Handcrafted log homes use a natural log without the bark keeping the unique character of the original tree. The tools used are the chainsaw, scriber, chisel and axe. All the work is done by hand and thus very labor intensive. The minimum midspan diameter size is 11” but 12” to 14” diameter is most common.
Handcrafted log homes cost at least 25% more than a custom frame home.
Complex designs with many cross corners, and extensive log roof structure will increase the log shell cost dramatically.
Manufactured log homes are by far the most common type of log home in North America. Powerful machinery mill trees to uniform diameter logs, precut to a desired profile like a round to round Swedish cope for example.
The cost of a milled log package depends on the diameter of the log with the most common being 8”, 9” 10”.
Smaller diameter logs do significantly reduce the cost of a log package. However keep in mind that the smaller the log diameter at the perimeter of your log home, the lower the R value (insulating factor) will be.
The cost also depends on the complexity of the log work in the roof structure and number of cross corners and other notches.
A manufactured log package will cost about 2/3 of a handcrafted log shell for the same size log and ready for all framing, electrical, thru bolts, windows and doors openings…to be comparable to a delivered handcrafted log shell.
From data collected from several log companies that sell both manufactured and handcrafted log homes, the cost differential is around 10% cheaper for milled log homes compared to handcrafted log homes when you consider the finished home final cost.
Again this calculated cost differential is based on same size logs and wood species (12”diameter minimum) and with the log shell completed and ready for framing, electrical windows and doors installation, thru bolts… as per a handcrafted stage of completion.
How to make your log home dream a reality with a smaller budget…
As building costs have risen steadily this last decade and our savings have taken a hit recently due to the financial crisis, for most of us, building a log home is now a dream more difficult to reach.
The first step to designing a log home is to calculate your budget to build the house including land cost if applicable, design/engineering/building permits costs, access road, septic, utility connection from the road, drainage, landscaping…
You need to know the average building cost for a custom frame home where you are planning to build. Local general contractors should be able to give you some average price per square foot for your area.
This will help you estimate the maximum size of your future log home whether it is a handcrafted or a milled log shell.
1- Control the size of the home, specifically the footprint…
Today’s home are an average of 2300sqft.
In the 1950s homes averaged about 1400sqft
In the 80s and 90s the trend was for bigger homes.
Now many are seeing this trend for bigger homes reversing due to lack of space in cities, smaller families, rising energy and operating costs, but mostly because of the harsher economic climate coupled with still very high construction costs (material and labor).
Designing large homes is much easier than designing small homes where a designer needs to be creative to control wasted space and fit space saving features at every step of the design.
Designing a smaller log home does not automatically dictate small rooms or a boring boxy exterior look. So much can be done to dress up the roof with dormers, and add covered decks, arbors and interesting landscaping work around the house.
Open floor space with wider hallways and large baseboard for interior frame walls will give a roomier feel to the interior.
An open floor plan with kitchen/dining and living as one large room is very popular as it eliminates partition walls and wasted space for hallway traffic and also allows the occupants to freely congregate around the kitchen island during meal preparation for example. New kitchen designs allow the dining table as the center piece of that space.
The formal dining and sitting room is of the past.
The new lifestyle is turning to the outside with main rooms towards decks, porches and view.
Log homes dictate a 9’ ceiling height minimum at main floor and vaulted ceilings all the way to the roof at second floor which increases the sense of space while keeping the footprint under control.
2- Build more than one storey…
Controlling the footprint of the house is so important. The foundation and roof covering a defined foot print is the same whether it is a one storey rancher or a three storey home including a full basement and a second floor. Because of this fact, a rancher style home with one storey is more expensive to build.
Stairs only occupy about 40sqft of living space and when stacked, they access both the basement and second floor.
A basement is about a third of the cost of the main floor to build. Even if the basement is buried, it can be used for a laundry, mechanical room, extra storage, wine cellar, root cellar, a home office or theater room. Bedrooms can be designed using well windows for egress. Baths do not need a window if a sizable fan is installed for ventilation.
A sloped building site allows a walkout basement which means cheap living space opened to the outside with windows and doors letting light and view in.
Building a second floor within the roof slope adds bedroom space, or, so common in log home design, a simple loft overlooking a great room.
To maximize living space, you may have to convert the vaulted ceilings into second floor extra space.
3-Design an expandable home…
You may have to delay finishing the basement and/or the second floor. It is advisable to plan for window spaces to allow light in and doors for egress.
