The Log Cabin

Friday, July 30, 2010

Artificial Stone for your Log Cabin Fireplace

Like most log cabin owners, I will be installing a fireplace in my cabin. Although the Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains have winters much milder than what we experienced when we lived in New England, I am looking forward to firing up those wood logs on a snowy day. We currently have a natural gas fireplace in our townhouse near Atlanta. We use it occasionally but miss the wood smell and natural flames of a wood fireplace.

After some research, we have decided to install a stone fireplace. We feel that the stone will stand out and provide an attractive contrast in our log cabin great room. There are a number of stone choices available. Natural stone is available in a full veneer which is three to five inches thick and a thin veneer which is a lighter weight version and about an inch thick.

Besides real stone, you also have the artificial or manufactured stone option. Artificial stone is made from concrete or cement and aggregates that are poured into special detailed molds. Special pigments are added to produce long lasting colors. Surface coloration is achieved by applying pigments to the surface of the mold. There are different styles available that mimic a variety of natural rocks. They look like the real thing.

A major advantage of the artificial stone is weight and the resulting easier installation. Artificial stone can be one third to one sixth of the weight of real stone. Artificial stone faced fireplaces do not require full masonry foundations to support them in you log cabin. Installing the lighter ‘stones’ saves time and cost. They can be installed by the weekend handyman following simple instructions provided by the manufacturer.

Manufacturers will provide warranties up to 50 years on their manufactured stones. They are non combustible. They are typically cheaper than real stone. Given the real look and other advantages, I will be using artificial stone for my log cabin fireplace.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hiring an Architect for your Log Cabin Design

Log cabin manufacturers will provide you with a number of standard designs in different sizes and styles. If you like a general design but want to make some changes, the manufacturer typically has a designer or design staff that can make modify one of their plans to accommodate you. Or, if you want a custom designed log cabin, then you will probably consider hiring an architect.

An architect provides several advantages over a manufacturer designer. You will normally be able to meet with the architect and express your ideas face to face and be more assured he understands what you want. He will be able to show you various options for your consideration. You are also likely to get more attention. Talking to a designer over the phone is just not as conducive to ending up with exactly what you want.

If you decide to go the architect route, make sure you find one with log cabin experience. Log cabins are different. They have a much greater variety of design options such as stairs, railings, log intersections, great rooms, etc. Also, be sure you are prepared to lay out your new home goals. The architect will help you convert those goals onto a blueprint.

Meet with several architects and determine if you have a good chemistry. Keep in mind that you will work closely with the architect throughout your cabin building process. Get references and talk to his log cabin design customers. You can also ask for his contractor recommendations. Get estimates. The estimate should include the design, guiding the project through the approval process and making sure that the construction follows the plans.

What do architects charge? Just like your log cabin design, there are options. Hourly rates will vary from $50 to $150. The hourly rate may vary based on the type of work. Their fee can be a percentage of the construction cost generally ranging from 5 to 15 percent. The fee may be based on the square footage of the log home. Out of pocket expenses may also be charged on top of the fee.

Upon selecting an architect, you will need a written contract that specifies the fee, a payment schedule for the fee, what work is to be done, the work schedule and a construction budget.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Log Cabin Interior Walls

The outside of a log cabin should maximize the rustic beauty of logs as much as possible. While you can use log siding to simulate the appearance of full logs and save money, I will be constructing my cabin with full logs. Having chosen full log construction, I will have by default, interior log walls as well. I will use “D” logs which will have a rounded outside surface while the interior surface will be flat.

My log cabin will be designed to maximize the visibility of these full logs on the inside. That means I don’t want them hidden in infrequently used rooms such as enclosed closets that can be moved to the interior.

I have seen a number of pictures of log cabin interiors that are all wood. That means wood floors, wood walls and wood ceilings. I read one article that stated ‘wood paneling is perfect for log cabin interiors because it is ‘over the top’.’ If you like ‘over the top’, then maximizing wood is quite doable.

There are several options for wood interior walls. You can go so far as building a ‘stacked’ log cabin in which all first floor walls, including inside, are constructed with full logs. More commonly, interior walls will be built with traditional wood studs but the outer wall is covered by log siding or wood paneling. Log siding will be rounded and provide a more rustic look while paneling will be flat.

I definitely do not have an ‘over the top’ inclination. I don't like the all wood look and prefer the contrast of different surfaces. I expect that all my interior walls will be traditional wood framed with wallboard but each type of room will be covered with a different wall treatment. While I may choose wood paneling for a particular room, it’s only one option of many.

