Hindsight is 20/20, they say. Anybody who's ever built a log home can attest to that. There's always something that could have been done differently to make the home a better place to live, no matter how nice it is. Before breaking ground on your own log home project, listen to the advice of experts who've seen homeowners make all kinds of design and construction mistakes while building their dream homes. Heed what they have to say and you just might be happier with your own results.
1. Properly orient your home on your building lot.
You'll enjoy your log home more if it sits perfectly on your property. Consider not only how each room takes in views, but also where the sun hits. "Only after a home is built and a homeowner understands the path of the sun, wind and the views do they wish they oriented their home differently," says Gary Jordan, manager of engineering, design and technical services for Northeastern Log Homes. "A common thing I hear is, 'I wish we had placed the living room on that side of the home, or reversed the direction so our driveway could have come over here.'" Make sure the location of your well and septic system doesn't prevent you from making home improvements. "If you wish later on to put an addition onto the building, you may not be able to because the well and septic locations are in the way," Jordan says.
2. Keep all the trees you can.
Trees can provide your home shade and a whole lot more. "Deciduous trees to the south will shield your home in the summer and once they lose their leaves, they expose more sun during those short days of winter," says Robbin Obomsawin, construction manager and general contractor for Beaver Creek Log Homes. "A south exposure can be wonderful in the north country where homes can use a little extra sunlight during cold winters." A windbreak of pine trees is good for shielding a home from driving winds, which is especially important if your home sits on a mountaintop or ridge.
3. Give careful consideration to window placement.
Though windows let in light and provide incredible views of your property, they can also rob your home of energy. "Remember the log wall has excellent insulative properties. The problem is that we took part of it out and replaced it with a window that has much less insulation," says Rob Clutter, formerly of Honest Abe Log Homes. On the other hand, a wall of windows that constantly faces the sun can bring in too much heat. "I had a customer once who faced his lake house due west with a wall of windows, against my warnings, and now has a terrible time keeping his house cool in the summer," Clutter says. "Be sure you are building a home, not a greenhouse."
4. Create spaces that serve more than one purpose.
Adding square footage won't necessarily make a log home feel larger. Making efficient use of the space you have is the best way to give your home a spacious atmosphere while keeping it comfortable and inviting. "When the usefulness and purpose of each space is planned and considered, then a home's design becomes more fluid," Obomsawin says. "We often build homes with rooms for one lonely purpose, which expands the overall size of the home. A multi-purpose floor plan with design flexibility cuts down on the number of rooms needed." Many log home owners are combining the kitchen, living room and dining room to save space. But there are more ways to consolidate spaces. "A sunroom can double as a bedroom, dining room or office area," Obomsawin says. "The office can be used as a guest room. The bathroom or kitchen closet can house the laundry facilities and bunkrooms can be designed into a plan, with one room for the girls and one for boys." Log homes are tailor-made for open floor plans. "One thing that most log homes share in common is large open spaces," Clutter says. "Most log homes are constructed in such a way that the large beams or log posts bear loads that framed walls do in conventional construction, so there is a greater opportunity for the homeowner to have that open great room they have always wanted."
5. Incorporate dormers into your home design.
Adding dormers can increase space in upstairs rooms. "When it comes to upstairs space in a home, you need to understand that shallow roof pitches will affect usable space. So ask for a cross-section of the building," Jordan says. "Many people wish they had placed that dormer on the rear of the home to gain a true two-story condition on the back of their home." But make sure you weatherproof your dormers with adequate flashing and design them so water is diverted away from the structure. "Log dormers are very difficult to maintain," Obomsawin says. "The log corners can easily trap and retain water and snow against the log work, keeping it constantly saturated. Using a framed dormer with siding is a safer material for dormers than whole-log construction. There are many great dormer looks accomplished with shingles, board & batten and clap board that can actually add more interest and added texture to the home's character." Obomsawin cautions that homes with many corners and roof angles increase energy demands and create "more possibilities of ice damming or roof leaks than do roof systems with more straight lines."
6. Take your time.
The design phase of your log-home project is something you don't want to zip through. Making sure you get it right is the most important consideration. "A good design evolves over time," Obomsawin says. "Every square inch should be evaluated many times over for efficiency, design, flow, and log content and placement. In planning, the challenge is to find each room's personality, giving attention to not only the design but also to its detailed construction. Every room should be planned so that the family has a reason to use it. The end result is a log cabin that no one can enter without being inspired."