Log homes are attractive, versatile, and relatively energy, efficient, and they range from summer-cottage-simple to palatial. You can own one for far less than an equivalent "standard" dwelling . . . even if you don't have the time or skills to start with a chain saw and a stand of trees. But to get the best deal, you have to understand the many options available when choosing a log home kit.
With the price of the average new home in America soaring over the $100,000 mark in 1985, more and more people are entering the ranks of owner-builders in their search for affordable housing. Of course, constructing a home from the ground up requires talents and time that most of us simply don't have. A kit log home, on the other hand, allows its owner to participate in the building to whatever extent he or she is able, and to effectively save money with every job tackled.
However, to really get the most from your investment when purchasing a log home kit, it's best to put in some effort before construction begins. By looking into the many types of packages available, and knowing which features will be best fitted to your budget, needs, and skills, you can soon be sleeping in your dream home without suffering the nightmare of an unbearable mortgage.
Log Home Woods and Preservatives
The first choice you'll encounter when "shopping" through the free brochures offered by most log home kit manufacturers is the type of wood that'll make up the walls of your home-to-be. Pine, cedar, cypress, and aspen (among others) are all available . . . and, in the opinion of Ken Myer of American Lincoln Homes (which offers several varieties of wood), cedar is the Cadillac of log home materials. "Cedar is naturally insect-repellent," Ken points out, "and more resistant to internal decay and shrinkage than pine." On the other hand, depending upon the total wall space involved, a cedar home kit can be from $1,000 to $10,000 more expensive than its pine counterpart.
Of course, shrinkage shouldn't threaten the structural integrity of a well-designed log home, but it can necessitate early recaulking. In attempting to eliminate this problem, manufacturers of non-cedar kits turn to careful drying and—in some cases—to modern wood preservatives.
Rocky Mountain Log Homes and Yellowstone Log Homes both tackle the problem by cutting their lodgepole pine from standing deadwood. Such timbers have experienced much of their shrinking and warping before being harvested, and are therefore quite stable. Many kit manufacturers in the eastern states accomplish pretty much the same goal by air- or kiln-drying their logs to a specified moisture content before delivery.
Of course, those well-dried logs can be made even more durable if they're coated with a wood preservative. And many authorities feel that in wetter parts of the country, such as the Pacific Northwest, the use of a preservative is absolutely necessary.
Of the chemicals traditionally used to seal wood, two—pentachlorophenol (penta) and creosote—have recently been proscribed by the Environmental Protection Agency. You're not likely to find these potentially toxic treatments used on log homes made by reputable manufacturers (although it doesn't hurt to check). Instead, the trend today is toward linseed oil and the milder zinc and copper compounds. And many firms use either no treatment or an exceptionally mild one, but recommend that the owner-builder apply a stronger chemical, such as the copper-based Cuprinol, to the exterior of the house after it's built. (The harsher chemicals, if used on the interior walls, could produce health problems . . . especially in sensitive residents.)
Choosing a Log Home Kit
Most log home kit companies will send, at your request, material describing the different kits available, and many of these booklets contain a toll-free number that can be used to ask follow-up questions of a representative of the company. In order to understand the information you'll receive, though, you'll need to know exactly what's provided in the three types of home kits most commonly available.
 Walls only. The most rudimentary—and thus least expensive—log home kits consist of nothing more than the pre-shaped logs required to build the walls. These low-priced packages can look pretty attractive (at the time of this writing, Yellowstone Log Homes has a number of kits for homes of 1,000 square feet or more in the $3,000 range), but be sure to figure in the cost of all the materials you'll have to buy on the side!
 Structural shell. Perhaps the most common log home package, the structural shell typically consists of walls, roof, rafters, and beams. These kits are also reasonably priced (and also require a considerable "over and above" investment before they're turned into livable homes); they're generally sold to contractors and serious owner-builders.
 "Complete" homes. Many log home manufacturers now offer complete kits, which include (usually) all of the materials necessary to erect a weathertight shell. The lists of items supplied do vary from one manufacturer to another, though, so be sure you've done adequate research before you buy. (Complete packages might not include spikes, floors, or the picturesque porches lovingly sketched in the artists' renderings.) It's best to remember that anything not specifically mentioned in the materials list is probably a priced-extra option.
Regardless of which package you decide upon, don't be afraid to bargain. It never hurts, for instance, to let the companies you're negotiating with know what their competitors are offering. Sometimes a firm will drop its price to match a low bid, or work out another incentive (an option thrown in at no cost, for instance) in order to make the sale. In my inquiries, I found only one manufacturer that refused to budge from its printed price.
