to smell the artificial roses? All types of homes have maintenance and like someone once said, “If you don’t want to maintain a home you’ll have to buy a condo, but who’s willing to squander their whole life in a condo?”
#12: Aren’t log homes prone to insects?
No, not any more so than any other home. In fact, cavity-loving insects such as yellow jackets don’t nest in a solid log wall. The misconception that log homes are more prone to insects is due to the fact that if you have insect problems you can see it right away, whereas with stick homes they can be present for years before the unwary homeowner realizes it. Regardless of what home you own, stick or log, you should hire an exterminator to go over your home at least once a year.
#13: What stain or finish is the best?
Of all the decisions you make in procuring material to build your home this is perhaps one of the most crucial. Depending on the product you choose or what your builder chooses for you, it can easily triple the maintenance on your home. So do your homework!
Several years ago after being constantly bombarded by sales people from various finish manufactures wanting us to promote and sell their products, we finally decided to do our own testing. So we bought 40 different products from 30 different manufacturers, all being a similar color. We then took pieces of log siding and coated each one with their recommended procedure. We attached the sample pieces of siding into wooden frames and put them in a semi-shaded area matching the environment of a typical log home site. Note that our interest was not to promote any certain product but to try and determine the best option for our clients to use on their home. We left them outside for three years, and then brought them back inside in order to preserve the results for our clients to see for themselves. Two PPG ProLuxe Sikkens products, Log & Siding and Cetol 1 and 2&3 plus were the clear winners. However, buyer beware, not all Sikken’s products performed that well. Sikken’s water-based SRD was a total failure. These lessor quality Sikken’s products are often available in big box stores.
#14: How often do you have to refinish a log home?
With a good high quality finish, expect 3 to 5 years. Some clients have a schedule to do the south & west sides every 3 years and do the other two sides every 6 years. Keep in mind that the darker the finish the longer it lasts.
#15: Are Northern White Cedar logs better than Eastern White Pine?
Let me answer that by addressing the different myths.
N. W. Cedar has more R-value: According to the USDA Handbook, E. W. Pine has about 6% less R-value than N. W. Cedar. If you take thermal mass into consideration the advantage would be even less. It does have about 25% more than Western Red Cedar or Cypress.
N. W. Cedar settles less: Very minimal if green, and no different if properly dried.
N. W. Cedar is more decay resistant: Yes, slightly more than E. W. Pine, but not as much as Western Red Cedar or Cypress.
N. W. Cedar has less maintenance: It takes the same amount of upkeep as the E.W. Pine. In fact, we have found that some exterior finishes don’t adhere as well on N.W. Cedar as on E. W. Pine.
Instead, consider these three key points when wanting to reduce maintenance on a log home: large overhangs and porches, well dried logs and most importantly, a good quality finish properly applied.
#16: Should I consider buying pressure treated logs?
The advantage of pressure treating logs is, that it raises their ability to resist decay and helps to deter insects. However, while this is true, it does bring with it other disadvantages that I feel out way the benefits.
The first concern is the chemicals on the inside of the home, where it really serves no purpose, while at the same time you have your family continuously exposed to it, even at night! The second concern is the wetness of the logs, having them forced full of water and chemicals that will cause your wall to excessively settle – possibly even more than a green log. You would have to put them back in a dry kiln for more than a month to take the moisture back out and then it’s questionable as how effective the chemicals really are after being exposed to the intense heat of a dry kiln? Thirdly, when your logs are wet from pressure treating, the finish won’t adhere as well thus causing more maintenance.
On top of all this people may go with pressure treated logs thinking there is less maintenance. However, just like using certain types of wood it still takes the same amount of staining or refinishing as the untreated.
A proven effective alternative to using pressure treated logs is to spray borates on the outside for decay after the logs are installed, and then for insect control, mix a product like NBS 30 with the exterior finish, whenever you stain the logs. Plus, once a year have an exterminator treat the outside. Using this method you end up with all the chemicals on the outside where needed, but the inside stays chemical free. While most chemicals used for pressure treating have been proclaimed safe for humans – you never know, someday it could be proven otherwise. Even asbestos was thought safe at one time.
#17: Are laminated logs better than the solid real logs?
The presumed advantage is that there will be less checking and settling. Which there is. But the question is what does that do for you? Again, its wood and it will take the same amount of staining and recoating as any other wood-sided home. So where is the savings for the extra dollars you spend? One concern I have is, will the laminated log overhangs stay together down the road? But then, the hard question is, do I have a real log home with laminated logs?
#18: How much does a log home settle and will I need settling jacks
and thru bolts?
With properly kiln-dried logs, very little settling should be experienced. Typically, about 1/2” in an 8’ wall. Accordingly, no settling jacks etc. are needed. However, with green or pressure-treated logs, you can expect up to 3 inches. With that much settling, you will need to use adjustable settling jacks, thru bolt systems, slotted window bucks, floating stairs and sliding plumbing pipes to accommodate it.