Interior walls can be built with wallboard that is painted or stuccoed. I’ve also seen a log cabin model with wallboard covered with what looked like a tan colored compound mixture. The wall surface looked textured and I found it quite attractive as well as unusual. You can also cover wallboard with stone or tile. There is also my least favorite covering, wallpaper.

You are not restricted to one type of wall covering in a particular room. I’ve seen a mix of wood paneling, tile on the lower portion of a wall and painted wallboard in the same room that was unique. The point is that there’s more than just wood to a log cabin. Consider the alternatives

Monday, July 19, 2010

Your Log Cabin Budget

What will your log cabin cost? That depends on a lot of things. You control most, if not all of the cost factors. The first step is to set a firm budget. Then, you probably need to make comprises as needed to stay within that budget.

I remember touring a log home that happened to be my preferred model, a three bedroom, two and a half bath with great room and a finished basement. The sales representative of the manufacturer, who was also a builder, eventually confided to me that a standard equipped home of that model would probably cost around $400,000. I believe that he was being entirely honest and I have also to confess that the number was a tad more than I expected.

He also stated that the particular house we were touring cost around $500,000 due to upgraded cabinets, countertops, fixtures, etc. That’s a 25% premium! Wow! (I don’t know about you but I’m not all that excited about fixtures.) Keep in mind that only about 20% of a log home cost comes from the logs.

Based on this experience and further research, I would recommend the following log home cost management approaches.

Determine your base log cabin design. As the result of reviewing many plans and visiting a number of log cabin models, I have a pretty good idea of what I would like. I’m not sure that I will be able to afford it but that’s OK. I’m going to have two to three log cabin manufacturers provide me plans (based on my input) and an estimated cost. I will also get quotes from at least three builders with log cabin experience (after reference research) to complete the construction.

If the numbers add up too high, I will start cutting back on features that I would like but don’t need. There are add-ons that I’ve seen on a model that I could live without. Maybe that roof won’t cover the porch. Maybe the roof won’t extend over the great room windows. Maybe I won’t be using Brazilian hard wood for my porches. If necessary, the basement won’t be finished. I will also expect the vendors to tighten their belts as well.

As a guide, I have seen a turnkey cost projection of $140-150 per square foot which excludes a driveway, septic and well. A minimum budget should not dip below $130.

Log Cabin Siding

I struggled a bit before choosing the title for this article. A log cabin is made from logs. What does siding have to do with a log cabin? Well, having bought land on a mountain ridge, I knew that a basement would be needed to accommodate the land slope. The back end of the log cabin basement would have a pair of sliding glass doors but still lots of exposed concrete. The log cabin pictured above provides an approximation of what the rear of my cabin will look like. The outer basement walls in the picture are covered with stone which is certainly one option. I, however, would prefer the consistency of wood. I will use log siding.

I’ve also discovered another application that I intend to pursue. Like the pictured cabin, mine will have two dormered windows in back but also two more in front. I see no need to construct those dormers with full logs. They will be wood framed and log sided.

I uncovered a number of options while researching siding for my log cabin. Although I’m interested only in real wood, I mention these other options for informational purposes and possible further research. The first three are vinyl, metal and concrete. I have only seen pictures of them but they are supposed to resemble real logs. Ease of maintenance and durability are their primary benefit.

I’ve also discovered what is called e-log siding. These ‘logs’ are composed of expanded polystyrene with a base of oriented strand board and an outside surface of laminated fiberboard and a thick wood veneer. The e-logs come in 8 foot lengths and diameters of 12, 14 or 16 inches. The e-log does require ongoing cleaning and restaining.

Real wood log siding is made pretty much the same as the full logs. The options are hand crafted or milled. After being trimmed, the log is cut lengthwise to 1 ½” thickness for quarter log and 2 ½” half log sizes. The half log has a more rounded and full log appearance. A tongue and groove end match design makes for a relatively easy installation. You can also buy ‘false corners’ such as but and pass to match the full log corners of your log cabin. Real wood siding does require maintenance similar to a full log.

Both the real log and e-log siding can be installed on interior walls as well. Siding is definitely cheaper and easier to install than full logs. It’s your log cabin. The choice is yours.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Log Cabin Lighting

Designing a lighting strategy for a log cabin is different than for a traditional house. I’m not referring to developing an even more rustic look with the use of fixtures featuring antlers and images of deer and moose. I’m focusing on the special lighting characteristics of a wood interior. The exposed log walls and wood paneled walls and ceilings of log cabins tend to absorb light rather than reflect it. Cabins with open great rooms require more auxiliary lighting for proper illumination. Using the right kind of lighting enhances the beauty and warmth of the wood interior.

