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Maintenance to Do Now to Save You Time Down the Road

When it comes to maintaining your log home’s walls, doing it right the first time means that you won’t find yourself doing it all the time. A seasoned log home pro shares the lessons he’s learned about caring for wood.

Written by Michael Grant
Photo: James Ray Spahn
 
With the pace of life these days, I suspect that with the little bit of leisure time you have, the last thing you want to do is spend most of it maintaining your home. And in all honesty, many people who would love to own a log home are hesitant to take the plunge because they’ve heard log homes have a reputation for needing a lot of attention. The truth is that every type of home must be maintained. For a log home, the key to minimizing that maintenance time is understanding not only what you should do, but what you shouldn’t do.
 
Over the past 23 years, I have worked with more than 300 homeowners in my design/build business. I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to caring for log homes, and I’ve learned a thing or two that will take the mystery — even fear — out of log home upkeep.
 
Most people ask to hear the “bad news” first, but let’s start by talking about the good.  Modern chemistry has given us many high-quality wood finishes that, when applied correctly, will provide you with a protective finish that will last. And I speak from personal experience. I used Sikkens’ Cetol product on my cabin when I built it in 1998. Over the past two decades, I have re-stained my home twice — once simply to change the color. 
 
To achieve this kind of longevity, I made sure the log walls were absolutely squeaky clean before any finish was applied. My crew applied a 50/50 blend of household bleach and water to thoroughly soak the log walls, killing any mold or mildew that may have accumulated on the wood. We then used TSP (trisodium phosphate) to clean the logs — and I do mean clean. A considerable amount of effort went into scrubbing and rinsing the wood to be sure it was done thoroughly. Once clean, we let the wood dry for three days. Dry wood is essential to proper stain application.
 
The Sikkens Cetol wood finish is a three-coat process. My crew first used a sprayer to deliver the material then hand-brushed the stain to ensure an even coat of product over the logs. While I chose Sikkens for my home, when I work with my clients, I also specify Perma-Chink, Structures by Sherwin Williams and Weatherall wood finish products with equal success. The choice is often aesthetic, based on desired color or sheen level. You may also want to consider a brand recommended by your specific log home producer.
 
Now for the bad news. In an attempt to save time, effort or money, too many homeowners take shortcuts, select a product that’s not designed for log walls (like a deck sealant bought at a home improvement store) or skimp on the steps required for optimal performance. The outcome can range from dissatisfaction with the way the home looks to log rot.
 

Photo: Perma-Chink Systems

Here are some of the most common mistakes I see people make:

 

1. Ignoring the Obvious

 
You need to remember the two elements from which you must protect your logs are sun and water. If wood is unprotected from the sun, you can have dry rot. With water, you are subject to wet rot.
 
 An annual inspection of your log home’s exterior will tell you if your stain and/or sealant is holding up or if it’s time to reapply, but all too often, homeowners fail to conduct this simple step. If you find you do need to touch up your stain, be sure to use the exact same product or a compatible one. Certain formulas/types of products won’t work together. And whatever wood finish you use, pay attention to the manufacturer’s specifications to be sure they will perform.
 

2.Only Addressing the Logs

 
Today’s homeowners like a little variety when it comes to the materials that comprise their houses, so modern log homes are not necessarily 100 percent wood. Some surfaces, particularly around gables and dormers, could be a synthetic product, like Hardie Board, which is cement based. If you plan to mix materials in this way and you intend to use paint to add color to your trim around windows, doors, fascia boards or other siding materials, be sure to use a long-lasting exterior product that will hold up against the elements. Otherwise, the time you’ve saved ensuring your log walls are low maintenance will be sucked up by having to address peeling or fading paint on other areas of the home.
 

3. Improper Caulk

 
Enclosing your home tightly is key not only to saving money on energy costs but also ensuring your comfort. Caulking done right will seal any openings to air infiltration, preventing water from standing on the wood, which eventually will result in rot. If done incorrectly, water may begin to seep into the wood fibers and/or your house. Use a quality caulk, ideally designed for log homes, that has good adhesion and can have wood stain or paint applied to it.  And unless you are comfortable with a caulking gun, this is an area where you might be wise to call in a pro.
 
And last … the ugly. Some homeowners or builders either will not take the time to properly clean the logs prior to staining or they choose a poor-quality product, resulting in more frequent stain applications to protect the wood or — worse — a complete breach that compromises the structural integrity of a log home. If the logs are not clean and dry before stain application, mold could grow behind the stain, turning the finish dark. Over the course of time, logs could rot through, requiring extensive stripping, wood repairs or even log replacement — a difficult and potentially costly endeavor. Years of neglect will produce similar results.
 
Fortunately, these unsavory situations are avoidable. To protect my house and keep it looking good, I powerwash the exterior annually after the spring pollen has run its course. This removes the dirt that has accumulated over the past year and restores the logs’ color and sheen. Simple and effective.  In the end, the secret to keeping your home looking and performing its best isn’t really a secret at all. Nor is it hard to do. The key is to establish a regular schedule and stay on top of it. This way, you’ll spend a lot less time maintaining your home and a whole lot more time enjoying it. 
 
 

Photo: Perma-Chink Systems
 

Top Tips to Keep Your Home in Tip-Top Shape

 
Want to make your log home’s maintenance even easier?  Grant recommends a blend of natural log walls on the main level of the house and synthetic materials in the second floor gables and dormers.  “Doing this makes the natural material easier to get to for cleaning. The synthetic materials can then have color applied to give the house more graphic curb appeal,” he says.  And when it comes to shielding your home from excessive exposure to sun and rain in the first place, no design element is as effective or appealing as a deep screened-in or wraparound porch.
 
 
 
Michael Grant is the owner of Modern Rustic Homes in Ellijay, Georgia, a design/build firm specializing in log, timber frame and mountain-modern homes and cabins.