november 17, 2006
Log Home Popularity Booming

by Russell Boniface
Associate Editor

Summary: Did you know that there are over 30,000 log homes built annually in the U.S.? Log homes account for 9 percent of the custom homebuilding market in this country. In fact, there currently are more than 550,000 log homes in the U.S.

Log homes have come a long way since the one-room log cabin of yesteryear. Today, they come in different styles, shapes, and square footage. Most are situated in rural environments, as more baby boomers are purchasing log homes as their primary residences away from the hustle of city life.

Housing industry specialist Scott Rouleau of New York City-based J. Rouleau & Associates does marketing consulting for the log home industry. “The industry is booming, unlike the housing industry,” says Rouleau. “Log home manufacturers are getting many calls from architects. The companies I work with can’t build them fast enough—it’s amazing.”

According to the log home industry:

  • There are about 500 log home manufacturers in the U.S.
  • In the mid-1980s, about 15,000 log homes were sold annually; currently it’s over 30,000
  • Log home sales have more than doubled to $1.7 billion since 1995
  • Handcrafted log homes, built with logs individually crafted by handheld tools, account for 10 percent of the market. The remaining 90 percent are built with milled logs, systematically designed for the home
  • Log home thermal mass characteristics often exceed minimum energy efficiency codes, and most log home materials are renewable
  • In 2001 (the most recent year complete figures are available), the most popular states for log home construction were Colorado, New York, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.

High-stress professionals seeking quiet
“With all the studies we have done, a good majority of people who build or buy a log home are professionals in a high-stress position, such as stockbrokers, firefighters, or doctors,” explains Rouleau. “They like the serenity and peacefulness of getting out of that everyday grind. They are looking for the warmth and coziness in a log home.”

No logjam of variations
“Log homes bring challenges and opportunities to the design process,” says architect Murray Arnott, founder of Ontario-based Murray Arnott Design, whose company also has offices in the U.S. under the name Heartwood Log and Timber Design. Arnott is a former vice president of the board of directors of the International Log Builders' Association. “Logs, being massive, afford large spans and exposed beam work that conventional stick frame construction wouldn’t allow, so the structural materials really become part of the architecture.”

The most common type of log house comprises conventional stack logs and round logs. Arnott explains that logs can be milled (also called “manufactured”), whereby timber elements have a uniform profile (square, round), or handcrafted, whereby timber is customized to meet the needs of architect and client. Arnott feels homes made of round logs, either milled or handcrafted, are the more enjoyable to design. “Stack logs suggest more rectangular forms, but round logs allow curve forms, such as in the building envelope, the roof, and for post-and-beam structures,” explains Arnott. “I think there is more design flexibility that way, unlike the limitations of a conventional stack system. You can juxtapose different materials and do different things with the form.

“For example, where one would use conventional post and beam, we may use exposed round log beams and posts that become decorative for elements such as handrails, stairs, porticos, or portes cocheres.”

Log homes have come a long way
In the early day of log homes, logs were laid horizontally and interlocked on the ends with notches. Today, Arnott says, manufacturers use a machining process that overlaps logs in the corner, while the handcrafted industry joins the corner using the knots of the logs (any visible branch, stub, or socket). “It is quite sophisticated--the knots are shrink-to-fit and self-draining, meaning as the wood dries, the cells of the wood release moisture, causing the corner knots to get tighter, as opposed to loosening up in any way. Secondly, if any moisture gets in it drains off by itself instead of being stuck in the wood.”

When once rocks and mud were use for chinking, i.e., to fill the space in between the logs, today it’s all science. “You would need to put some type of air vapor barrier in the space,” describes Arnott. “A typical chink would have some kind of gasketing system. Nowadays most chinking is an acrylic-based elastomeric compound with a number of components so the chinking doesn’t pull away from the fibers of the wood, giving the space elasticity and cohesiveness to the wood.”

Timber for log homes comes from pine, cedar, cypress, and spruce. All make for a dense structure that can retain heat, but Arnott cautions that the effect of the log’s thermal mass on the energy efficiency of a house is difficult to quantify. Arnott also points out that it is important to review the technical constraints of the site, such as wind and sun exposure, and to plan the electrical system requirements well, such as drilling holes and chases into logs.

Arnott believes it is important to get to know and work with log manufacturers, saying that they refer his firm to potential clients. “Once we design a home for the client, we work with them to select who the log manufacturer will be. That can be based on a number of parameters, such as the log’s size, timber species, and profiles, all of which drive the budget.”

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Did you know . . .
• Log cabin construction came to North America in the 1700s, when Swedish settlers brought building customs from their home country
• Early settlers used nothing more than an ax and timber to build one-room log cabins that typically measured 12 to 20 feet long by 10 feet wide. No nails were used! A log cabin could be built in just a few days.
• Logs were laid horizontally and interlocked on the ends with notches.
• The chink is the space between the logs. To fill the chink, early settlers used sticks, rocks, and mud. Careful notching would also minimize the chink.
(Reference, Where We Lived: Discovering the Places We Once Called Home, by Lack Larkin.

1. Golden Eagle Log Homes, Wisconsin Rapids, Wis.
2. Lindal Cedar Homes, Seattle
3. Estemerwalt Log Homes, Estemerwalt Log Homes of Honesdale, Pa.
4. Estemerwalt Log Homes - Designed by Estemerwalt Log Homes of Honesdale, Pa.
5. Estemerwalt Log Homes - Designed by Estemerwalt Log Homes of Honesdale, Pa.