Why should you seriously consider building a log home
Topic: Why should you seriously consider building a log home. Those of us who have had a chance to live in a log home describe the experience as one of security and serenity. The massive log walls surrounding us muffle the exterior noises and make us feel calm. More than any other type of construction, a log home is a healthy sanctuary, exuding strength and stability, protecting us from nature’s extremes. Unlike steel, concrete, glass, vinyl and drywall so common in today’s homes, wood feels good to touch. Wood is the noble material of our ancestors. Its colors and textures are soothing to our soul. Its unique character and endless beauty is one of nature’s most fascinating masterpieces… Basic terminology: 1-The carbon footprint of a building material is defined by the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that is released in the earth atmosphere to manufacture, transport and use a product to build your home for example. 2-Global warming (Wikipedia definition) is the increase in the average temperature of Earth’s near surface air and oceans since the mid 20th century and its projected continuation. 3- The main Greenhouse gases (GHG) are carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone… 1- Log and timber homes carbon footprint: Why building a log/timber home may be the most environmentally sound decision you could make to fight global warming…if you believe CO2 emissions play a large role in global warming of the Earth. In the United States, the construction and manufacturing of building products account for close to 40% of the total CO2 emissions, largely because of USA’s heavy reliance on concrete and steel. For comparison, in Finland that number is 5% as wood is a major building material in that country. A newly released Finnish study (2009) on the environmental impact of construction in that country concludes that using wood whenever possible would further reduce existing CO2 emissions from the building industry by another 25% which would be more than the currently proposed improvements to the energy efficiency of buildings in Finland. A milestone report prepared in 2006 by the Edinburg centre for carbon management states, that the production of cement and steel accounts for over 10% of global annual greenhouse gas emission (GHG). That percentage includes GHG associated with extraction, refining, manufacture, processing and delivery of cement and steel. The following study shows that if the usual building materials used in Scotland were replaced by wood whenever possible, the carbon footprint of new buildings would be reduced by an average of 81%!!! Because wood has a negative carbon footprint as long as wood is taken from sustainably managed forests. Wikipedia definition: Sustainable forest management (SFM) in simple terms is defined as achieving a balance between society’s increasing demand for forest products and the preservation of forest health and diversity. Wood comes from trees. Trees absorb the CO2 from the air to extract the carbon it needs for its structure to about half its dry weight by using the sun energy, water from rain and some nutrients from the soil. In this natural process called photosynthesis it releases oxygen back in the atmosphere. Trees are a carbon sink. Carbon is stored rather than being emitted during the production of wood “the Alpha building material”. It is estimated that approximately 3.5 billion metric tons of carbon is stored in wood construction today in the USA. That is a lot of carbon stored away from the atmosphere! So much more could be done to store more carbon in our buildings by using as much wood as possible. To compare building materials carbon footprint, here are figures released by University of Victoria New Zealand 2003 Center for building performance research CO2 emissions for a selection of common building materials…in KG of CO2 per cubic meter of material. Timber= - 690 (negative value) Concrete=+ 376 Steel = + 9749 Aluminum= + 21600 On average trees absorbs 1 metric ton of CO2 for every cubic meter of wood growth! When the trees mature the absorption of CO2 slows down. Harvesting mature trees and replanting maximizes a forest carbon sink potential. Using more wood in construction increases the demand for sustainable forests, increases the need for new forest plantation and provides a renewable source of carbon neutral energy. According to Robert Chambers excellent book “log construction manual”, the carbon emission value of wood used for handcrafted log home manufacturing is even better for the environment as it takes only about 200 liters (53 gallons) of fuel to produce a 2000sqft log home shell from raw trees, Robert also states that it takes about the same amount of wood to build a 15″ mid span diameter handcrafted log shell as it takes to building the same house with conventional frame dimensional lumber. To produce a volume of frame lumber, Sawmills produce more volume of waste (when sawing and surfacing the trees to lumber shape and size). However about 60 % of that waste on average is used as energy to run the mill. To conclude this chapter, log home construction is arguably the most energy efficient building practice available to us, with the lowest carbon footprint compared to using any other building material available. 