How to compare log home kits to get the most accurate price quote for your log home.
By Jim Cooper
Perhaps the most frustrating challenge facing log-home shoppers is comparing prices quoted by different companies. It seems that no two kits are alike. Each manufacturer has its own idea about what should be included in a log home package. One’s standard item is the second’s option and a third may not carry the item at all.
Complicating the picture is the fact that log home manufacturers do not all use the same building system. What may be necessary to construct one manufacturer’s kit may not be required to complete another’s. Here, then, is a method for beating a path through the thicket of kit comparisons without getting scratched.
Most log home shoppers are not experienced builders, so they often lack the detailed knowledge necessary to evaluate the completeness of a kit. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security by impressive diagrams or materials lists. If you’re not careful, you may overlook the one question necessary to obtain an accurate price comparison: “What will I need that’s not on this list?”
Only by filling in the missing blanks for each kit you are considering can you discover which package offers the best value.
Areas that vary widely among kits: log dimensions (a tall, thin log requires less linear footage to complete a log wall than a shorter, thicker log); log gables (most include solid-log gables only as an option); window and door units (they range from cheap to top quality); subfloor system and dimensional lumber (they may be part of option packages only); exterior and interior door and window trim; interior framing; interior doors; stairs; stair and loft railings; interior partition wall coverings (rarely included in a basic kit price); soffit and fascia; shingles; exterior wood preservative; porch and deck materials (often part of optional packages only).
The secret to a realistic comparison is a systematic approach. First, decide what actually needs comparing. If your objective is a turnkey house (one that will be completely built and finished by a professional builder), comparing kit prices may be largely irrelevant.
What the turnkey shopper needs to compare is the bottom-line finished house price. You can figure this by taking the kit prices with blueprints and material lists to the builders you are considering. They will provide a turnkey quote that includes all the work that you specify. All you need do is compare turnkey bids. If you are planning to erect your own log package or act as your own general contractor, price comparisons are more difficult.
First, make sure each quote has a detailed materials list attached. You must know exactly what you are purchasing. A good book on carpentry (not just log home building) is invaluable because it can illustrate and explain terminology in the lists that may be unfamiliar to you. Break the material list into sections.
Then set up a chart with sections and individual items in a column and names of the kits you want to compare in a row across the top. Next to each item, note whether it is included in the kit. If it isn’t, ask the kit manufacturer if that item will be necessary or desirable to complete the house.
Then call a local supplier to get an estimate on it. Place that cost figure into your quote comparison. You can omit items beyond the scope of any of the kits (plumbing or light fixtures, for example).
Because manufacturers do not organize their materials the same way, it may be easier to establish your own section headings, such as First-Floor System, Wall System, Second-Floor System, Roof System, Interior Framing System, Dormers, Porches and Breezeways, Decks, Garages. Beneath each section, list the items necessary to complete that system.
Under First-Floor System, for instance, list support posts, girder beam, sill sealer insulation, treated sill lumber, band lumber (to surround the subfloor), floor joists or beams, joist hangers (necessary in certain situations), subflooring and finished floor covering (wood, carpet, vinyl, etc.). Don’t forget to list glue, caulk, nails, screws and other fasteners; all are necessary parts of the building system, too.
Try to deal only in hard numbers. When you have to make an assumption about something, write it down and verify it. If you are comparing a kit that includes a subfloor system with one that doesn’t, take your blueprints or a floor plan to your local lumberyard and ask how much a subfloor system costs that meets local building codes. Add this figure to the price of the kit that lacks a subfloor (don’t forget the cost of delivery).
Now you have a better idea of how the two kits compare. Your comparison should include the grade and quality of items that each kit contains. Often a seemingly more expensive kit actually is a better value because it contains a higher grade of certain materials.
One kit may have a top-of-the-line window, for example, while another includes an inexpensive unit. One company may base its quote on an 8-inch-thick log against a competitor’s 6-inch log. Labor costs to erect the package are another area for detailed comparison. If you are having your kit erected, get firm estimates from builders who can do the work.
You may even be able to transfer some of the work of comparing kit materials to the builder. Instruct him as to the degree of completeness that you want. Tell him to include the price of any materials necessary to reach the stage of completion that are not in the kit.
But beware! Should a builder neglect to include something significant (such as a subfloor) in your estimate, don’t expect him to eat that cost, even if it is his error.
The moral is: Have confidence in any builder before you turn over such a task, but be sure to keep a close watch and ask questions.
Don’t assume that dimensional lumber and items such as shingles purchased locally are more economical because of savings in freight costs. Most log packages are shipped by the truckload. It doesn’t cost any more to ship a truck that contains a half-load of logs and a half-load of other building materials than it does to ship that half-load of logs by itself.
Because the buying power of the log company is generally better than an individual’s buying power (log companies often deal directly with manufacturers and sawmills), it may actually be cheaper to purchase even dimensional lumber, such as 2-by-4s, from the log company.
Avoid being wooed by offers of “free freight.” There isn’t a trucking company in the country that will haul a tractor-trailer load of logs free of charge. Log companies offering “free freight” are simply building the freight cost into their kit price. It may work to your advantage, or it may not. If the company offers “free freight up to 700 miles from the plant,” and you live 300 miles from the plant, you may be paying for 400 miles of additional freight.
Keep your eye on the bottom line. A $30,000 package with a $3,000 freight charge means the same to your checkbook as a $33,000 package with free freight. Another factor to weigh in any kit comparison is the log-home manufacturer and its sales representative. One company’s package may be slightly more expensive than another’s, but you feel more comfortable dealing with that company.
How much is that peace of mind worth to you? One company may include on-site assistance, while another provides a detailed construction manual or video. Which is more important? And how do you include those factors in your cost analysis? The answers will depend on your personal situation.
Finally, consider your building circumstances. Perhaps you are hiring a builder or taking your vacation to erect your log kit. It is probably to your advantage to have all of your materials on site at one time, so a more complete kit may be more desirable.
On the other hand, you may be erecting your log home yourself on weekends, working when time permits, paying cash as you go to avoid a large loan commitment. In this case, it may be better to purchase a more limited kit. Doing so avoids not only the larger cash outlay, but also costs and concerns for material storage and protection.
Why pay in advance for materials that, once purchased, sit on the building site for several months before they are needed?
So consider your wants, your needs and your circumstances carefully. Research thoroughly and keep your eye firmly on your bottom line. You’ll be more confident in your selection of a log package. You’ll also gain a better understanding of what will be involved in putting up your log home, and you’ll have the peace of mind that comes from having a solid grip on this crucial part of your overall house-building budget.