#19: Which is better, kiln-dried or air-dried?
Each drying process has its advantages. Perhaps the biggest advantage of air-drying is simply the cost savings. Dry-kilns are a major investment and are expensive to operate. Thus, smaller or start-up log home companies often don’t have the monetary resources needed to invest in one. The only other advantage to the consumer is the fact that the slower the logs dry, the less stress they will have – resulting in less checking.
Dr. Gene Wengerd, Ph.D. of Wood Doctors Rx, LLC, says, “kiln-dried logs are better than air-dried products as the moisture content is lower in kiln-dried material which means, in turn, that most of the natural shrinkage that will occur in wood as it dries will occur during the drying process rather than after installation. As a result they will be more stable – requiring less caulking and problems, like doors and windows sticking”. Other benefits he says are that, “the material is 10 to 20% lighter than air-dried and 50% lighter than green logs and that the logs are sanitized from mold, mildew, stain fungi and decay fungi (which cause rot), plus insects, their larvae and eggs are killed when temperatures exceed 130 degrees Fahrenheit.” Furthermore, these pathogens require water to survive and kiln-drying eliminates the required moisture”. He also stated that, “when wood is heated over 150 degrees Fahrenheit in the kiln, the sap, pitch or resin in wood that would be liquid at room temperatures is evaporated. The likelihood of seepage of sap after installation is virtually eliminated.” Another point he made, is that “kiln-dried wood is ready for application of finish, and that in many cases, the finish itself will penetrate deeper with kiln-dried wood, providing longer lasting finishes”.
A respectable builder would not consider building a stick home with anything but kiln-dried, 2x framing material; nor would he allow the cabinet and trim manufacturer to use air-dried lumber to build the cabinets, trim or doors. So why should you or anyone else even consider using anything but kiln-dried in a log home where the logs stacked on top of each other make the importance of properly kiln-dried material far greater than with stick build homes.
We use a 2-step method in drying our logs. First, we air-dry them for 9 months, and then we finish drying them in our state-of-the-art SII dry kilns. This gives our clients the benefit of a slower dried air-dried logs, plus all the benefits that come with properly kiln-dried logs.
Because drying has such a large impact on the performance of your logs in your home, it is time well spend for you to take a close look at your log home manufacturer’s drying facility before signing on the dotted line. If kiln-dried is your choice than there should be a large kiln on the ground. If air-dried is the choice than there should be an air-drying yard with stacks and stacksof timber on stickers. Don’t settle to have your dream home air-dried on the way to your building site!
With today’s advancement in pre-drying logs and the added benefits and peace of mind it brings, you should think twice before considering green or wet logs, unless you’re building a shack out back or don’t mind dealing with settling jacks and willing to put up with all the added maintenance issues.
#20: Which log corner is the best, dovetail, saddle-notch or butt-&-pass?
If the question is which is the strongest, than the answer is that all three corners are much stronger than any stick-framed corner with a single 2x4 lapping on top and OSB sheathing on the outside. Accordingly the answer is buy whatever is the most pleasing to your eye. Dovetails, which go well with square logs, tend to give your home an antique look; whereas a saddle notch, often associated with round logs, gives it more of a western look. The butt & pass is more of a simple look that the early settlers used for a temporary cabin, giving your home a country flavor.
#21: Post-and-beam, heavy timber roof and loft, compared to 2x framing lumber?
Without pictures it’s difficult to explain the difference. Large structural timbers or poles throughout are what make a log home. A log home without the large timber is like a stone fire-place without a mantel, it simply doesn’t look complete. Potentially, a stick 2x framed loft and roof system with fiberglass roof insulation with a few decorative timbers thrown in could save you $15,000 on an average 2000 square foot home. However, the post-and-beam system using polystyrene insulation panels is much better. This is because with cathedral ceilings it’s very difficult to get enough ventilation so you don’t have problems with condensation using 2x framing and fiberglass insulation. The moisture from condensation can stain your ceiling, cause mold and render your insulation useless.
#22: Do log homes need a special foundation?
Frequently, folks ask if an 8” concrete block foundation wall is strong enough to carry a log home. The answer is very much so; in fact, with the added weight of the logs from above they become stronger and can withstand more side load then when they carry less weight. All other foundation types that are structurally ok for conventional stick homes such as prefab, poured concrete and insulated concrete forms work for a log home as well.
#23: Which logs are better, single or double tongue and groove?
Go with whatever comes standard from your supplier. This often gets used as a marketing ploy but one has very little advantage over the other. However, it is very important that there is a tongue-and-groove and that there is gasket and a cavity for it. Otherwise, if the gasket is squeezed between the logs without a cavity your home will basically be sitting on sponge. This will cause excessive settling once your home gets loaded with snow or people.
A reversed tongue-and-groove where the groove is on the bottom rather than on top, such as in a spline system, may allow water to enter and lay in the groove, thus potentially causing decay problems.