Here in Eastern Tennessee, we inspect more log homes than conventional built homes due to the strong rental market for log homes. It seems that everyone who comes to Dollywood wants to stay in a log home. Over the last 18 years I have learned that there are a few recurrent themes that a potential log home buyer should watch out for and a few things to look for.
It is way too common to see log homes with sloping floors. This is common because just about all log homes settle as the logs loose moisture content, shrink and settle. The amount of shrinkage and settlement depends on the “greenness” of the logs when incorporated into a structure. Logs can be “air dried”, “kiln dried”, and “dead standing timber”. The driest of these choices, and therefore the one that will shrink the less, is the dead standing timber (typically a product of western US states). Of course these are also likely to be the most expensive logs. But, even if logs are the code minimum 19% moisture content, a properly designed and executed “settlement system” can compensate for the shrinkage factor. This generally is the difference in “package log home” companies and lumber saw mills. The package companies generally have engineered systems to take care of this issue where with a lumber mill, it is up to the builder to allow for shrinkage. Therein lies much of the problem and blame.
Another common problem to look out for is lack of overhangs. Deeper and wider overhangs help protect the log walls from the effects of weather. Generally, three feet (or better) of overhang is considered good. Designing a log home with more porch roofs is generally a good practice. Exposed log walls from small overhangs are going to require more cleaning and staining maintenance. The best quality stains on the market will only last 7-10 years and with exposure to weather and unfavorable sun orientation (southwest sides wear quicker) the best stain is not going to last even that long.
Watch out for logs too close to grade. Logs in close proximity to the ground can rot or have wood boring insect infestations.
Make sure all roof drainage is properly conveyed away from the house foundation. The lack of gutters can cause spillage and “splash-back” on to the logs that can result in rot or wood boring insect infestations.
Look for carpenter bees. Carpenter bees drill small holes in logs and beams, then create cavities for larvae inside the logs or beams. Because the larvae is a favorite food of wood peckers, it is not uncommon to see significant damage to a log home due to wood pecker damage. The best defense for preventing carpenter bees is to either spray insecticide prior to staining, or, add an insecticide to the stain. It really depends on the stain manufacturer’s recommendation.
Look for unprofessional work. In the 1980’s and 1990’s log homes were promoted as a “do-it-yourself” type project. Well I’m here to tell you building a house is not a task for an amateur. House construction is intricate and complex and the “devil is in the details”. I have seen a lot of amateur mistakes that have resulted in latent defects for the seller of houses I have inspected. Many structural in nature, some wiring related, some plumbing, you name it I have seen problems from homeowners trying to live the “pioneer experience”.
On the positive side, log home owners generally love their homes. You can tell they have pride in their home by the way they take care of it. Owning a log home is a labor of love. I know because I live in one I built.