Designing Your Log Home: Tips To Keep You Out of Trouble

Nearly every log home is a custom design, whether you are altering a stock plan or starting from scratch. By their very nature, custom floor plans open up a large number of untested challenges – especially if you are trying to design the house yourself. With almost all log home manufacturers, an in-house architect will take your design and turn it into a set of drawings that conform to their building system. Your home will be structurally sound. However, don’t necessary expect them to point out every inconvenience or snafu in your design. This is a hands-on business, and in the end, your house design is on you… and you’ll have to live with it. Here are a few pointers I can suggest to make your design more efficient.

MECHANICALS: Open floor plans are the essence of the modern log home. They make a home feel larger, and keep the cook from feeling isolated. However, if you have a second floor you need to consider how you are going to get the plumbing, the electric and the ductwork (both supply and return) to the upstairs rooms. You won’t be using the exterior walls for that, so you need to create enough interior walls downstairs to fit all the mechanicals. Each object in all likelihood will take its own space between the 2x4s. Even if you use radiant-floor heating, you’ll need ductwork for the air conditioning. There are some systems that use high-pressure ductwork much smaller in diameter than conventional ducts, so there are other possibilities if you are pressed for space. But the best solution is to think ahead. If you’re tempted to use an interior full-log wall (or none at all), you may be sacrificing an opportunity to get more ductwork upstairs.

PLUMBING: The wisest floor plans are the ones that try to keep the bathrooms together (either back-to-back or one directly above the other) and the shortest runs on the plumbing. This can’t always be done, but when placing the upstairs bathroom, try to line it up with an interior downstairs wall. This way the plumbing doesn’t have to snake all over the place.

CLOSETS: I would venture to guess that log homes are usually notoriously short on closet space. I know my home is. First of all, it would be a terrible waste to put a closet against an exterior log wall. Why hide your beautiful logs? And because we try to keep the square footage down to a minimum, it almost seems a crime to waste precious space on closets. However, there’s more than one reason to include them. Not only do we seem to collect more stuff as we get older, but by law in several states the closet determines whether a room is a bedroom or an office. This could affect the resale (or refinancing) of your house. Here is a suggestion: put two closets side-by-side on the wall separating two rooms; the closets may not be huge, but it doesn’t change the shape of the rooms. Try to include a coat closet near your front door.

WINDOWS: As I’m sure you’ve already read many times, you can’t have too many windows in a log home. The wood sucks up the light like a sponge. If you have a large empty wall, the insertion of a window near the peak not only lets in more light, it adds character. Some people add windows along either side of a shed dormer. In my case, I had to move the roof line to increase the size of my bedroom window, because by code it needed to be 6′ square for egress. In any upstairs bedroom you’ll need your windows to be large enough to climb out in case of fire. Also remember that too many direct-set windows will decrease the amount of air flow to your upstairs. In my house I added an awning (a small hinged window) to the bottom of stationery windows in my dormers. This helped let air in, but even so the rooms can be stuffy. A ceiling fan helps, but ultimately I may need to add a skylight to create a draft.

KITCHEN VENT: One of the more difficult decisions we made concerned how to vent the range hood. If you don’t want your stove to be on an exterior wall, you are going to have an interesting puzzle. Will you run the exhaust duct between the floor joists to the exterior? Will the run be so long you’ll have to add another fan? I gave in and moved my stove to the exterior wall, but then we had to cut a hole in the logs for the vent. Horrors! How do you hide that? My builder built a little cedar box around the hole and we were lucky enough to have a porch roof underneath, so you can’t see it from every direction. Still, this ugly vent is on the front of the house, and had I thought of it, I may have moved the kitchen to the back of the house.

CRAWL SPACE vs. BASEMENT: There are many reasons to opt for a crawl space rather than a basement – none of them particularly comfortable. Aside from the obvious disadvantages of a crawl space, there are a few things we didn’t think of. I, in my blissful ignorance, didn’t give any thought to the ugly electrical panel. Of course, I knew we’d have meters and a panel, but I didn’t think of where they were going. What I didn’t know was that by code, we couldn’t put the panel in the crawl space. Since we don’t have a garage, the electrical panel was installed in one of our rooms on the log wall. Isn’t that lovely? Another disadvantage of the crawl space: you’ll need a short water heater if that’s where it is going, and you may need to purchase a horizontal-mount furnace. Because our water quality was poor, we had to install a purification system. This 54″ unit must be mounted upright, and our crawl space is 48″ tall. We had to punch a hole through the concrete floor to make room for the unit.

GUTTERS: Yes, you want to get the water away from your log home at all costs. There can be challenges; we have an alpine-style home with a vaulted ceiling. However, the roof comes to a deep V on the corners that create a magnificent rain chute. This is not necessarily wonderful when it dumps onto your deck! Because of the generous overhang that comes with a log home, the end of that V projects far from the walls and doesn’t make a logical angle from which to hang a downspout. On one corner I satisfied myself with an old-fashioned rain barrel, and on the deck side we had to divert the water to the pergola we built against the house, and ran a gutter along the edge of the pergola.

OVERHANGS: You should have at least a 1′ foot and preferably a 2′ overhang to protect your logs. This overhang needs to be taken into consideration when designing your roof line. If you have overlapping angles, make sure you are not creating a water trap or a snow trap. There are times your overhang might bump into another angle of the roof. You may actually have to raise part of the roof a little to make clearance.

