The Log Cabin

Monday, August 16, 2010

Buy Your Log Cabin Now

It’s the right time to buy real estate. I know that from personal experience. Last year, I bought a foreclosed four bedroom two bath house in Marietta GA for $36,000. The previous owner had a $108,000 mortgage on the property. It was in reasonably good shape. I replaced the windows and gutters, added some kitchen cabinets, repainted and it is now renting for $900 per month. I’ll wait for real estate to rebound before selling it. Why not take advantage of the current foreclosure to acquire your log cabin vacation/retirement home?

I was inspired to write this article when I read an article in the Atlanta paper about a couple that did exactly that. The log cabin was located in Blue Ridge GA which is appropriately located in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They had rented cabins there previously. They loved the town and surrounding mountain and forested area. The couple had been looking to purchase a log cabin as a vacation home for around six years. The article didn’t mention the final price but they found the right cabin for the right price. They are now spending weekends fixing it up.

Even if you’re not ready yet to move to the mountains, if you’re considering retiring to a log cabin, now is the time to buy. The timing is right but what if you don’t have the money? In addition to the investment property, I also bought some land in the north Georgia mountains through my self directed IRA. The property is owned by the IRA and I suffer no tax impact until I take control upon retirement.

Another option is to rent out the cabin until you’re ready to retire. There is a solid rental market for log cabins. With prices so low, you can charge rent to cover the mortgage, taxes and maintenance. My sister and her husband own a summer home up north. They vacation there for two weeks in August. They rent it out for the remainder of the summer. Even with a relatively short vacation rental season, they make enough money to afford the mortgage. You keep the eventual property value increase and have your retirement log cabin when you’re ready.

As the adage goes, ‘buy low, sell high.’ Prices for foreclosed log cabins are very attractive. Like I said already, now is the time to buy.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Log Cabin Flooring - Bamboo

If you’re concerned about the environment, you should be aware that bamboo is a renewable ‘green’ source of flooring for your log cabin construction. China, Indonesia, Viet Nam, the Philippines and Korea are the major sources of bamboo. As an environmental aside, pandas don’t eat the species of bamboo used for commercial products.

Solid hardwood is commonly used for log cabin floors. While a hardwood tree may take 100 years or more to mature and is destroyed when cut down for flooring, a bamboo plant remains alive and requires around 6 years to re-grow to a harvestable length. Bamboo actually grows one to three feet a day during its peak growth period. Even though it is officially categorized as a grass, bamboo exceeds a number of hardwoods in ‘hardness.’

Bamboo plants stalks are cut down and the outer green layer and shoots are removed. The remainder is boiled and ‘purified.’ Its natural color is light blond. The bamboo may also be pressure steamed to produce a darker ‘carbonized’ color that accentuates the grain pattern. However, this carbonization process reduces the hardness of the bamboo about 10%.

The bamboo logs are then sorted into ‘A’ and ‘B’ grades. Strips of similarly graded bamboo are first placed together either vertically or horizontally. Then they are glued together and high pressure is applied to form ‘blocks’. The blocks are then milled to form the final flooring planks.

Besides the natural blond and darker carbonized colors, the natural planks can be stained to produce a variety of other colors. You can choose the best color to complement your log cabin walls. Like hardwood boards, bamboo flooring is available in unfinished or finished options.

The Janka Hardness ratings for bamboo are 1380 for natural bamboo and 1180 for carbonized bamboo. The rating of natural bamboo is actually higher than red (1290) and white (1360) oak.

Bamboo flooring is typically tongue and groove manufactured. It can be nailed or glued to a subfloor. A floating option is also available to do it yourself handymen. It can be installed over concrete with a vapor barrier for a floating floor. There are also moisture barrier adhesives available for glueing down the bamboo flooring.

Perhaps one of the biggest advantages of bamboo flooring is the cost. It can be up to 50% lower that solid hardwood floors. I will certainly be investigating bamboo flooring when I make a choice for my log cabin construction.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Log Cabin Flooring - Solid Hardwood

Your log cabin is made from solid wood logs. Solid hardwood flooring complements and adds to the traditional look of your log cabin log walls. As the name suggests, the flooring is cut from a solid piece of log.

The harder the wood, the longer lasting and less susceptible to wear and ‘dinging’ it is. There is a hardness index (Janka Hardness Scale) that measures the relative hardness of different wood species. The chart below shows this rating for various popular flooring choices.

