The Log Cabin

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Log Cabin Logs - Shapes, Connections and Corners

Logs for a log cabin can be milled or handcrafted. Hand crafted logs are unique and vary in size. Due to their hand crafting, they are more expensive but produce a more natural look. There are also half logs which are used to surface a conventional structure but still yield a log cabin look. This article will address the milled full log option. The wood is machined to a uniform size and shape. There are several log profiles available including:

Square/Rectangular The wood is milled with 4 straight edges. One edge may be beveled.

Round The wood is milled round. Round logs may be coped (Swedish cope), i. e., a half moon groove is cut on the bottom to allow them to fit one on top of another.

D shaped The log is milled with flat top and bottom and with at least one round side. The second side may either be round or flat. My preference is the flat and round D shaped log: round on the outside and flat on the inside.

Log Interface

How are logs fitted together to construct the log cabin? Milled flat surfaces fit on top of each other but how is the connection kept solid and air tight? A common connection is the tongue and groove. These can be single or multiple. Tongues are milled on the top of the log and the interlocking groves are on the bottom.

A sealer will be applied to the tongue and groove joints. Another method is to mill a groove on both sides of the log and connect the logs with a wood spline fitting into the grooves. Lag bolts may also be used to secure the logs together.

There are also a number of different corner connection options for a log cabin.

Dovetail Used with square/rectangular logs, the corner is cut in a fan shaped wedge that interlocks with the perpendicular connecting logs.

Butt One log fits into a cutout of the connecting log

Butt and Pass One log is cutout to snugly fit the outside of the intersecting log.

Saddlenotch Notches in the shape of a saddle are cut on top and bottom of logs. These notches intersect and logs overlap the connecting logs

Corner Post The wall logs are toe-nailed onto a vertical corner post which is commonly bigger than the wall logs. There are no extended log ends.

If there are extended log ends, they can be straight, staggered or curved

Cabin Rentals on the Blue Ridge Parkway

My log cabin property is located in the southern end of the Blue Ridge Mountains in north Georgia. The range includes the highest elevations in eastern North America. The maximum peak is 6,684 feet at Mt Mitchell in North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Mountains name results from the isoprene released from the mountain trees which scatters light and makes it look blue. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a 469 mile highway that runs through the range northeast from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park and the Skyline Drive in Virginia.

Where can you vacation in a log cabin in the mountains nearby the Blue Ridge Parkway? I have discovered a plethora of cabins for rent. The cabins ranged from one bedroom and one bath efficiencies all the way up to million dollar 10 bedroom layouts. The advertisers ranged from the owner of 3 cabins to rental companies that managed more than 100 properties. Minimum stays can be daily, weekly or monthly but daily rates are typically available. Daily rates range between $75 and $750 with discounts for weekly stays. Included with many of the cabin rentals are popular amenities such as hot tubs, fireplaces, gas grills and game rooms.

Why would you rent a cabin off the Blue Ridge Parkway? For the same reason I bought land in the mountains. Just enjoying the breathtaking views of the mountains is enough justification for me. The natural beauty along the entire parkway is incredible. But there is so much more. There are numerous state parks and scenic falls just off the highway. With the mountains come trails for hiking, jogging and biking. For the less energetic, you can go horse back riding. There are also golf courses for the linksters. Let’s not forget the water. There are plenty of lakes and rivers for boating, tubing and whitewater rafting. There’s also an abundance of fish to be caught as well.

Winter does come south. There are mountains and so there are slopes for skiing, tubing and snowboarding and rinks for skating. One ski mountain advertises a season from mid November to April. I have to say that I’m looking forward to my first snowfall in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’ll be sitting in front of a roaring fire in my log cabin and looking out my great room windows at a winter wonderland.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wood Gutters for Your Log Cabin

Generally, wood gutters are used to replace old gutters when restoring older homes or in custom building. I consider my log cabin to be a custom home and will consider the installation of wood gutters.

Wood gutters are the most costly option and are made from three types of wood: redwood, cedar and fir. With proper maintenance, redwood gutters can last up to 100 years. Wood gutters are usually 4 x 6 inches in width and height and are sold in 10 and 20 foot lengths. Redwood gutters cost between $16 and $18 per linear foot while fir, the cheapest, will be around $10. Copper, black iron or PVC are commonly used as material for leaders. If desired, the leaders can be boxed in with wood. I have also seen an article espousing rain chains which originated in Japan and are essentially a series of funnels directing the water downward.

Wood gutters are connected by way of a scarfed joint. The ends of the two pieces are cut at the same angle which maximizes the area of connection. The inside ends of the connecting lengths are beveled and the joint is filled with a high quality sealant. The gutters are simply nailed to the facia with galvanized-headed nails through pre-drilled holes. The recommended pitch is ½ inch for every 20 feet.

