Let’s Get Ready to Build

The most im­por­tant things you need to know when it’s fi­nally time to stop plan­ning and start build­ing your log home.

Log Home Living - - 2018 ANNUAL BUYER'S GUIDE -

Build­ing a log home is an ex­cit­ing prospect. It also can seem a for­mi­da­ble chal­lenge. But, once you un­der­stand the se­quence of events, the process is far less in­tim­i­dat­ing and easy to man­age. Use this sec­tion as your map through the wind­ing road that is cus­tom log home con­struc­tion.


Plan­ning to build a log home can take any­where from sev­eral months to a few years. Find­ing the per­fect lo­ca­tion, choos­ing a log home provider and a floor plan, es­ti­mat­ing costs, ar­rang­ing for con­trac­tors and subs and se­cur­ing fi­nanc­ing are all grouped into what pro­fes­sional builders call “pre­con­struc­tion ac­tiv­i­ties.” Al­though thor­ough prepa­ra­tion dur­ing the pre- con­struc­tion phase greatly boosts the ease and ef­fi­ciency of build­ing, the real ex­cite­ment be­gins the day ma­te­ri­als and work­ers first ar­rive on your land to start turn­ing your log home dream into a re­al­ity.

Site Prepa­ra­tion. Al­though log homes can be built al­most any­where, most log home en­thu­si­asts fa­vor the pri­vacy of large, ru­ral lo­ca­tions. So, con­struc­tion of­ten be­gins with ba­sic site prep, in­clud­ing clear­ing the land, con­struct­ing an en­trance road and in­stalling well and sep­tic sys­tems.

Well. De­pend­ing on depth and ground con­di­tions, drilling a well can take any­where from a few hours to sev­eral days. The ac­tual wa­ter line con­nect­ing the well to the house will be in­stalled af­ter the foun­da­tion is in.

Sep­tic Sys­tem. Just as many log homes rely on wells for wa­ter, they also need sep­tic sys­tems to dis­pose of waste. Sep­tic sys­tems gen­er­ally con­sist of a tank and tiles or per­fo­rated pipe to carry wastew­a­ter from the tank into a sep­tic field con­sist­ing of a se­ries of trenches or pits. There, the wa­ter seeps back into the ground to be fil­tered by soil par­ti­cles and pu­ri­fied by micro­organ­isms. Be­cause ge­ol­ogy and soil con­di­tions are im­por­tant to the ef­fi­ciency of a sep­tic sys­tem and the pu­rity of wa­ter re­turn­ing to the soil, they are of­ten closely mon­i­tored by lo­cal health de­part­ments. In most ar­eas, health reg­u­la­tions re­quire that li­censed sub­con­trac­tors in­stall the sep­tic sys­tems.

Though a sep­tic sys­tem, it­self, may not be

in­stalled un­til later in the process, the lo­ca­tion of the tank and field should be marked be­fore con­struc­tion be­gins.

Util­i­ties. It’s al­ways a good idea to have elec­tri­cal ser­vice avail­able once con­struc­tion starts. Forc­ing your builder to use a gen­er­a­tor for power slows con­struc­tion and is usu­ally more costly. In many ar­eas, the util­ity com­pany runs phone lines along with elec­tric lines, mak­ing this an op­por­tu­nity to ar­range for phone ser­vice. The elec­tri­cal subs can pro­vide a tem­po­rary ser­vice head with a cir­cuit breaker box and phone jack. Once the house is dried in, the ser­vice panel will be moved to its fi­nal lo­ca­tion.

It’s also time to bring in a por­ta­ble toi­let for the crew and pre­pare tem­po­rary stor­age for con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als and tools.


Ex­ca­va­tion. Once the build­ing site is pre­pared, the builder lays out the foun­da­tion and ex­ca­va­tion area us­ing stakes or bat­ter boards. These mark­ers guide the ex­ca­va­tor, who scoops out a rough pit that will hold the foun­da­tion. If the house will rest on a con­crete slab or crawl space, ex­ca­va­tion may be noth­ing more than a trench dug with a back­hoe to hold the foot­ings.