White Ash            1320
American Beech  1300
Paper Birch           910
Black Cherry         950
Cypress               1375
Douglas Fir           660
Hickory               1820
Hard Maple         1450
Red Oak              1290
White Oak           1360
Brazilian Cherry 2350

Hardwoods can be laid down in several styles. Most commonly, they are laid out in linear strips that are 2 ¼” or 3 ¼’ wide. Planks are wider pieces than are also linear but up to widths of 4” and higher. The narrower width strips provide a more formal look while the wider widths are more country looking and log cabin oriented. Finally, hardwood can be put down in a parquet style in which the pieces of wood form a repeated geometric design. The hardwood boards are manufactured in lengths between 1’-7’. The boards are ¾” deep.

Solid wood flooring is available in either unfinished or prefinished versions. Unfinished wood must be sanded and covered with several coats of finish after being installed. The finishing process takes several days to a week to complete. Prefinished hardwood has already been factory finished and is ready for use immediately after installation.

Solid hardwood flooring is sensitive to moisture. It is not recommended for placement over concrete, below ground level or over radiant heated floors. You can sand and refinish it up to seven times during its 80 to 100 year lifetime.

Hardwood flooring pieces are given a grade based on their appearance. Higher graded pieces have better uniformity of appearance. The grades in order of quality are:

Clear grade – has most uniform color, lack of blemishes and knots
Select & Better – has very uniform color, virtually no blemishes or knots
Country or Exclusive – differing color, small pinholes and tiny knots
Traditional, Antique, Character – light and dark color, pinholes, knots and small checks
Tavern or Cabin – light and dark color, pinholes and knots are quite evident

It sounds like from the grades that log cabins should automatically fall into the bottom grade ranking. To be honest with you, I agree. I won’t mind seeing knots and checks on my log cabin walls nor on my floors.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Log Cabin Flooring - Laminate Flooring

Laminate flooring is another option for your log cabin construction. A laminate is a material that is manufactured by joining two or more layers of material together. The layers are combined with adhesive and heat and/or pressure. Laminate flooring was originally designed by a Swedish company named Pergo. It was introduced to the USA by Pergo in 1994. It is now the fastest growing flooring choice in America

Laminate flooring is made of four layers. The top or wear layer is typically made from cellulose paper that is soaked with melamine plastic resins. This produces laminate flooring’s durability and scratch resistance. The second or design layer provides the image that shows through the wear layer. It is made from cellulose paper that has a photograph or a print copied on it. The image simulates the look of wood, tiles or stone.

The third or core layer is made from a type of particle board and provides the bulk of the floor. The final or stabilizer layer is usually made the same as the top layer. The identical top and bottom layers help to prevent movement within the core layer.

Ease of installation is a major benefit of laminates. Like engineered wood, laminated flooring can be installed over your log cabin's plain or radiant heated concrete. Most laminate planks are made with tongue and grooved sides that allow them to be ‘clicked’ together. A foam or board underlay is applied to the application surface. A vapor barrier combination underlay product should be used over concrete. They are commonly installed as floating floors.

Laminated flooring is water resistant and therefore a good choice for your log cabin bathrooms, kitchen and laundry room where moisture is a potential problem. It is also durable and suited for high traffic areas.

The final benefit of laminated flooring is cost. It averages 20-25% lower than solid wood. If you install the laminate flooring yourself, your savings will be more.

Log Cabin Flooring - Engineered Wood

If you’ve decided to install wood flooring in your log cabin, you should consider engineered wood as an option. Although the word ‘engineered’ sounds somewhat less than real, engineered wood flooring is indeed constructed from all wood components. It has become increasingly popular as worldwide sales of engineered wood has eclipsed solid wood flooring sales.

Engineered wood consists of a 1/16” to 1/8” top layer of finish wood on top of layers of non-finish plywood. For additional strength, the grain of the plywood layers runs crossways to each other and the finish layer. This makes the flooring more stable and less susceptible to warping. Unlike solid wood, engineered planks can be glued to a concrete subfloor, installed over a radiant heat floor or installed as a floating floor. The plywood base withstands moisture that can cause buckling and rippling. I will definitely use it to cover my log cabin basement floor. The top layer is also pre-finished so that it is ready for use upon being laid.

Since the top layer is real wood, engineered flooring is available in the same species as solid hardwood floors including hickory, oak, maple and walnut. There also a ‘green’ option, bamboo. Bamboo has a distinctive grain and is technically a grass. The bamboo plant is not destroyed when it is harvested and unlike trees, it is a renewable resource.

Engineered wood can be placed in areas with light moisture. I have engineered wood installed in my first floor half bath and despite occasional water spills, it has held up well. Although I have seen it installed in the kitchen and full bathrooms of log cabins, I personally prefer the look and better water resistance of tile.

Having experienced engineered flooring in my current residence, I can attest that it is susceptible to scratching and ‘dinging.’ Unlike laminate flooring, it can be sanded to renew the surface. However, depending on the thickness of the finish layer, it can only be sanded one to three times. It is advisable to hire a floor professional specialist to do the sanding due to the limited depth of the top layer.

