From the Field

Your builder is a wealth of in­for­ma­tion. Tap­ping into his or her ex­pe­ri­ence early on could save you thou­sands on de­sign, ma­te­ri­als and la­bor Here's how.

Log Home Living - - CONTENTS -

Your builder is a wealth of in­for­ma­tion. Tap­ping into his or her ex­pe­ri­ence early on could save you thou­sands on de­sign, ma­te­ri­als and la­bor. Here’s how.

When tak­ing on any log home con­struc­tion project, a builder has to make three ba­sic as­sump­tions:

1 The cus­tomer owns prop­erty and knows ex­actly where the home will be placed on the site be­fore the de­sign is done. That’s key.


They know what they want within the de­sign el­e­ment, type of foun­da­tion (crawl space ver­sus slab ver­sus walk­out) and type of fin­ished el­e­va­tions.


They have a pre­de­ter­mined bud­get be­fore they start the de­sign. With­out know­ing ex­actly what they can af­ford, no de­sign is go­ing to be ef­fec­tive against the cost. Of­ten, it’s not the home’s “box” that drives up con­struc­tion ex­penses, it’s what goes into it.

From a builder’s point of view, we have to pro­vide a sound, strong struc­ture that in­cor­po­rates ef­fi­cien­cies as they re­late to main­te­nance and en­ergy con­sump­tion. But, if given the op­por­tu­nity, there’s so much more we can do to save you money.

Save from the Ground Up

As builders, we can ap­ply “value en­gi­neer­ing”

by start­ing with the prop­erty. We have to know ex­actly where the house is go­ing to sit on the land and what type of foun­da­tion will be used in or­der to min­i­mize the de­sign’s fi­nan­cial im­pact on con­struc­tion.

Some­times mov­ing the house’s planned lo­ca­tion a mere 5 feet can save thou­sands of dol­lars, es­pe­cially in ru­ral ar­eas. For in­stance, if a house is orig­i­nally sited on a slope, mov­ing it away from the slope could mean de­creas­ing the height of the foun­da­tion, sav­ing you money on ma­te­ri­als. Or, if you en­counter sub­sur­face rock that would pro­hibit you from dig­ging a base­ment, that, too, could im­pact your cost in the de­sign.

Once you’ve es­tab­lished your site con­di­tions, a builder is go­ing to look at the de­sign’s uni­for­mity. Com­plex­ity is costly. Any time a builder is work­ing with long, straight, lin­ear lines within the foun­da­tion, he or she can save money. But that doesn’t mean your home’s de­sign has to be dull.

As an ex­am­ple, if you want to in­cor­po­rate a bump-out for a bay win­dow, it’s bet­ter to de­sign the foun­da­tion as a straight wall and then can­tilever the bowed space so it hov­ers above. Here’s why: To cre­ate a foun­da­tion that mir­rors the out­line of the de­sign, you have the cost of ex­ca­va­tion to add the ad­di­tional square footage of the bump-out; you have the cost of the con­crete slab for that ad­di­tional square footage; and you have the cost of the ex­tra block­work or other foun­da­tion ma­te­rial, thereby sig­nif­i­cantly in­creas­ing the quan­tity of ma­te­rial and la­bor re­quired just for that bump-out area. By con­trast, if you can­tilever a bay win­dow, you’re talk­ing about a floor joist or a floor truss that you’d need re­gard­less of whether you bump the base­ment’s foot­print out or not. This is just one small ex­am­ple of how you can cre­ate fairly size­able cost sav­ings, while adding us­able square footage and vol­ume in your de­sign.