Foot­ings. Foot­ings are a solid base of con­crete or stone that support the foun­da­tion and ul­ti­mately the whole house. Reg­u­la­tions (and good sense) re­quire that the foot­ings rest on undis­turbed solid soil. The base of the foot­ing must be be­low the frost line, which varies with re­gion. Lo­cal build­ing codes spec­ify this depth, en­sur­ing that the foot­ings will not be in­flu­enced by the ex­pan­sion and con­trac­tion that re­sults from soil freez­ing and thaw­ing.


Log home foun­da­tions vary as much as the homes them­selves. The most pop­u­lar foun- da­tions are poured con­crete and ma­sonry block, al­though some home builders use wood foun­da­tions, pre-cast con­crete pan­els and in­su­lated con­crete forms (ICFs). Con­trary to com­mon be­lief, few log homes re­quire a “heavy-duty” or spe­cial foun­da­tion to support their load.

Walls. To in­stall a poured-wall foun­da­tion, the con­trac­tor erects forms into which con­crete is poured. When the con­crete is dry, the forms are stripped away. The en­tire process typ­i­cally takes three to five days. Block walls re­quire the ser­vices of a ma­sonry con­trac­tor, who lays up sev­eral cour­ses of block over a pe­riod of days, al­low­ing the mor­tar to dry.

Drainage and Water­proof­ing. Good drainage is the key to a dry base­ment. Most build­ing codes call for drainage tile or per­fo­rated pipe to be laid around the foot­ings or base of the foun­da­tion wall. If the to­pog­ra­phy of the build­ing site doesn’t al­low this

pipe to drain at the sur­face away from the house, the pipe is di­rected into a sump crock in the base­ment floor where an au­to­matic sump pump car­ries wa­ter out and away from the house. Foun­da­tion walls are pro­tected with a wa­ter­proof coat­ing and some­times with a layer of rigid in­su­la­tion.

Plumb­ing Ground­work. Un­less the plumb­ing for the house will exit above the foun­da­tion, the plum­ber usu­ally makes his first ap­pear­ance dur­ing foun­da­tion con­struc­tion. Be­fore foot­ings are poured, the plum­ber may place a piece of pipe, or “sleeve,” in the foot­ing trench where pipes for wa­ter and sep­tic will cross. This pre­vents hav­ing to tun­nel un­der foot­ings or break through walls later. Af­ter the foun­da­tion walls are poured but be­fore the slab, the plum­ber in­stalls drain­pipes or wa­ter lines that will lie be­neath it.

Fire­places and Chim­neys. If plans call for a stone or ma­sonry fire­place, the foun­da­tion con­trac­tor usu­ally digs and pours a foot­ing and sup­port­ing walls for the chim­ney as part of foun­da­tion con­struc­tion. Ma­sons will build the fire­place and chim­ney as the log shell is be­ing com­pleted. If the home in­cludes a “zero- clear­ance” fire­place — a metal unit set into a framed chim­ney — no foot­ings or support walls are re­quired (al­though car­pen­ters may add ex­tra joists to the sub­floor un­der the fire­place area).

Back­fill. Once the foun­da­tion is com­pleted and drainage and water­proof­ing mea­sures are in­stalled, the ex­ca­va­tor re­turns to back­fill and rough grade, pil­ing soil around the out­side of the foun­da­tion to a level slightly higher than the fi­nal sur­face (to al­low for set­tling) and grad­ing the sur­face so wa­ter drains away from the foun­da­tion. Builders of­ten add ad­di­tional brac­ing to foun­da­tion walls or wait to back­fill un­til af­ter the sub­floor is com­plete.


The sub­floor of a log home is usu­ally no dif­fer­ent from that in a con­ven­tional home. Floor joists are laid over a sys­tem of girder beams and support posts. Deck­ing of ply­wood or ori­ented strand board (OSB) is se­cured on top of the joists. Floor trusses pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive to joists and al­low greater spans re­duc­ing the num­ber of support posts needed.


