Opinions based on 23 years of experience building all styles of log homes!

Here are responses to some frequent questions
I am asked regarding Log Homes:

  

What will it COSTS? *

The most common question we receive regarding log homes is, “How Much Will It Cost”? Unfortunately, this is also the most difficult question to answer! There are just too many variables to allow ANYONE to provide a competent answer, without a LOT more information… (be leery of anyone that does). Your finished costs is based on a number of factors… Some of the more influential factors (in addition to square footage) are: log size and style, complexity of the design (especially the roof), level of finishes in the home, accessibility, and geographical location.

The impact of square footage in the home is fairly straight forward... the bigger the house, the more building materials & labor required… Bear in mind that “above grade” space is much more expensive than “below grade.”… Many a bubget issue can be overcome by moving guest quarters fron a second floor to the basement level.  This is especially viable on a sloped loft that allows for a “walk-out” basement!  

Different  log styles & sizes require varying levels of assembly time… Posts corners will be more economical than full-tail Swedish cope style.  A smaller log size may be less expensive for the material, but may require more assembly labor?  However, there is also a trade-off with the level of insulating capacity offered by different sizes!

The complexity of  the design is probably the least understood factor impacting cost... The more floors, corners, roof ridge lines and roof valleys, the higher the cost. On the other hand, a simple ranch design with one roof ridge line is simpler, and therefore less expensive to build… As mentioned previously, effective use of a walk-out lower level can be very economical!

The level of finishes one chooses also has a dramatic impact on overall cost... In-floor radiant heat, granite counter tops, antique flooring, masonry fireplaces, seamless metal roofing, designer lighting and plumbing fixture, etc. These are all great amenities, especially in a log home, but they inflate the budget in a hurry!

Lastly, the location of your land is a huge factor in turnkey costs; both in terms of locale, and accessibility. Obviously, a home built in Aspen or Vail is going to costs more than a home built on the eastern plains of Colorado. This costs discrepancy may be hard to justify, but it's a fact of life that can’t be ignored! In addition, the accessibility of the lot, along with ample room for staging and storage, can have a significant impact on the pace (and consequently the costs) of construction.

I will offer this insight... A log home is going to costs more than a stick-framed home. You should walk away from anyone that tells you otherwise! More “solid” materials typically go into a log home, but the result is incomparable quiet, strength and security. More importantly, a log home typically deserves many of the upper-end finishes mentioned above, thereby driving the price up accordingly. So, it becomes a matter of prioritizing your desires and making some difficult choices. The important thing is to be certain the design you settle on is well within the constraints of your budget. Overruns are more likely than not, and changes once the project ensues, can be difficult. A very general guideline might be $50+/- per square foot (above grade) for a Log Shell (assembled log package); but turn-key costs might range from $150 to $250 per foot, depending on the choices listed herein...

The problem for most folks is a willingness to invest enough in the planning process to provide sufficient drawings and specifications with which to obtain reasonably accurate costs estimates. Usually, very simple floor plan drawings, along with some guidelines as to materials and finishes is sufficient to get you started. Selecting a Standard Plan from a magazine or web site can simplify this process. The more detail that is available on your plans, the more accurate the estimates you will receive; but how much do you want to spend to learn that the home you desire is out of reach? Here is a convenient First Step… a handy tool for estimating the potential cost of your Dream Home: *Cost Calculator*. Just plug in a few variables and this calculator will provide a "ballpark" estimate of what your home might costs to build. Alternatively, we can prepare basic floorplan drawings for as little as 10 cents per square foot, and a questionnaire addressing Materials, Fixtures and Finishes, sufficient to provide you with basic estimates... From this point you will have an idea of where you stand, and can proceed with adjustments to design &/or finishes as necessary. For most folks this is a long-time Dream Come True, and they are reluctant to cut corners! But, if making some sacrifices is the only way to recognize this dream (and stay within the constraints of your budget), then follow this link for some suggestions for doing so: *COSTS*.

What is the R-value of Log walls? *

R-value is a measure of the resistance to thermal flow. Log homes are a different animal and must be evaluated using a different criteria. A well built log home will perform exceptionally well due to the low thermal conductivity of wood fiber, along with the thermal mass of solid timbers.  Accordingly, it will retain heat better in the winter and stay cooler in the summer.  The actual R-value of a log wall will depend on the species (higher in soft woods), log diameter, and of the quality of the logs (amount of checking).  Typically, a log wall provides an equivalent R-value of about 1.5 per inch of log diameter. Government studies have documented that a typical log home will outperform a comparable stick-built home.  In general, an 8" log wall is comparable to a 2"x 4" frame home with R-13 insulation, and a 9" log wall is comparable to a 2" x 6" frame home with R-19 insulation.  But, it's not unusual for a log home to feel more comfortable and perform more efficiently than it's stick-built counter part, due to the impact of the "thermal mass" factor!  