Downspouts are installed by drilling holes in the gutter that are 1/16 inch smaller than the downspout nipple. The nipple, 3 inches long by 1 3/8 inches in diameter is screwed into the gutter. The nipple will fit into a 1 ½ inch downspout.

Maintenance of wood gutters includes ongoing cleaning and applications of wood protection treatments. Cleaning should be done at least once a year. A spring and fall regimen is recommended. One key to preventing wood rot is to keep the wood dry.
Remove all debris that will retain moisture, e.g., leaves and the pebbles from composition shingles.

The outside of the gutter will be treated just like any other of your log cabin decorative trim using, for example, a stain/sealant. The inside of the gutter should be treated with a non drying oil such as shingle oil. Don’t use a material that will seal moisture in the gutter. If any wood has rotted, remove only the portion that has rotted using a hand planer or rasper.

Despite the higher cost of wood gutters, they are compatible with my vision of a custom built log cabin. The additional maintenance will be a pleasure.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Projecting Your Log Cabin Cost

How much will it cost to build your log cabin? The first step is to come up your cabin design and manufacturer. Take your time with the design and get it right up front. Changes down the road can become expensive.

The easiest way is to project the cost it to pick a log cabin company that will give you a price for a turnkey finished home. They will include wiring, plumbing, fixtures,appliances etc. They provide you with one stop shopping. It greatly simplifies the process but will it get you a fair price? You don't know unless you do your comparison shopping.

There are shortcut ways to estimate the cost. The first is apply an average cost per square foot for custom built houses in the area to the square footage of the cabin. The second is to gross up the cost of the kit price provided by the log home manufacturer by a factor of say three. Without going into further detail, I personally find neither of these methods to be sufficiently precise.

Therefore, you have to build up the cost from scratch. You start with the log cabin companies kit price and a list of the kit's contents that includes, at a minimum, your home plans and all the precut logs and log connecting hardware that you'll need. You'll need to hire a general contractor/builder to determine and acquire the remaining materials and perform and/or subcontract the construction. Get a bid from the contractor for the labor and materials. I would definitely hire a contractor with prior log cabin experience and check out some references.

There are always contingencies. For example, I will need excavation for a basement on my property. Only God knows what's ten feet under the surface. In any case I would factor in at least ten percent for unexpected costs.

Make sure you've included everything included in the turnkey price; floor coverings, painting, staining, etc. Add everything up and you've got a decent handle on your final tab. Compare it to the turnkey price as a guide. If it's substantially different, figure out why.

Touring a log cabin model

Last week, I headed up to aptly named Blue Ridge, Georgia for my first visit to this scenic town in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Along the way,I noticed a bilboard for a log cabin company that had a model home just off the highway. I stopped at the model on the way back home. I'm very glad that I did and I highly recommend visiting a model cabin for design ideas.

The model turned out to be a larger version of the type of log cabin layout that I was interested in building. In fact, except for the rear of the cabin, it was near perfect. There were features that I hadn't seen before that I found very attractive.

The log cabin had three finished floors (including the basement) with a great room overlooking the rear of the property. The two features that I found particularly attractive were:

1. The outside featured a wraparound porch that was covered by the roof. The roof coverage helps to protect the exterior wood from the elements as well as provides shade.

2. The second floor had a loft that was converted into an office and also led to an optional gabled porch on the front of the cabin. Besides providing more space and another second floor view, it made the front of the cabin look much more attractive.

The rear roof featured another gable that extended well beyond the outside of the wall. There was also a fireplace in the middle of the rear great room wall. Since my property has such a great view of the mountains from the back, I would rather eliminate the fireplace and maximize the window views. The extended gable would also be shortened coniderably. When it's between protecting the logs and an uncumbered view, I'll deal with the more frequent maintenance.

The point of this article is that the design of your dream log cabin won't be found in a brochure. I especially recommend the visual approach. Go look at a number of cabins before deciding on your final layout.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Log Cabin Land in North Georgia

Since moving to Georgia, my wife and I bought some Blue Ridge Mountain land on which to build our log cabin retirement home. We had taken a few day trips to northern Georgia and were very impressed with the scenery and recreational alternatives. One day, I received a sales call from a company that was selling properties in one of its resort developments in the mountains. I accepted a free Saturday night stay in Ellijay in return for looking at a couple of their available properties.