Opt for Build­ing Sys­tems

Another tip: In­cor­po­rate as many build­ing sys­tem com­po­nents (floor trusses, roof trusses,

pan­el­ized in­te­rior wall as­sem­blies) in the de­sign as you can. Pre­fab­ri­cated com­po­nents, such as th­ese, take a frac­tion of the time to put into place than does site-built con­struc­tion, gen­er­at­ing sig­nif­i­cant sav­ings on la­bor with­out sac­ri­fic­ing qual­ity. Like­wise, if your home has gables, de­sign them to be built with 2-by-4s or pan­els cov­ered with log sid­ing, shin­gles or a con­trast­ing ma­te­rial, rather than craft­ing the gables out of full logs. Again, this goes back to the com­plex­ity of the log pack­age cre­at­ing cost. A pre-fab gable will be less time con­sum­ing for the builder to erect and won’t de­tract from the au­then­tic­ity of your log home.

Keep it Sim­ple

The level of de­tail a home has can re­quire a great deal of a build­ing crew’s time and ex­per­tise and re­sult in added site costs. Where we spend the most time and money on a home is on de­tailed trim­work and in­tri­cate roof sys­tems. Off­sets, like where the roof doesn’t come right down to the wall in a loft, re­quire a builder to trim around them, and do­ing it right takes more time than you’d think.

One way to re­duce com­plex trim is to strate­gi­cally place doors within your home. Think about how you’re go­ing to move around in the house ef­fi­ciently, but elim­i­nate mul­ti­ple or un­nec­es­sary doors to re­duce la­bor and ma­te­ri­als costs.

A per­fect ex­am­ple is an en­closed wa­ter closet within a mas­ter bath­room. Keep the door to the toi­let area for pri­vacy, but in­stead of in­stalling a door that leads into the bath, opt for a case open­ing so the main part of the bath­room is ex­posed to the bed­room. Pocket or barn doors also can save you money and free up us­able square footage by elim­i­nat­ing the need for door-swing clear­ance. In new con­struc­tion, a pre-as­sem­bled pocket door won’t cost your builder more time or la­bor to in­stall than a stan­dard swing­ing door.

Another money-sav­ing tip: De­sign to whole num­bers (6 feet, 8 feet, etc.) based on how lum­ber is sold, rather than feet and inches. For in­stance, if you’re plan­ning a deck on the back of your home and you start talk­ing in odd or frac­tional num­bers, your builder will have to or­der longer lengths than needed (un­nec­es­sary ma­te­ri­als cost) and then mea­sure and cut each board (added la­bor cost). Mul­ti­ply that by 80-plus boards and you’re talk­ing quite a bit of ex­pense you could eas­ily avoid.

In­volve Your Builder in the De­sign

Many log home buyers be­lieve that you need a fi­nal de­sign be­fore you ap­proach a builder. Not true! When a builder re­views a set of plans to pre­pare a bid, he or she takes all of a home’s com­plex­i­ties into ac­count. So why not ask your builder to re­view your plans along the way?

De­sign­ers can be won­der­fully cre­ative, com­ing up with unique and in­no­va­tive floor plans that look great on pa­per or 3D-CAD; but in the field, they may be in­ef­fi­cient or im­prac­ti­cal to build. By ask­ing your builder to re­view your plans be­fore you fi­nal­ize them, he or she can sug­gest tweaks in the lay­out or ma­te­rial se­lec­tions that could save you sig­nif­i­cant amounts of cash.

Cedar shakes are a prime ex­am­ple: Not only are cedar-shake shin­gles one of the more ex­pen­sive prod­ucts on the mar­ket, they also take special knowhow to in­stall. So though you think you’re ready to ab­sorb the higher price tag of the ma­te­rial it­self, many buyers don’t fac­tor in the skilled-la­bor up­charges that come with in­stalling them, and that drives up con­struc­tion costs. You have to ask your­self if the value of th­ese de­sign el­e­ments jus­ti­fies the cost. If the an­swer is yes, go for it! If not, opt­ing for a look-alike will cost less and speed up con­struc­tion in the process. Th­ese are the kinds of rec­om­men­da­tions your builder can make along the de­sign path, if he or she is in­volved early.

Dan Mitchell owns Ea­gle CDI in Ten­nessee and has built close to 100 log homes in his 30year ca­reer. He’s the Knoxville Home Builders As­so­ci­a­tion 2015 Builder of the Year.

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