De­liv­ery. De­liv­ery day marks a high point for most new log home own­ers. As the 18-wheel­ers bear­ing logs, beams and as­sorted other ma­te­ri­als snake up the en­trance road, it means that some­one’s dream is fi­nally com­ing true.

Care­ful plan­ning for de­liv­ery day can en­sure that the mood isn’t spoiled. Good builders con­firm, in ad­vance, that the de­liv­ery trucks can nav­i­gate the en­trance road. Steep slopes are less of a prob­lem than sharp

turns. In­abil­ity to turn an 80-foot-long rig around at the build­ing site may mean last­minute changes to your off-load­ing plans. The fewer such sur­prises oc­cur on de­liv­ery day, the bet­ter.

It’s wise to have an idea where ma­te­ri­als will go when removed from the trucks. Gen­er­ally, logs and ma­te­ri­als used ear­lier in con­struc­tion should be placed closer to the foun­da­tion, prefer­ably on the high side of slop­ing sites. Lug­ging logs and lum­ber up­hill not only ag­gra­vates work­ers, but also takes valu­able time away from con­struc­tion. Hav­ing the con­struc­tion crew or car­pen­ters un­load the trucks can help en­sure that ma­te­ri­als are stored ef­fi­ciently and work­ers get a head start on know­ing where to find things.

Log Walls. Log work be­gins by lay­ing out the first course of logs on the sub­floor. Builders of­ten take this op­por­tu­nity to mark the lo­ca­tion of elec­tri­cal out­lets, switches, win­dows, doors and par­ti­tion walls. This is the be­gin­ning of turn­ing pa­per plans into re­al­ity, and some­times things need ad­just­ing, such as win­dow, door or elec­tri­cal-out­let lo­ca­tions.

Ac­tual log work varies with the type of sys­tem be­ing used. Milled, pre-cut logs are usu­ally stacked and se­cured in seg­ments, mov­ing around the house so that wall heights re­main fairly even as walls go up. It’s es­pe­cially im­por­tant to make sure log walls stay plumb (ver­ti­cal) and cor­ners re­main square. Good builders check plumb fre­quently us­ing a level or plumb bob. Com­par­ing dis­tances be­tween di­ag­o­nally op­po­site cor­ners quickly re­veals when cor­ners are slip­ping out of square.

Log homes built with large logs, such as hand­crafted homes, of­ten re­quire the use of a crane, trans­fer­ring the heavy lift­ing from peo­ple to ma­chine. If much of the log prepa­ra­tion has al­ready taken place at the man­u­fac­turer’s plant or the hand­crafter’s yard, then large, pre-fit, full-length log wall sys­tems can be erected quickly, some­times in only a few days.

Whether the home is man­u­fac­tured or hand­crafted, many sys­tems re­quire con­struc­tion meth­ods that al­low for the set­tle­ment that oc­curs as a re­sult of log shrink­age. Space left at the top of win­dow and door open­ings al­lows units to op­er­ate freely as log walls set­tle. Posts placed on ad­justable jacks that can be low­ered to match any change in log wall height may support sec­ond-floor and roof sys­tems. In­te­rior par­ti­tions may be framed to in­clude a space that will al­low for log set­tling, too.

While the thought of chang­ing wall height causes con­cern for some peo­ple, set­tle­ment is a nor­mal part of a hor­i­zon­tal log sys­tem and presents no prob­lems as long as proper con­struc­tion meth­ods are used. To re­duce set­tle­ment po­ten­tial, some log home com­pa­nies kiln-dry their logs, re­mov­ing mois­ture in the logs be­fore con­struc­tion.

In­su­lated Log Sys­tems. Not all log walls are made from solid logs. Some log home com­pa­nies of­fer an in­su­lated-log al­ter­na­tive. These log homes use half-logs ap­plied over con­ven­tional fram­ing. While they look like a solid log home from ei­ther in­side or out (un­less the home­owner chooses to use an­other type of wall cov­er­ing in some ar­eas), the core of the wall is sim­i­lar to a con­ven­tion­ally framed house. In in­su­lated-log homes, builders may wait to ap­ply the half logs un­til the roof is on.