The bonus room over the garage may be just framed with attic manufactured trusses and left unused for years until the money is finally available to turn it into a guest apartment or playroom for the kids.
Just make sure you plan for that bathroom in the basement by installing the rough in plumbing thru the concrete slab or extend the plumbing and electrical wiring to the unfinished upper level.
A room dedicated to be a home office or den can with foresight easily become a guest bedroom as need dictates.
A computer desk can be designed in an alcove or even in the corner of the kitchen.
4- The basic shape of the economical log home…
A house shaped as a circle (yurt) will have the best ratio between lengths of wall at the perimeter to amount of living space inside.
This house shape is of course not achievable with log wall construction which is linear.
A four corner log home as close to a square shape will mean less perimeter wall length for maximum inside square footage. That translates in a lower amount of wood in the log package.
For handcrafted log construction a 34’x34’ square home using minimum 14” diameter logs with only four cross corners with staggered wood dowels or lags at the laterals will be the cheapest log shell design because only four cross corners are required which means less labor cost.
The more cross corners in a log home design, the more costly the log shell will be.
As well the higher the log walls, the higher the cost of the log shell for a handcrafted project only. Extra round of logs are about twice more labor to build than lower logs in the wall as the craftsman must work of the ground, up and down ladders.
5- The roof log structure…
The roof log structure could be just one large ridge beam supporting a frame rafter conventional roof or structural insulated panels.
Using manufactured frame trusses is less expensive than stick framing a roof because the frame trusses are already cut and easy to install, and they can replace the dimensional rafters and I beam rafters and still give you the same vaulted ceiling inside the house.
Stick framing a roof one member at a time up at roof height is labor intensive and a long tedious process especially if you use I beams for rafters that requires blockings at cuts and connections in.
Another way to design your roof is to use log or timber horizontal structural beams at 4’ to 5’ apart depending on snow load and install 2×6 Tongue and groove decking over the beams to have both a finished ceiling and the structural above the roof beams to support none structural foam panels (ISO) and sheathing over it for the roof finish. ISO panels come in different thickness giving you continuous foam insulation over the decking with high R value.
In the same line of thought, 2×6 T&G decking can be installed over log or timber joists for a ceiling finish below and a floor deck at the second floor in one shot instead of framing a regular floor system over the joists.
The decking is much cheaper for material and labor.
However electrical and plumbing work can not be hidden with a simple decking.
Gable dormers are more expensive to build compared to shed dormers. Tower and shell roofs are beautiful but also labor intensive and thus more expensive.
Overall a complex roofline with many valleys is more costly.
Using structural log trusses will enhance the exterior and interior appeal of your log home and at the same time increase the cost of the log package.
6- The hybrid solution…
If you are in that financial situation that will not allow you to buy a full log shell for your dream log home but you still badly want to enjoy some log or timber work, we do design a large number of conventional frame homes with log and timber accent.
This means you can add some log character posts and a log truss for your covered entry to enhance the street appeal and may be get some roof log or timber structure to give a wow effect to your great room ceiling for example. Log or timber accent is a popular solution for tight budget.
A log or timber accent does not mean a post and beam construction style. There are little to no savings building a post and beam log or timber home compared to a full scribe log home. Although the amount of logs in the package is so much less, the work to adapt the frame walls between the log posts and beam above, add the exterior and interior finishes, insulation, vapor and moisture barriers will bring the completed cost of this type of construction to the same level of a full log exterior wall home.
7- A few last comments from Cyril…
Our log and timber design studio has been designing close to one thousand log and timber projects of all sizes in the last 15 years.
I have followed up with most of our design customers thru all those years and learned so much about what makes a log/timber building project a success or a failure.
When it comes to where you can save to make your dream log home a reality, concentrate on the design and materials you plan to use but not as much on the log shell package.
You must compare what is comparable and that is not easy.
The lowest quote you get is to me also the most suspicious.
To offer the lowest quote, a log supplier will either sacrifice log and /or craftsmanship quality and/or service.
Remember it is too late to fix problems with a log package when it is assembled on your building site without spending much more than what you thought you would save.
A full log package is on average 20% to 30% of the overall cost of your finished home depending on design and your selection of appliances, finishes, cabinetry…
To make your log home project a success do not go to the cheapest bid, especially when the difference is great. You will likely be sorry.
The log shell should include foam gaskets to be installed between all log to log and log to framing contact areas at exterior and interior to avoid having to later chink the whole log package.