The efficiency ratings of a “hybrid” log homes propels these results to new highs… Utilizing half-log siding over conventional framing or foam-core logs surpasses any obtainable results obtained via conventional construction.  This new-breed of log home employs the best from both styles (including vapor barriers) and enters the realm of Super Insulation & Mega-Efficiency!  Of course, the energy efficiency of a log home is also directly related to window quality, the workmanship used when putting it together, the sealing methods employed, and the dimensional stability of the log species.  As in framed construction, sealing around doors and windows is of particular importance.

Log/Timber Drying Method? *

There are several methods of drying log home timbers, all of which have different merits. The important thing is that the wood be dried in some effective manner, especially in the arid climate of Colorado!  My preference is for logs milled from standing dead timbers. This method ensures a thorough and natural drying process. Air drying and Kiln drying typically only dry the outer surface, and measuring standards allow for considerable moisture retention in the “heart wood” of the log.  This causes the logs to split or “check” and to continue to settle for long periods as this moisture continues to escape long after construction is complete... If using these methods of drying, it's important to ascertain at what depth the moisture content is tested, to ensure adequately dried timbers.  Logs derived from trees which have been standing dead from 4 -7 years are typically dried to the desired moisture content all the way through.  Such logs maintain essentially the same look as the day you stacked them, and with minimal shrinkage!  If living trees are used, those harvested in the winter season typically have less sap/moisture content.  Once again, hybrid log homes hold a distinct advantage in this area… Dry wood is still desirable, but the ill effects of potential shrinkage & movement are virtually eliminated!

What is a HYBRID LOG HOME and what is the Advantage?

This is the term assigned to a variety of innovative log home styles that have evolved over the last few decades in response to the undesirable issues frequently associated with full-log homes… They include Laminated Logs, Log siding, half-logs and foam-core logs.  If done right, these homes are virtually indistinguishable from their full-log counterparts!

In addition to the superior stability and efficiency discussed above, another huge advantage to this style is their flexibility… It is possible to employ one look on the exterior and an entirely different character inside!  It is even possible to use a different species in & out, if desired… Perhaps cedar on the exterior for its resiliency, and less-expensive pine on the inside for a lighter appearance!  One could even decide to utilize conventional drywall finishes of tongue & groove siding in certain rooms of the home!  The design flexibility and finish combinations are endless!

Hybrid homes also allow for easier (and less expensive) installation of mechanicals - plumbing, wiring and duct work.  And, most importantly, there is no need to provide for settling, an essential consideration in full-log construction that adds considerable expense, ongoing maintenance, and aggravation!  The absence of shrinking, settling, checking & twisting also eliminates the need for caulking &/or chinking between the logs!

Costs of a Hybrid Log Home varies depending on the various styles & options available, but is typically comparable or slightly below that of full-log homes.

      
Exterior Sealants/Preservatives?

Your log home will need occasional maintenance to preserve its beauty and insure its longevity. Weather is the primary enemy of your log home. The home should have significant roof overhang (usually two feet minimum) on all sides to help protect it.  The logs exterior surface must be protected with a stain &/or sealer that has ingredients to protect it from water and the sun's ultraviolet rays.  After a thorough coating at the time of construction, recoating should only be necessary every 3 - 5 years, depending on exposure and the quality of the preservative used.  You can tell much about the quality of a product by its price!  I recommend the use of penetrating oil-based products, as opposed to film & water-based stains... Film preservatives inevitably fail in the harsh Colorado climate, and when they do. maintenance is a real ordeal!  Application is a simple process requiring less effort than a typical paint job on a conventional home… It can typically be done in just a couple days with a garden sprayer and a brush!

Wiring and Plumbing? *

Electrical wiring is not as hard as it may seem, but does require some planning and extra material… Outlets are drilled down through the first few courses of logs as they are stacked and wiring run up from beneath the floor.  Alternatively, outlets placed in the floor can be a nice clean look.  Wiring for switches is concealed under door jambs. Plumbing is situated in interior petition walls, similar to conventional construction, as is duct work (with provision for settling as needed). It can be a challenge, but I've never encountered a situation that can't be handled with a little foresight, ingenuity and perseverance!

Fire and Insurance for Log Homes?