DOOR SWINGS: This can be one of the most annoying errors you can make and not catch until too late. Think of what your door is covering when opened all the way. Is it covering another doorway? Will two doors bang together? If you are in a tight space, will it open all the way at all? When we installed our bathroom vanity, we didn’t think about the door swing until the plumbing was already hooked up. The door cleared the vanity by one whole inch; it could have been worse. You can compensate by swinging the other way (before it’s already hung, or your hinges will be on the wrong side). Or, in the design phase you can use a narrower door. Or get a smaller vanity.

ELECTRICAL: The electrical and plumbing layout will not come from your log home architectural drawings. The manufacturer is not concerned about where you put your outlets. Once the plans are firmed up, the time will come for you to sit down with the electrician and mark exactly where you want your outlets, switches and light fixtures. Local code will determine the minimum distance between outlets, but anyone will tell you to put in more than you need; eventually you will probably use them anyway. Even if you don’t need it, put your cable and telephone into every room; it’s so much easier and cheaper to do it up front. Also remember, you can’t ever have too many lights in a log home. Plan ahead for those fixtures – especially the ones in the ceiling. They will not be pretty to add later on.

DEAD SPACE: If you are building a huge log home, you’ve got so much space it doesn’t really matter. But for most of the rest of us, every inch counts. There are some approaches that might maximize your floor space. First of all, do you really need hallways? Some space-saving designs arrange the rooms so they all open into a small hallway. I prefer none at all. Also, consider that every closet door creates dead space. If you can arrange your floor plan so that closet door swings into a place which is already dead (for instance, another closet door or a foyer), you might open up the room a bit. Does your loft serve a purpose or is it merely an open hallway from room to room? Can you put a piece of furniture on it? If not, perhaps it would serve to give it an angle and make your “open to below” space a little smaller.

Hopefully I’ve helped a little bit. I learned many of these tips the hard way, and I’m sure there are plenty more I haven’t bumped into yet. After all, a custom home is one giant learning curve.

10 Tips For Building Your First Log Home

For some, the idea of ​​building a log home elicits romantic dreams of a return to nature and a simpler way of life but for others it conjures up nightmares of budget overages, poor quality work and absent customer service. While there is no way guarantee an absolutely trouble free build of your log home there are certain steps you can take to minimize the risk and in the process save you some money. Below are 10 tips to help you avoid the pitfall of log home construction;

1. "You get what you pay for" there is no secret here the lower the price the less that is included in your "package" This is true for materials and service.

2. Only buy quality materials-keep in mind that the log package which usually includes the walls, support beams, and roof beams is the only portion of the house that cannot be retro-fitted at a later date. Always buy the highest quality materials you can afford. The best materials for log home construction (in descending order) are Cedar, Fir, Spruce, Pine

3. Deal with reputable a reputable company-make sure the company you are dealing with is legitimate-stay away from offers that are too good to be true. Visit the log home company construction site and look around-Is the machinery in good shape? Are the crew members respectable looking? Is the owner present? Are they insured? A reputable company will answer yes to all these.

4. The contract. A good reputable log home company will have a good contract that clearly details exactly what is and what is not included in its package. Be wary of a company that has a vague contract which does not include details.

5. Be prepared to pay- You won't get something for nothing. If you grind the company too much on the price they will grind you on the quality or service. Keep in mind that "they have to eat too" and that building a log home requires large amounts of expensive materials and labor. Before you interview builders determine you budget for the log shell and the overall home. This may require price shopping on your behalf but remember if the price you get seems to good to be true then it probably is.

6. Be flexible-building a log home requires a skilled labor force that is in short supply. If you can be flexible with your delivery date you can usually negotiate a better price.

7. Financing- financing log homes is a little different than regular construction because you will be required to pay for the log shell prior to delivery. This can be 30% of the overall cost of your home and some "un-educated" mortgage companies will not release funds until certain milestones are reached. This can put you in a tight situation where the builder won't ship the home until he is paid but the lender won't release the money until the log shell is re-assembled. Your best course of action here to ensure smooth and timely delivery is to ether arrange bridge financing or deal with a mortgage company that specializes in log homes- they are out there and they understand the process. Failure to do so could result in penalties or even storage fees until you can arrange financing.

8. Be ready for delivery-nothing could be worse than not having your foundation and or jobsite ready for the delivery of the log shell. This means that the foundation is finished, backfilled, and the site is accessible. Do not overlook the seriousness of this as most builders have it written into their contract that if the site is not accessible or ready then they are under no obligation to deliver the log shell and instead will off-load it at an accessible location and then leave . Be sure that if you are supplying the crane that it is suitable for the job and that the operator is competent and has the skill as a slow and incompetent crane operator can cost you a lot of money.

9. A good contractor-finding a good contractor who will finish the home is where your budget is "make or break". Do not automatically assume that your contractor shares your same vision and budget constraints. It is imperative that you stay close to the project and make you contractor stick to your budget. If you contractor seems to be spinning his wheels or is absent or keeps coming up with more hidden costs don't be afraid to fire him-its your money and he works for you not the other way around.

10. HAVE FUN. Enjoy the whole process. Along the way you will meet many great people if you let them in. Log homes, from the builder on up attract a certain type of warm and hospitable person and you will become life long friends with these people because after all you are all working on something more than just a home you are all working on a dream-your dream so enjoy it as much as you can.