The cost of engineered wood is comparable to solid wood. However, if you glue down or use floating floor option, you can save money by installing it yourself. I will probably put down my own basement floor.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Log Furniture for your Log Cabin

If you like a log cabin for its rustic look, then you should consider log furniture when furnishing it. Each piece is unique and distinctive and provides additional natural charm to the inside the log cabin. Although more commonly used in lodges and ski and vacation cabins, there are any number of log furniture pieces that would enhance the appearance of any home.

Just like the cabin itself, log furniture can be hand crafted or machine manufactured. The manufactured logs still retain the natural wood look. The wood can be either peeled of bark, or skip-peeled where the inner bark of the log is not removed. The skip-peeled pieces are more rustic looking. The wood used is typically pine, white or red cedar or hickory. Log furniture is constructed for a long life. Unlike other furniture, it can take abuse without the appearance of having done so.

Due in part to its durability, I plan to furnish at least the recreation room in my retirement log cabin with log furniture. The grandchildren can have their way with it. The second possibility would be one or more of the bedrooms. For example, I recently saw a log bed plan (finished bed shown below) with the foot board configured as the back of a bench seat. I was intrigued to say the least.

The cost of log furniture varies with the level of handcrafting and type of wood. You can find some great buys on the internet. If you’ve got some woodworking experience, you can cut the price considerably by doing the construction yourself. You can buy plans online very cheaply. You’ll have to provide your own woodworking tools and wood. Unfortunately for me, I missed the high honor roll one semester in middle school thanks to my miserable woodworking performance in shop.

Despite my I would seriously consider buying a kit. I can follow good instructions with no problem. As another example, I’ve seen a red cedar queen size bed kit available on sale for under $400 with free shipping. They provide you with wood, instructions, screws, etc. All you add is some less than skilled labor.

You will find a wide variety of styles and looks.  Just like choosing your log cabin plan, I would recommend taking the time to shop around for ideas before buying.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Log Cabin Landscaping - The Cabin Perimeter

When deciding what to plant around the perimeter of your log cabin, first determine the size of the landscaping you want to plant. Second, similar to trees and groundcover, research which plants will grow well in your property’s habitat and fit your desired size. Besides online and nursery research, you can also walk around your local area and locate plants that are appealing to you. Take pictures and find out their names.

There are two reasons for not planting large plants and bushes around the immediate perimeter of a log cabin. The number one reason is to ensure that your logs have room to breath and access to airflow, thus deterring lengthy exposure to damaging moisture and the advent of mold and mildew. There should be a three to five foot distance between the plants and the log wall. You will need to allow for growth when determining the proper planting distance. You will need lots of room

The second reason is my own personal preference. I love the natural look of the logs. That’s why I’ll be building a log cabin. I don’t want to block the visual beauty of the logs, especially on the front. I once bought a house that had an attractive stone covered front that was mostly blocked from view by the evergreen trees that had been allowed to grow unchecked. I eventually cut down the trees and replaced them with smaller plants in order to uncover and showcase the stone.

The only exception to this rule could be on the rear sides of my log cabin. Due to the property slope there will be considerable exposed cement basement wall. I do have the option of covering the wall with log or stone siding. If not, I can plant some evergreens that will eventually hide the cement.

So in the front, I will be planting some shrubs whose height can be controlled by annual trimming. I once planted a row of Korean boxwoods on the side of my house in Connecticut. They filled in nicely and ended up about three feet high. I have determined that these plants will do well in the mountains of Georgia. I will also plant some perennial and/or annual flowering plants in front of the boxwoods for some color contrast.  A boxwood hedge (that needs a trim) is shown above.

When deciding what to plant, keep in mind that plants are sun or shade loving and so place them accordingly. Also, you should slope the ground around the perimeter to ensure that water will drain away from the log cabin wall.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Log Cabin Landscaping - The Hardscape

Just like the softscape or live horticultural elements of landscaping, you also need to plan the hardscape aspects of your log cabin landscaping. Hardscape includes such structures as driveways, walkways, patios, retaining walls, fountains and stone walls.

In keeping with the natural motif of my rustic log cabin and the surrounding mountains, there will be no concrete or asphalt hardscape on my property. The driveway and parking area will be stone covered. The parking area will require a retaining wall since the property slopes downward. The wall will be made of pressure treated boards.