Sec­ond-Floor Sys­tems. Af­ter the log walls are erected, the crew moves to ei­ther the roof (on one-story houses) or to the sec­ond-

De­liv­ery day marks a high point for most new log home own­ers. Care­ful plan­ning for de­liv­ery day can en­sure that the mood isn’t spoiled.

floor sys­tem. The sec­ond floor may be framed con­ven­tion­ally us­ing di­men­sional-lum­ber joists and ply­wood deck­ing, or it may con­sist of ex­posed square or round beams cov­ered with 2-inch-thick deck­ing. Af­ter set­ting the ex­posed beams, car­pen­ters of­ten use the roof sheath­ing as a tem­po­rary sec­ond floor while they frame the roof, pass­ing the sheath­ing up to the roof when fram­ing is com­plete. Then they can in­stall the sec­ond-floor deck­ing un­der cover of the roof.

Roof Sys­tems. Log homes use a va­ri­ety of roof sys­tems. The sim­plest are con­ven­tion­ally framed roofs, just as in other types of home.

Fram­ing a con­ven­tional roof be­gins with set­ting the ridge beam and rafters. Car­pen­ters cover the rafters with ply­wood or OSB sheath­ing and tarpa­per. Roofers then ap­ply the fi­nal roof cov­er­ing — shin­gles, metal, wood shakes or tile. Later, in­su­la­tion will fill the spa­ces be­tween rafters. In cathe­dral-ceil­ing ar­eas, cov­er­ings are se­cured to the rafter bot­toms. For flat-ceil­ing ar­eas, ceil­ing joists are added. In­su­la­tion may be added above ceil­ing joists af­ter the ceil­ing cov­er­ings are in­stalled.

Many log home buy­ers choose the dis­tinc­tive look of ex­posed-beam ceil­ings, which requires dif­fer­ent con­struc­tion meth­ods.

A log or heavy-tim­ber roof sys­tem be­gins with place­ment of the log rafters or purlins. (Rafters run from the top of the log wall to the ridge while purlins run par­al­lel to the log wall.) Wooden deck­ing is se­cured over the large tim­bers and a va­por bar­rier se­cured to the deck­ing. Rigid in­su­la­tion placed on top of the va­por bar­rier is cov­ered with sheath­ing fol­lowed by tarpa­per and a fi­nal roof cov­er­ing.

In­te­rior Fram­ing. In­te­rior par­ti­tion fram­ing in a log home is sim­i­lar to any other type of home. Some builders at­tach par­ti­tion fram­ing to logs us­ing “slip” con­nec­tions — nails or screws driven into the logs through slots in the fram­ing. The slots pre­vent fas­ten­ers from in­ter­fer­ing with log set­tle­ment.

In some sys­tems, in­te­rior par­ti­tions are framed to in­clude a space be­low the ceil-

ing. This, too, will pre­vent fram­ing from in­ter­fer­ing with set­tle­ment ad­just­ments. The set­tling space will be con­cealed be­hind trim af­ter in­te­rior wall cov­er­ings are added.

Be­cause tub and shower en­clo­sures won’t pass through open­ings in the fram­ing, the builder or plum­ber makes sure these units are on hand as fram­ing starts. Car­pen­ters se­cure them in their fi­nal po­si­tion as they com­plete the fram­ing.

Seal­ing the Ex­te­rior. To pre­vent weath­er­ing and even­tual de­te­ri­o­ra­tion, ex­posed wood in logs and trim should be pro­tected with a wood preser­va­tive. Preser­va­tives spe­cially for­mu­lated for log homes are read­ily avail­able and of­fer long-last­ing pro­tec­tion. To get max­i­mum pro­tec­tion, the preser­va­tive should con­tain a pig­ment that blocks ul­tra­vi­o­let rays from the sun. Clear preser­va­tives of­fer no UV pro­tec­tion, which can lead to pre­ma­ture weath­er­ing of the wood.

