Packaged to Perfection
Here’s how to compare log packages to get the most accurate quote for your log home.
Log “packages,” (sometimes referred to as “kits”) are the starting point of log homes. Logs constitute the bulk of the building materials needed, rivaled only by stone and, in some cases, glass. So when you’re selecting a package from a log home producer, you’re buying the majority of the structural components that will comprise your log home.
The two most important things to remember about the package are what it contains and what it doesn’t.
The distinction is important because all log packages are not the same. This fact is perhaps the most perplexing aspect of buying a log home. Some packages only contain the logs themselves; other manufacturers include much more than merely the wood. Packages vary because customers’ needs, preferences, budgets and time frames vary and because log home producers have different philosophies about how to best serve their customers. Your circumstances will guide you toward choosing the right package and producer for you.
WHAT IN THE PACKAGE?
There are three primary types of log home packages: walls only, structural shell and complete. Here’s what they contain:
Walls Only. This basic package contains logs for the exterior walls, as well as the fastening and sealing materials needed to erect them. It does not contain a roof system. Since this isn’t a complete structure, the producer is required to make very few engineering or design calculations. The package may or may not contain windows and doors, and the
logs may or may not be pre-cut. This type of package has the lowest initial cost, but when the roof structure and other components are added, the home’s final cost may not be the lowest.
Structural Shell. This package should contain everything found in the wallsonly package, plus materials for a complete roof system, the exterior doors and windows, including hardware and anything else required to build a weather-tight shell. Since this kit constitutes a complete structure, the producer should design it to comply with your site’s local building codes. Documentation for this engineering and design work should be available to you so you can obtain a building permit.
Complete. This third type of package should contain everything found in a structural-shell package, plus most of the other building materials for a complete floor system, interior stud partitions, stairs, doors, hardware and interior wall paneling. The logs may or may not be pre-cut.
WHAT ABOUT WINDOWS AND DOORS?
Windows and doors are two potentially high-cost items, and log home manufacturers fall into two camps regarding whether to include these components in their packages. Some don’t supply either. They feel that most of their customers can buy windows and doors cheaper locally, especially by shopping for advertised specials.
Other producers, particularly those that sell complete, pre-cut packages, recommend you purchase the windows and doors from them because they often modify window and door jambs to fit precisely into the pre-cut openings in the log walls. These producers feel this approach provides greater assurance that you’ll have a weather-tight seal around the windows and doors.
A good rule of thumb is to buy windows and doors as part of the package when they are offered, if the producer’s price is comparable to cost of purchasing the same productquality level at a local retailer.
Once you’ve accounted for differences in package contents and log pre-cutting, you can begin to compare costs by looking at each producer’s list of materials. You cannot obtain an accurate cost comparison, however, until you’ve decided the scope of the home you intend to build.
Trying to compare the costs of different sizes and styles of homes produced by different companies that include different materials in their packages is an exercise in futility. And remember: Shopping around a producer’s floor plans to other companies
for bids is illegal (learn more on p. 57).
To fairly compare costs, develop your specifications. Next, ask producers to show you their lists of materials, accounting for every item they include with their packages and associated costs. Then look at these lists side by side to see what they have in common and what some producers include that others do not.
Once you know which materials are not included in each package, you can identify the components you’ll have to buy yourself to complete your home. By adding the cost of locally bought items to the cost of materials supplied, you’re in a position to evaluate costs on an apples-to-apples basis.
If you are planning to erect your own log package or act as your own general contractor, price comparisons can be tricky. First, make sure each quote has a detailed materials list attached. You must know exactly what each company is offering.
Break the material list into sections.
Then set up a chart with sections and individual items in a column and names of the kits you want to compare in a row across the top. Next to each item, note whether it is included in the package. If it isn’t, ask the manufacturer if that item will be necessary or desirable to complete the house. Then call a local supplier to get an estimate. Place that cost figure into your quote. You can omit items beyond the scope of any of the kits (such as plumbing or light fixtures).
You may still have trouble comparing exact materials lists because of differences in various producers’ building systems. For example, one package may contain a prefabricated roof-truss system, while another offers an exposed beam ceiling with ridge beam and log rafters. Both constitute a complete roof system, but the exposed rafter- and-beam roof will cost more to produce.
There is yet another option: turnkey log homes. If your objective is a turnkey house (one that will be completely erected and finished by a professional builder), comparing package options and prices may be less relevant. The bottom-line price of the finished house is what matters to the turnkey buyer. You can figure this by taking the price of the package with blueprints and material lists to the builders you are considering. They will provide a turnkey quote that includes all the work that you specify. All you need do is compare bids.
THE HANDCRAFTED PERSPECTIVE
Although packages are associated with log home manufacturers, in a sense, handcrafters supply packages, too. The nature of their contents and services differ, though. The most noticeable disparity results from the fact that after the logs are cut, handcrafters erect the structures in their yard to ensure the tapered logs fit properly and that the walls are level. (Some manufacturers do this as well, though it’s typically not as vital as it is to handcrafting.)
The logs are then marked for reference, disassembled and shipped to the site. The handcrafter generally stays onsite only until the shell is re-erected. Unlike manufacturers, who can supply nearly all the materials required to finish the structure, handcrafters usually provide only the logs and not windows, doors or any of the dimensional lumber needed for floors or roof systems. You can hire a local builder to do the finishing work, or, if you have the know-how and inclination, you can do it yourself.
As with manufactured material packages, you need to know exactly what the handcrafted package contains. Some handcrafters will serve as general contractors and completely build the home, especially if their yard is near the job site. Others who aren’t equipped to provide construction services may be able to refer you to reputable contractors in your area.