There is evidence that solid log walls have a slower fire spread rate than framed homes, actually making them safer. The burn rate for pine averages less than two inches per hour. The charring of the wood actually insulates the undamaged wood fibers from the effects of the fire! I've been informed by the fire mitigation dept. in my county, that a Log Home is the preferred construction in high fire risk areas. In actuality, due to the mass of the timbers, a log home is slower to ignite than a typical framed home, and often the damage left behind by a fire can be repaired via sandblasting; or in the case of a log sided home, possibly replacing only the exterior siding!

Fire resilience is further enhanced by the frequent use of metal roofs on log homes. If you are building within a fire protection district, then fire insurance for a log home should be the same as for conventionally constructed homes in the same area.  Beware, inclusion of wood-burning fireplaces in the home can sometimes have a negative impact on insurance premiums.

What about Financing?

Log Homes are one of the fastest growing segments in the new home industry. With the growing popularity of log homes, you should find no resistance to financing whatsoever. Most banks, credit unions, or mortgage companies will appreciate the value of, and are eager to lend on log homes. There are several that even specialize in this type of lending.

Will construction require any Special Knowledge? *

Construction is not a lot different from conventional building, especially with hybrid-style homes.  The critical thing is for you (or your builder) not to ignore the inevitable & natural settling & shrinkage of full-log walls.  A builder experienced with Log Construction can be a valuable investment, and will minimize the challenges unique to Log Home construction. If you prefer an Owner-Built project, most construction details are addressed in the design stage, but I am always readily available for question, consults and technical assistance throughout the construction process... If you’re not up to the tasks of General Contractor, many folks with some basic construction knowledge can participate in some capacity, and recognize some satisfaction and potential costs savings!  Many are surprised at how fast the log walls & roof structure are erected (although the pace slows down with the detailed finishing work).  It's like building a puzzle with really big pieces, and it's a once in a lifetime experience!

Is a Log Home Environmentally Responsible?

Absolutely... As opposed to some construction materials, wood is a renewable resource!  Our logs are milled exclusively from forest land already designated to be cleared. Rocky Top and its suppliers are extremely considerate of environmental impact, and actively involved in reforestation.

What is included in the "Package"?

I usually encourage clients to order only the "Log Package" from us.  This typically includes only those components that are unique to the manufacturer – wall logs, posts, beams,  log stairs & railings, and all required sealing and fastening materials. This allows the General Contractor to shop locally for other materials (saving on freight charges), and to order them as needed and avoid expensive storage & safeguarding measures. If on the other hand, you have adequate space and appreciate the convenience of "One-Stop Shopping", we can arrange for all the components necessary for complete dry-in... Your buider may also appreciate this convenience and allow for an associated discount!

We also have special pricing arrangements for Solid Wood Doors and Structural Insulated Roof Panels.

How do I get started?

It's ideal to have your property selected first so you can tailor your house plan to the lay of the land, views, access, etc.  As a licensed Colorado Real Estate Broker, I can assist you with locating the perfect piece of ground. Once you have a basic plan in mind, I'll assist you in drawing a preliminary floor plan from which we can provide you with a FREE / No Obligation estimate for your package.  Then, you can decide if you want to proceed with the drafting of your complete house plans. We can arrange for the drafting of detailed drawings and specifications, complete with engineering, as required by your local building department.  It’s wise to assign this task to a designer familiar with Log Homes, as typical architects are not always familiar with log home construction & design. Once you have building plans available, you'll be able to get accurate costs estimates and bids from subs.

* As you might have guessed, part of the reason for my inclination toward Half-Log or "Hybrid" Log Homes is that this style virtually eliminates many of the concerns outlines above... They are MORE EFFICIENT, EASIER to build and install mechanicals, offer great design & decorating FLEXIBILITY, and require LESS MAINTENANCE (due to the complete elimination of settling)! What's more, from all appearances, they look identical to a full-log home. I can furnish either style (full or half), but if you have the concerns addressed above, this new style might be worth your consideration!
I'm sure you have other questions and I'm eager to address them and assist you in making this difficult decision. I would also encourage you to utilize the many Log Home Magazines on the news stands, as a valuable source for educating yourself about the many interesting elements of Log Home construction.  Feel free to give us a call for an informal chat regarding log home construction and your intentions.

(Beware of WoodsCrest Log Homes... info available upon request!)

Note: These responses are opinions based on the author’s personal experience.  You may find contrary responses to these questions from alternate sources. You are encouraged to carefully investigate in more depth, as you see fit.
 

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