For many years I owned a remodeling business and a wholesale building-products company. Although I made a decent living, I really didn’t enjoy the work. So in 2005, with help from a friend who’d built his own log home, I started a log-home–building company, Mountain Dream Homes. One of the best parts of my new business is the clients: Most have always wanted a log home in the mountains, so they’re easy to work with. That makes building fun again.
But even with all the interesting projects and good clients, log building presents certain unique difficulties. For instance, the logs arrive at the site precut, so the foundation must be perfectly sized and square within 1/8 inch.
Also, we have to educate clients about the various differences between conventional and log homes and between kiln-dried and green logs. Kiln-dried logs cost more, of course, but they also minimize a home’s maintenance needs and maximize its livability. Green logs, on the other hand, shrink quite a bit as they dry, causing cracks and checks in the wood and openings between logs that have to be sealed regularly. For the first year or two after the house is built, springs and screw jacks need to be adjusted every couple of months by either the builder or the homeowner as the logs shrink. During the building process, we have to allow for the shrinkage by leaving a 3-inch gap above all doors and windows, so the house can settle without damaging them. This can make installing trim and air-sealing more difficult. And plumbing and hvac systems require special slip joints and careful planning.
With kiln-dried logs, none of these steps are necessary. Our supplier guarantees no more than 3/8 inch of movement throughout the life of the home. The Logs The eastern white pine logs we use come from the northern Pennsylvania and western New York area. Our favorite supplier is Kuhns Bros. (800/326-9614, kuhnsbros.com), a company that uses a unique kiln-drying process that heats the logs to 170°F for four to seven weeks. Besides drying the logs to a uniform 19 percent moisture content, this step sanitizes them and kills any insects living inside. (The only other insect control needed is a termite ground treatment, which is standard procedure in our area anyway.)
The logs are debarked and machined to uniform size in one of 15 profiles. Some profiles have rounded sides, like the Swedish cope profile on the home pictured here. Others have flat sides with or without a decorative notch or V-groove.
Once we place an order, delivery of a log-home package typically takes three to four weeks. We can arrange for it to arrive in as many as five different deliveries. If, for example, there’s not enough room at the site to stack all the logs and material, we’ll store it at our local lumberyard and get the material delivered in smaller quantities. The local yard charges a small storage and delivery fee for this service.
The logs arrive on pallets, wrapped in plastic for weather protection, and we cover them with tarps as added insurance. The pallets are arranged so the logs we need first are at the top of the stack. On delivery days, we rent an all-terrain forklift to get the logs from the trailer to the building site. We make every effort to stage the deliveries so we receive only the material we need at that particular time.
The author rents an all-terrain forklift on delivery days. The pallets are covered with plastic and arranged so the lower log courses are on top of the stack.
Most of the homes we build are custom, but Kuhns Bros. has a catalog of standard designs that can be modified to the homeowner’s individual specification. For custom homes, we work with a designer who specializes in log construction. Some homeowners bring us their own plans. Either way, Kuhns Bros. uses the provided drawings to engineer the home and precut the logs. With our supplier’s help, we can build almost any log structure, regardless of size and complexity.
Besides standard carpentry tools, we have two specialty power tools we use regularly: a 16-inch Makita beam saw, which we call “Big John,” and an electric impact wrench to drive the 3/8-inch lag screws that connect the log courses. We also have a 16-inch Husqvarna chain saw that we use on occasion. We rent telehandlers and cranes for setting ridge beams and other heavy work.
A 1/2-inch electric impact wrench drives the lag screws that connect the log courses.
In addition to standard carpentry tools, building with logs requires a large circular saw for trimming ends and adding or expanding window and door openings.
Our log homes start with a pretty conventional foundation and floor system — except that the band joist is 4x10 hemlock instead of 2x10s or engineered rim board. We attach it to the 2x10 floor joists with metal banding. Next we install a layer of 3/4-inch AdvanTech, then two beads of Sikaflex polyurethane caulk to seal the joint between the first log course and the subfloor.
Set into urethane sealant, the first log course is carefully aligned to the layout lines with a framing or layout square. The ends of logs have dadoes that receive plywood splines for structural reinforcement and weatherproofing. While this wall starts with a full log, adjoining walls start with a half log so they can overlap at corners.
The first course is lagged into the band joist with 3/8-by-12-inch galvanized lag screws every 30 inches. We place a self-adhesive gasket on top to seal the gaps between logs. Following courses are screwed together using the same fastening schedule. The logs come from the factory predrilled, but sometimes we need additional holes, in which case we use a 3/8-inch drill bit with a counterbore at the top. Where logs are butted end to end, a 1/2-inch plywood spline strengthens and weatherproofs the joint.