There are several types of lighting to consider including:

Natural – You manage daylight through optimized placement and size of windows and skylights. In warm climates, sunlight can overheat a log cabin through windows on the south and west facing sides. Roof overhangs can provide shade as well as protect the wood. Of course, the amount of heat and daylight can also be reduced with curtains or blinds. I plan to maximize the views and natural light of the great room in my log cabin through large picture windows. I haven’t decided yet whether to extend the roof over these windows. Tubular skylights also spreads natural light while minimizing the extent of roof penetration.

Ambient - Ambient lighting provides the general diffused illumination that lights a house. It sets the overall tone and mood of a room. Ambient light sources include chandeliers, flush recessed lights and ceiling mounted pendant lamps. Recessed lighting provides a high level of light without unsightly fixtures. Our kitchen has a series of recessed ceiling lights that are virtually out of sight yet totally illuminate the room.

Accent - Accent lights are directional, they provide contrast and illuminate special features in a room such as artwork and special log cabin architectural features. Uplights, which as the name suggests direct their light upward, can highlight, for example, wooden trusses. We have a light inside a glass and mirrored dining room cabinet that directs attention to our beautiful china and glassware.

Task – Task lighting is especially important in a log cabin. Rather than providing a focus on objects, task lighting sheds light on a specific area to assist the completion of visual tasks. Under cabinet lights can be out of sight but provide extra light on a countertop or work station. A table or standing lamp can be used to provide reading light

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Handcrafted Log Homes

You have two choices when deciding on the type of log cabin you build. If you are a purist or just love a totally rustic log cabin appearance, then using handcrafted logs is the way to go. However, appreciate that due to the manual labor involved, the handcrafted method comes at a higher cost than milling. I have decided to use milled logs for my cabin, preferring their uniform look and tight fit. I made my decision after studying all log cabin options.

As the name suggests, handcrafted logs are hewn or peeled by hand. Milled logs are both shaped and connections produced by machine. The most common handcrafted wood types are Douglas Fir, Pine or Spruce. Typically, the logs are larger than ones used in the milling process. Milled logs are usually cut to between six and eight inches in diameter while handcrafted will range between twelve to twenty inches and average around fifteen. The handcrafted logs will have different diameters while milled logs will be uniform.

                                                                   Handcrafted Logs

How are handcrafted logs fit together? Some log cabins are built purposely with space between the logs. The space is filled with chinking, a mortal like substance. A second option is to make a simple straight cut across the top and bottom of each log. When stacked, they will still leave gaps. The gaps must be caulked or chinked. A third method is to scribe each log to fit the top surface of the log beneath, making the log connections more weather tight. A high degree of craftsmanship is required to accomplish this.

A timber roof system can also be made from hand peeled logs. The logs are scribed, fitted and cut to match the desired roof pitch. The roof can be structured with scissor trusses, ridge beam and purloins or log truss with rafters.
                                                                    Log Trusses

Maintenance of handcrafted logs is the same as the milled logs. The wood needs to be sealed on an ongoing basis.

Settling is always a concern with log cabins. Know how your handcrafter compensates for it. As I have emphasized before, research is key to achieving your dream home. If you can, find several handcrafters that have log cabins in your area and analyze their results. Find out what other local customers have experienced in terms of settling, drafts and leaks. There is no substitute for experience. I wouldn’t dare select someone until I had seen his work. Take advantage of those who have gone before you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Log Cabin Railing Maintenance

You’ve decided to build that log cabin home. You’ve decided that decks are a necessity. Furthermore, you’ve wisely concluded that log railings are the only way to maintain an authentic log cabin look. Having chosen log railings, you will have to address the maintenance issue. Like the rest of your log cabin, you have made an investment in wood. Left to its own natural course and without intervention, it will deteriorate and need to be replaced. Don’t let that happen.

Moisture is the number one enemy of wood. Railings, being on the outer extremity of a log cabin will be subject to a lot of moisture exposure. There are two major points of exposure, the top of posts and the top edge of the bottom rail where the railing spindles enter the rail. The posts are vulnerable since the wood post grain runs from top to bottom and allows the water to access the entire post through capillaries. Secondly, water will run down the spindles and collect in the spindle holes of the bottom rail.