The walkway from the driveway to the front door will also be connected to another path that will circumvent the log cabin. The paths will be covered with mulch and bordered with a rather unusual edging. I worked one summer in high school at a private residence. The owner bought some wooden fencing and had me cut the fencing lengthwise in one foot increments and wire together the cut ends. I soaked both ends of the wood in preservative, dug a trench along the edge of the landscaping and ‘planted’ the edging. I have to admit that the result was quite natural looking and attractive.

I will also need to cover the ground area where the log cabin’s rear basement doors will be situated underneath the back deck. I have previously constructed a patio from brick pavers which are available in a variety of shapes and colors. I would be inclined to do the same with the back patio. The pavers are installed on a sand base and bordered with edging material. Due to the slope of the land, I will need another retaining wall for this patio. My hot tub will probably be situated on this patio on top of a wood base.

I have another hardscape project for my log cabin property as well. The slope of the land increases for the lower two thirds. I will probably build a walkway to the bottom. What more appropriate step material than split logs? The logs should be dried and treated with a clear acrylic sealant to protect them from the elements and insects. Starting at the bottom of the hill, a two to three foot wide step area is cleared. Sand is poured on the base and the logs are tamped onto the step.

The number of hardscape projects you can come up with is almost limitless. I’m sure I’ll think of more after I’ve finished the ones above. I will guided by my desire to enhance the natural log cabin look of my property.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Log Cabin Landscaping - The Groundcover

Since my log cabin property is on a ridge slope in the mountains of north Georgia, I will not be considering grass as a groundcover. However, I will want to beautify part of my land surface, especially in front of the cabin, with green plants. Just like trees, I will be selecting plants that are native to the area. I have discovered through research that there are two ground cover plants that I am familiar with from my days in Connecticut, that also do well in north Georgia.

The first is pachysandra which is pictured above. I had a small back yard at my property in Connecticut that was shaded most of the day. The grass didn’t fare well. I covered the grass with topsoil and planted a bunch of pachysandra a foot apart. The pachysandra thrived in the shade and eventually the roots spread and filled in the entire area with the 6 inch tall green leafed plants as shown above. Our log cabin’s front lawn will be pachysandra.

I wish I could say that pachysandra is maintenance free. You don’t have to mow but you do have to remove the fall leaves. A rake is not very practical. A leaf blower is the common solution. I used a leaf vacuum/chopper that cut the leaves into small pieces. The chopped up leaves can be turned relatively quickly into compost for garden fertilizer.

The second plant type I have used is juniper pictured above. Juniper is an evergreen cover that spreads itself along the ground as it grows. The juniper is more of a sun loving plant.

In addition to my two favorites, there are a number of alternatives. These include non living covers or hardscape such as mulch, gravel and stone. There is also an assortment of flowering deciduous plants. Showy evening primrose and creeping verbena are two examples pictured below. Low growing shrubs and ornamental grasses can be used as well.

In conclusion, there are lots of ground cover options to choose from. Find out which ones thrive in your locale. Plant them and they will complement and beautify your log cabin property.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Log Cabin Landscaping - The Trees

Our log cabin property is on the end of a Blue Ridge Mountain ridge in Georgia. It overlooks another ridge nearby as well as more mountains in the distance. The property is sloped and runs to the bottom of the ridge. It’s currently wooded with a combination of evergreens and deciduous trees. A few of these are dead standing while others are fallen. The still standing will be cut down and all of them will be cut up. A number of the remaining live trees will also need to be cut down and roots removed to accommodate the log cabin. We will strike a balance between creating views of our beautiful mountain surroundings and preserving the natural beauty of the existing environment.  In any case, there will be plenty of firewood for the log cabin fireplace.

Once the log cabin has been built, it will be time to do some landscaping and rejuvenate the tree population. The first step is to do some research and develop a list of trees that are already on the property and others that are native to the area as well. Choosing native plants will maximize the likelihood of their ongoing growth and long term survival. I’m sure that one or more local nurseries is a good place to start the research.

Average winter temperatures, moisture, level of sunlight, soil pH are all considerations to your tree selection. Using temperature as an example, Georgia includess 5 different plant hardiness zones as illustrated by the following map.

Each zone varies in average annual low temperature by five degrees. The USDA website provides a list of the coldest recommended zone for a multitude of plants and trees.

Although I love the colorful fall foliage produced by deciduous trees, I will focus on planting evergreens. They will require a number of years to reach a decent height but that’s OK. I once planted six inch blue spruce seedlings on my property in Connecticut and when I last saw them after a five year absence, they were about five feet tall. I will keep the new trees spread out around 10 feet apart. There is nothing worse to me than the tall evergreens now on my log cabin property that have no pine needles below the very top due to lack of sunlight caused by the density of the trees.

My objective will be to ultimately enhance the natural beauty of my mountain property. Besides the rustic look of my log cabin, trees will help provide that enhancement.