Log Home Options: Necessary and Unnecessary
When you're considering the options that might be available to the log home kit buyer, it's best to start from the ground up—because bare ground is exactly what most standard kits will leave you with. "Our homes are built on every type of foundation imaginable," says Larry Marquass of Greatwood Log Homes. "Not everybody wants the same thing, so we leave the foundation as an option to give people a choice." If it's listed as an extra, you can also expect to pay an additional $500 to $3,000 for rough subflooring. If the price isn't listed, be sure to ask.
As noted above, porches and decks are usually optional. However, Michaelene Berger of Midwest Log Home Enterprise offers a money-saving tip: You can sometimes order the decorative posts and railings separately, then add your own decking and roofing to produce a beautiful porch at less than the full "option" cost.
In addition to choosing the type of wood used for your wall logs, as discussed in the beginning of this article, you'll also be able to opt for a variety of log shapes: round inside and out, flat inside and out, or flat inside and round outside. The choice is largely an aesthetic one, though flat interior walls are helpful when it comes time to hang cabinets or install window and door molding. None of the kits that I've studied charge extra for an alternative log shape, but do ask unless the point is made clear in the printed information you receive. (Insulated home kits—with half-log exteriors backed by standard 2 by 6 stud walls—are also available at varying prices and can offer wall R-values of up to 31.56.)
Other popular options include traditional cedar shake roofing (expensive and sometimes prohibited—as a fire hazard—by local zoning), cathedral ceilings (also pricey), and interior partitions (Northern Products Log Homes is one of a few firms that offer packages including interior walls). Your budget will probably battle with your heart over a number of these during the shopping process.
Finally, Consider Log Home Service for On-Site Assistance
Service seems to be a believed-in byword among most of the firms I've studied, and—though it might not appear on the price sheet—it certainly should be computed into the value of the package. (Midwest Log Home Enterprise offers free seminars for potential buyers. Having attended one, I can attest to the value of the program.)
Make sure you understand exactly what kind of attention you can expect after you've made your purchase. Several firms allocate a prescribed number of hours of on-site assistance, while others offer unlimited availability or even—usually for a fee—owner-builder schools that provide hands-on education in kit building.
Log Home Kits: You're on Your Own
Buying or building any type of new home is a demanding and sometimes intimidating procedure. However, if you do your homework before you buy, a log home kit can help you own a distinctive, practical dwelling whether you're a committed owner-builder or someone who wants to work with a contractor to build a home just so—for a lot less than today's average $100,000 price!
EDITOR'S NOTE: If you really want to do it yourself, MOTHER N0. 94 featured a manual on building the traditional hewn-log cabin 'from scratch." See page 128 in this issue for information on ordering back issues.
A Directory of Log Home Kit Suppliers
Midwest Log Home Enterprise
MANUFACTURERS AND DEALERS:
Air-Lock Log Co.
Las Vegas, NM
Alaska Log Homes & Lodges
Alta Industries, Ltd.
American Lincoln Homes
American Log Homes, Inc.
D.L. Anderson & Assoc.
Elk River, MN
Appalachian Log Structures
Authentic Homes Corp.
Beaver Log Homes
Cabin Log Co. of America
Cedardale Homes, Inc.
Cee-Der Log Buildings
Calgary, Alta., Canada
Country Log Homes
Ashley Falls, MA
Crockett Log & Timber Homes
Gastineau Log Homes
New Bloomfield, MO
Greatwood Log Homes, Inc.
Elkhart Lake, WI
Green Mountain Log Homes
Hearthstone Builders, Inc.
Heritage Log Homes, Inc.
Homestead Log Co.
New Creston, IA
Jim Barna Log Systems
Justus Log Homes
Lincoln Logs, Ltd.
Lodge Logs by MacGregor
Log Home Corp. of North America
Pueblo West, CO
Lumber Enterprises, Inc.
Model Log Homes
New England Log Homes, Inc.
North American Log Builders Assoc., Ltd
Lake Placid, NY
Northeastern Log Homes, Inc.
Northern Products Log Homes, Inc.
Real Log Homes
R & L Log Buildings, Inc.
Rocky Mountain Log Homes
South Hamilton, MT
Rustic Log Homes, Inc.
Kings Mountain, NC
Rustics of Lindbergh Lake, Inc.
Southland Log Homes
Timber Log Homes
Town & Country Log Homes
South Petoskey, MI
Ward Cabin Co.
Wilderness Log Homes
Yellowstone Log Homes