Preser­va­tive ap­pli­ca­tion is eas­i­est be­fore win­dow and doors are in­stalled. Open­ings can be cov­ered with plas­tic to pre­vent chem­i­cals from blow­ing in­side and stain­ing walls. If the sys­tem needs caulk­ing, this may be ap­plied be­fore the preser­va­tive to en­sure a good bond with the wood. Chink­ing is of­ten ap­plied af­ter the preser­va­tive to main­tain the pu­rity of its con­trast­ing white color.

Doors and Win­dows. Once the roof is cov­ered to pro­tect the in­te­rior and the ex­te­rior is sealed, car­pen­ters in­stall doors and win­dows to pro­vide a com­plete weath­er­tight shell. Of­ten homeowners save time and money by pre-fin­ish­ing door and win­dow units while the shell of their home is be­ing built.


To­gether, plumb­ing, heat­ing and cool­ing are re­ferred to as the me­chan­i­cal sys­tems, or “me­chan­i­cals.” Sub­con­trac­tors, who may be in­di­vid­u­ally li­censed for their par­tic­u­lar trade, usu­ally in­stall these. Me­chan­i­cal work is di­vided into two parts: “rough-in,” which takes place be­fore wall fram­ing is con­cealed

be­hind cov­er­ings, and “fin­ish,” which takes place near the end of con­struc­tion.

Plumb­ing. The plum­ber usu­ally ar­rives first be­cause the lo­ca­tion of pipes is the most restricted. The plum­ber in­stalls all pipes that will be con­cealed within walls and hooks up the tubs and show­ers that were placed dur­ing fram­ing. He may also con­nect the well and sep­tic to the house at this point and place the reser­voir tank. Af­ter all the pipe runs are com­plete, the plum­ber pres­sur­izes the pipes with air to test for leaks. Fi­nally, he calls for a rough-in in­spec­tion of the work.

Heat­ing, Ven­ti­lat­ing and Air Con­di­tion­ing (HVAC). To re­duce pos­si­ble con­flicts be­tween pipe and duct place­ment, good builders usu­ally make sure the HVAC con­trac­tor and plum­ber know each other’s needs be­fore rough-in be­gins. While the plum­ber is busy, the HVAC sub­con­trac­tor may be mea­sur­ing for ducts. Duct­work is of­ten fab­ri­cated at the sub­con­trac­tor’s work­shop and then car­ried to the job site for in­stal­la­tion as soon as the plum­ber fin­ishes rough­ing in pipe work. Some­times the the heat­ing and cool­ing units are in­stalled now.

Elec­tri­cal. The elec­tri­cian is usu­ally last on the scene. It’s eas­ier to snake wires around pipes and ducts than the re­verse. The elec­tri­cian places out­let and switch boxes and strings wire back to the power source, usu­ally in the base­ment, garage or util­ity closet. He may also trans­fer the tem­po­rary elec­tric ser­vice, lo­cated out­side, to its fi­nal lo­ca­tion. As with the plum­ber, the elec­tri­cian fin­ishes by call­ing for an elec­tri­cal in­spec­tion.

Rough- In In­spec­tion (Close- In). Fol­low­ing com­ple­tion of all me­chan­i­cal rough-ins, the builder calls for a fram­ing in­spec­tion. The build­ing in­spec­tor first makes sure all nec­es­sary me­chan­i­cal in­spec­tions have been passed. Then he ex­am­ines fram­ing to be sure that proper con­struc­tion meth­ods were fol­lowed and that me­chan­i­cal sub­con­trac­tors didn’t in­ad­ver­tently af­fect the struc­tural sta­bil­ity of the frame­work in in­stalling their pipes, ducts and wiring.

In­te­rior Wall Fin­ish. An ap­proved fram­ing in­spec­tion lets the builder start “closin­gin” fram­ing with the fi­nal wall cov­er­ings. On log homes, these are usu­ally dry­wall or tongue-and-groove pine or cedar boards.