How do you protect your railing against this potential water damage? Clearly, with all external wood surfaces, you need to apply an ongoing finish. This is not an easy task as railings have a multitude of surfaces. Nonetheless, you have wood to protect and protect it you must. You will need to maintain a quality stain/preserver coating. Do not ignore this requirement unless you expect to replace the railings.

There are additional preventative actions that can be taken to address the specific water problems mentioned above. The top of each post can be covered with a cap, copper being an excellent choice. Glue these caps to the post rather than use screws. Another protective measure is to use stand off post bases for attaching the bottom of the posts. The bases provide a space that allows air to dry out the post.

You can also drill ¼ inch holes on the bottom of each spindle hole on the bottom rail. The holes will allow the water to drain from the rail.

You’ve decided to build yourself (and others) a great log cabin. Don’t scrimp on the railings or the necessary maintenance. You will profit from both.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Log Cabin Property Available for Sale

I was recently visiting my Georgia Blue Ridge Mountain log cabin property. Since I was in the neighborhood, I stopped by the developer’s sales office to say hello. My sales rep was there and we started discussing the current state of the market. He mentioned two properties for sale that were special bargains. He offered to show them to me and always being curious, I agreed.

The first property was over an acre with a four bedroom house. Fortunately, there was a couple looking at the house when we arrived and the house was open. Although it wasn’t a log cabin, I still found it to be of interest. It had three floors and two of them opened to large decks off the back. The view was nothing like my property provided, but the bottom line was the asking price, $150,000. The owner was apparently anxious to unload it.

My first thought was to buy it primarily as an investment, live there for a few years and then sell. The gain would be applied to building my log cabin. There was only one problem. I already had a home that was under water and I needed to hold onto it until its resale value re-surfaced.

The second property was undeveloped land. However, it was special. Next door is a private waterfront trout lodge. It borders on Talking Rock Creek with almost 250 feet of creek footage. The property is pie shaped and covers 1.32 acres. The land across the river rises straight up. Part of the opposite cliff is pure rock while the rest is tree covered. It is a rather impressive view. Even more impressive is the asking price, $125,000. Check out two scenes of the river from this property.

                                                  The view up river from the property

                                                                     Just next door.

If you have any interest in property, send me your contact info. I will get you set up with the right person. Contact me, Bob Saunders, at

Friday, July 2, 2010

Log Cabin Hot Tubs

Hot tubs are a very popular amenity added to log cabins. I am a hot tub fan as I used to own one when I lived in Connecticut. I was replacing my back deck and decided that it was time to add a hot tub platform alongside the new deck. I purchased a ‘Jacuzzi’ model and had the end of the deck built to provide easy access to the hot tub. I wired and installed speakers from my stereo system. The final result was incredible. Our property bordered a river and I immensely enjoyed the scenery and the soothing surge of the hot water complemented by some smooth jazz.

The hot tub was used all year round. I can remember being in the tub in the winter one night. The steam from the tub rose into the air and froze, returning to the tub in the form of snow. It was amazing. On the other hand, make sure you have a warm terry cloth bathrobe ready for your exit from the tub.

Since then, we moved to Georgia and bought property on a ridge in the Blue Ridge Mountains of north Georgia. Although my Connecticut Poquonock River location was quite beautiful, I find the mountains to be even more attractive. I will be building a log cabin and a hot tub will definitely be included. Since my property is on the side of the mountain ridge and my main floor cabin back deck (with the best mountain view) will be well above the ground level, it is unfortunately impractical to install it there. With occupants, a hot can weigh over 5,000 lbs.

The tub will have to be installed at ground level. I will not build another entire deck but rather just another platform with a small adjoining deck on the upper log cabin side of the tub for access. The tub platform will need at least six footing posts. If you are wise, you will err on the side of caution and install more than the minimum. Make sure all the footings are level.

The Jacuzzi hot tub I bought was a premium model that came with a lifetime warranty. I discovered the benefit of the warranty after the first year. The hot tub developed a leak and wouldn’t hold water. However, since it was in the winter, the service outfit couldn’t repair it until the following Spring. It was a log and cold winter.

You also want to be aware of the maintenance requirements. The water needs to be tested and chemicals need to be applied. The water must be sanitized with bromine or chloride. The proper pH level and alkalinity must be also maintained. We also used a defoamer on occasion. The water needs to be drained and replaced every 2-3 months. Based on our experience, if you have children, more frequent maintenance is required.

If you’re building a log cabin, I highly recommend adding a hot tub.