The salesperson first drove us to Carter Lake which was just north of the development. The lake was beautiful and designed for boating, swimming and fishing. Then he drove us the long way through the development to our first destination. The mountain scenery was spectacular. We finally reached what I assume was their best remaining unsold property. The property was at the end of a cul-de-sac that ran along the top of one of the mountain ridges. The ridge was surrounded by several other ridges as well as some long distance mountain views. We looked at a couple other pieces of land but we were already sold on the first one. We negotiated and signed the purchase contract within a week.

Despite our abbreviated research, I have no regrets having made the decision to purchase. The property’s mountain views are awesome and it was the ideal location for a log cabin. Nonetheless, if you plan on buying land for a mountain cabin, I would recommend checking out your alternatives more thoroughly than we did. Since we bought the land, we have done some more sightseeing in the Blue Ridge Mountains. One time, we headed east from our property on Route 136. We missed our turn to get onto Route 511 south and continued east. Our missed turn proved to be good fortune. Route 136 ran through more mountains and some pull over areas with rather spectacular views. Eventually, we hit Route 400 and were able to head back south.

More recently, I visited the town of Blue Ridge, northeast of my property. I asked for the best way back to Route 411 which runs north/south nearby my property. I was given directions and found myself on Route 52 west. It proved to be an impressive drive. The road ran up and down the mountain, again with spectacular views. I was finally compelled to pull over and take some pictures. I noticed a number of log cabins situated alongside the road.

So, once again, I recommend checking out your alternatives. There’s a lot of undeveloped land in the northern Georgia mountains upon which to build your log cabin home. Given our current economy, now is definitely the time to check it out.

Blue Ridge Georgia Cabin Rentals

I recently read a newspaper article about a couple that bought a log cabin in scenic (and I believe historic) Blue Ridge, Georgia. They had sold two investment properties and their original intention was to reinvest in another rental house. However, they fell in love with the house and property and used it as their weekend and vacation retreat. I thought to myself, this must be an incredible place. I did some internet research and discovered that Blue Ridge is indeed a cabin rental paradise. There are numerous cabins available for rent through a number of different intermediaries.

The article finally motivated me to drive to Blue Ridge this week for the first time. Although I had travelled numerous times to my mountain property in Ranger, Georgia, only another half hour southwest of Blue Ridge, I had never added it to my itinerary. In any case, the drive north was pleasant and smooth. I headed up Route 75 to Route 575 which eventually turns into 511 which has been named the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway. The traffic going south toward Atlanta on 75 was quite a bit more congested. Just a bit of advice - you definitely want to be heading north from Atlanta in the morning and south for the afternoon rush.

So I made it up to Blue Ridge without any delays and found the downtown just off the highway. It was quarter of ten in the morning and both the vehicle and pedestrian traffic were quite subdued. I found a free parking space (parking everywhere seemed to be free) near the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway station. There was a train standing there which had both enclosed and open (no windows) cars. I strongly suspect that I will return for the train ride in the future. I love looking at the mountains and being just a spectator sure beats being behind the wheel of a car.

Walking back to the street from the tracks, I discovered two primary types of businesses, country retail stores and real estate offices. Based on the number of cabin rental offices I saw, I concluded there must have been a lot of rentals in the area. I subsequently confirmed the plethora of cabin rentals by finding numerous related web sites on line. I looked up one site and found, among others that were similar, a 3 bedroom, 3 bath cabin with a mountain view and a $725 weekly rental. It had triple decker porches on the back of the house. I was impressed.

So, I would heartily recommend that if you’re interested in enjoying the mountain beauty of Georgia, you definitely want to check out Blue Ridge.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Gatlinburg cabin rentals

My wife and I moved down to Georgia five years ago. I love the mountains and someone recommended Gatlinburg, Tennessee as a good place to vacation. On a trip back to Georgia from the northeast, we routed ourselves through Tennessee and Gatlinburg. We got a flavor of the Great Smoky Mountains as we travelled south. We drove right through the center of Gatlinburg on the main road. Traffic was heavy and slow and it was clear that it was a very popular location.

The following year, we decided to rent a log cabin in the area. I typed in Gatlinburg cabin rentals in Google and was rewarded with an abundance of alternatives. I preferred to be outside the town and there were plenty of secluded cabin options. The rental cost was even cheaper than a hotel room for a one bedroom cabin. That Fall, we arrived for our week vacation. Although we were very short drive from down town, we were in the woods and a short walk from mountain trails.

My wife and I came to a compromise concerning our activities. I enjoy the outside and hiking while she’s more into shopping and being entertained. Gatlinburg satisfied both our preferences. I tolerated several days of down town including a couple of lunches and one dinner out. The dinner was at the Dolly Parton Stampede Show down the road apiece from Gatlinburg in Pigeon Forge. If we had children with us, I’m sure I would have been more attuned to the entertainment side of the area. There were certainly plenty of activities for kids.