Dry­wall. Dry­wall is the least ex­pen­sive and most pop­u­lar wall cov­er­ing. In­stal­la­tion con­sists of two steps: hang­ing and fin­ish­ing. Dry­wall hang­ers quickly cover large ar­eas of wall and ceil­ing, se­cur­ing the dry­wall sheets with nails or screws. Fin­ish­ers fol­low, tap­ing and con­ceal­ing joints with dry­wall com­pound. Af­ter joints are sanded, the walls are ready for the pain­ter.


Pain­ters usu­ally fol­low wall-cov­er­ing subs. Ar­riv­ing be­fore the trim car­pen­ters lets them move faster, cov­er­ing large ar­eas quickly with spray guns or rollers. Walls get a prime coat, fol­lowed by one or two top­coats. Wood tongue-and-groove gets var­nish or oil. The builder may also have pain­ters ap­ply fin­ish to trim be­fore it is in­stalled to al­low seal­ing the backs of trim pieces and speed­ing in­stal­la­tion.


While the pain­ters are busy in­side, car­pen­ters fin­ish out­side porches and decks. Once all out­side work has been fin­ished, the ex­ca­va­tor re­turns one last time for fi­nal grad­ing, spread­ing top­soil and pre­par­ing the site for land­scap­ing. In­stall­ers add gut­ters and down­spouts to catch and carry away rain­wa­ter.


Floor Cov­er­ings. As soon as pain­ters fin­ish kitchen and bath ar­eas, they are turned over to floor­ing sub­con­trac­tors, who in­stall tile, slate, vinyl or wood floor cov­er­ings. Be­cause a lot of con­struc­tion ac­tiv­ity re­mains, car­pet in­stall­ers won’t ap­pear un­til the fi­nal stages of con­struc­tion.

Cab­i­netry. As soon as kitchen and bath wall cov­er­ings have been fin­ished and floor cov­er­ings in­stalled, cabi­net in­stall­ers set to work in kitchen and baths. Cabi­net in­stal­la­tion in a log home is no dif­fer­ent from a con­ven­tional home — un­less plans call for cabi­nets on set­tling log walls. In such cases, cabi­nets may be se­cured to ver­ti­cal fur­ring strips that won’t set­tle with the logs. In ex­posed ar­eas, fur­ring strips are cov­ered with a tongue-and­groove or tile back­splash. In baths, in­stall­ers set van­i­ties and medicine cabi­nets.


Now me­chan­i­cal sub­con­trac­tors re-ap­pear. The elec­tri­cian in­stalls switches and out­lets into roughed-in boxes and sets light switches and ap­pli­ances. The HVAC sub brings reg­is­ter cov­ers and fin­ishes any re­main­ing con­nec­tions. The plum­ber con­nects the sep­tic line, in­stalls toi­lets and sinks and hooks up the dish­washer.


While me­chan­i­cal sub­con­trac­tors com­plete their work, trim car­pen­ters are ap­ply­ing fin­ish trim to doors and win­dows. If the per­ma­nent stairs haven’t been in­stalled yet, they re­move tem­po­rary stairs and build or set the fi­nal stair­case. They also set door hard­ware, base­boards and any spe­cial mold­ings and trim­work.


Fi­nally, the trim car­pen­ters and me­chan­i­cal subs wrap up, leav­ing the log home fin­ished ex­cept for ar­eas of bare sub­floor. These quickly dis­ap­pear as floor­ing in­stall­ers com­plete the last step, leav­ing a com­pletely fin­ished log home ready for fi­nal in­spec­tion.


The fi­nal build­ing in­spec­tion and “walk­through” with the new own­ers mark the end of con­struc­tion, in­volv­ing 50 or more work­ers from sev­eral dozen con­struc­tion busi­nesses and trades. Months (or years) of plan­ning and dream­ing now stand ready to be seen, ad­mired and en­joyed by the proud new own­ers.

Take the mystery out of build­ing a log home: Fol­low along with our step-bystep con­struc­tion run­down.

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