On my days, we drove through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, stopping occasionally for hikes of varying lengths. The foliage was incredible. We also saw some still standing log cabins built many years ago. You’d be amazed how our ancestors survived in the woods. In summary, the park and mountains were beautiful.

Getting back to our log cabin, it was rustic but had all the amenities we needed. We cooked most of our dinners there. We packed a lunch for our mountain excursions. The cabin had a porch in front with a great view. I spent numerous early morning hours sitting on the porch, sipping on my coffee and gazing at the gorgeous panorama.

My conclusion was we had made the right decision on renting a cabin in Gatlinburg. I would recommend it highly to anyone interested in vacationing in the Smoky Mountain area. It has something for everyone.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Buying Your Log Cabin Land through an IRA

I discovered a while back, that I could make real estate investments through my IRA where all of my investment money was situated. The real estate market was (and still is) ripe for a killing if you have the money available. I ended up buying a repossessed four bedroom, two bath house from a bank for $36,000. I paid for it as well as the rehab costs from my IRA. It’s now generating $900 a month rent (less property tax, insurance and maintenance) that goes back into the IRA tax deferred. I’ll probably sell the house when the market comes back. The gain will go back to the IRA still tax deferred.

Around the same time, I began to look at retirement properties in the southern Appalachian mountains. I found an awesome two acre property on a ridge of the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Georgia. This was the ideal location for my log cabin. Because it was still a buyers market, it was also the ideal time to buy it. Due to personal considerations, I needed to tap my IRA to make the purchase. I could have withdrawn money but because I was under 59 ½, it would have been subject to a 10% penalty as well as become currently taxable as income.

I called up my IRA company and was advised that I could buy land as an investment. Given the discounted price I was paying, it really could be considered an investment. I ended up purchasing the land through the IRA. Property taxes and any other ongoing expenses are also paid by the IRA as they come due. When it comes time to build my log cabin on the land, I can take total control of the land by distributing to myself.

To invest in real estate, you need to set up a self directed IRA. You can roll over funds from a regular IRA tax free. There are a number of companies that specialize in self directed IRAs and real estate investing including Guidant Financial and the Entrust Group. If the value of the real estate is expected to appreciate, you can also utilize a self directed Roth IRA and pay the taxes over the next four years. If the real estate is not distributed for five years, it will incur no tax when the deed is transferred to you personally. They do charge annual fees that are not nominal but they can provide invaluable advice.

Financing Your Log Cabin Land Purchase

You’ve decided to make that land purchase for your eventual log cabin retirement home site. Now is definitely the time to buy. The drawback is getting financing. If you haven’t already started your research, you’ll soon discover that undeveloped land is not exactly a lender’s favorite collateral. A lot of major banks aren’t interested in financing only land. First of all, you will want to focus on smaller local lenders that are at least familiar with the area of the property.

Why is undeveloped land so much more risky than developed? It’s primarily because unimproved land can’t be used to generate income. It’s also a lot easier for the borrower to stop making payments and walk away from land than a property with his home on it. If there’s no road and/or no utility access to the land which is not unusual for a log cabin site, lenders are even less interested. There’s a lot more downside risk than interest income for the lender.

Due to this collateral risk profile, lenders that do finance land, will have much more stringent conditions than a home mortgage. They want to be assured that you have the ability to make the payments. The more confident they are, the lower the down payment required. You can also provide other collateral besides the land. In any case, they don’t want your land. They want your monthly payments. They will typically require:

Higher credit standing
Higher interest rate
Shorter term – 10-15 years compared to 30 year mortgage
Higher down payment 25-30%

If you don’t have the full down payment or your credit doesn’t cut the mustard, what do you do? There’s always one possibility. Who is possibly even more motivated than you for you to be able to buy the land? The seller may be willing to provide you with financing. The conditions such as financing term and rate will depend on your negotiating skills, how desperate the seller is and when the seller needs the money. He may be perfectly content to just get a payment every month for a long term. A seller will usually want at least 20% down but again, that is negotiable.

I bought my log cabin land from a developer. I ended up paying 100% cash from my IRA (see my related article “Using Your IRA to Buy Land for a Log Cabin.”) I did find out that the developer had occasionally lent short term money to buyers. The financing structure was a ‘land contract’, also known as a ‘contract for deed.’ The term is 12-18 months and a down payment is required. The monthly payments include some principal amortization. A large balloon payment (remaining principal) is payable at the end of term.

The developer still holds title and if the buyer does not refinance/pay off the balloon at the end of the term, the developer keeps all the payments as well the property. If you do refinance, you get the title. You had better be confident in your ability to refinance or this option is quite expensive.