2- Longevity of log homes Log homes are a great investment for many future generations to come. They have proven time and again to last centuries. In the USA, the oldest still standing log home was built in 1800 with dovetail corner joinery in Perry county Kentucky. In Europe, many examples of Scandinavian style log homes dating from 1200s to the 1500s are still lived in. In Sweden about 150 log homes have recently been carbon dated to the middle ages when Vikings were the rulers of the land. Many of those remaining log homes were built on above ground stone basement and have very large single gable roof overhangs that protected the logs from rain and snow… 3- Log homes and your health In North America we spend close to 90% of our time indoor. It should make sense that we scrutinize the materials we use to build our homes where we and our children spend so much time. Indoor pollutants are a great concern to health experts in Europe and North America. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified indoor pollution as one of the top health risk we face every day of our life. Exposure to indoor pollutants is one of the main reasons for respiratory health problems and cancer for millions of our children. We assume that building products must be safe, and if we can buy them, then they must have been tested by some government agency. That assumption is completely wrong. To make our homes more energy efficient, we live in airtight plastic bubbles breathing air loaded with chemicals coming from our carpets, vinyl, insulations, paints… Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted by a wide range of man made chemical building materials we use today in our homes. A ground breaking book written by architect Paula Baker-Laporte “Prescriptions for a healthy house” goes in great details on this subject. I highly recommend that all future new home owners read it. Log homes are made from wood that is 100% natural and does not emit VOCs. Solid wood is the only building material that is recyclable, biodegradable, energy efficient and healthy for your family and the environment. 4- Conclusion to this newsletter: We are going in the right direction… In the USA alone, forests have expanded by 25% since 1975. Green building construction is increasing rapidly all over North America. Designers and architects are enthusiastically responding to the green challenge. It is sociably trendy to be green and talk sustainability and loudly promote “green products” of all kinds. To the point where so many supposed green products in the construction industry make very dubious and false claims. Consumers are starting to feel apathetic and suspicious towards green claims and I am one of them. Greenwashing is a term used to describe marketing products with a green claim that upon some scrutiny shows no proof, is irrelevant, comes with hidden trade off or lesser than two evils arguments. Among all this confusion, wood, as a building material, is emerging as the answer to fighting global warming in the construction industry all over the world. Sustainable forestry practices must be quickly expanded worldwide and new forests planted to answer the projected increasing demand for wood in construction and at the same time naturally extract the excess CO2 from our atmosphere. Log and timber construction is one of the great answers to save our planet.
Design and Build your Dream Log Home with a Shrinking Budget
As building costs have risen steadily this last decade and our savings have taken a hit recently due to the financial crisis, for most of us, building a log home is now a dream more difficult to reach. The first step to designing a log home is to calculate your budget to build the house including land cost if applicable, design/engineering/building permits costs, access road, septic, utility connection from the road, drainage, landscaping… You need to know the average building cost for a custom frame home where you are planning to build. Local general contractors should be able to give you some average price per square foot for your area. This will help you estimate the maximum size of your future log home whether it is a handcrafted or a milled log shell. 1- Control the size of the home, specifically the footprint… Today’s home are an average of 2300sqft. In the 1950s homes averaged about 1400sqft In the 80s and 90s the trend was for bigger homes. Now many are seeing this trend for bigger homes reversing due to lack of space in cities, smaller families, rising energy and operating costs, but mostly because of the harsher economic climate coupled with still very high construction costs (material and labor). Designing large homes is much easier than designing small homes where a designer needs to be creative to control wasted space and fit space saving features at every step of the design. Designing a smaller log home does not automatically dictate small rooms or a boring boxy exterior look. So much can be done to dress up the roof with dormers, and add covered decks, arbors and interesting landscaping work around the house. Open floor space with wider hallways and large baseboard for interior frame walls will give a roomier feel to the interior. An open floor plan with kitchen/dining and living as one large room is very popular as it eliminates partition walls and wasted space for hallway traffic and also allows the occupants to freely congregate around the kitchen island during meal preparation for example. New kitchen designs allow the dining table as the center piece of that space. The formal dining and sitting room is of the past. The new lifestyle is turning to the outside with main rooms towards decks, porches and view. Log homes dictate a 9’ ceiling height minimum at main floor and vaulted ceilings all the way to the roof at second floor which increases the sense of space while keeping the footprint under control. 2- Build more than one storey… Controlling the footprint of the house is so important. The foundation and roof covering a defined foot print is the same whether it is a one storey rancher or a three storey home including a full basement and a second floor. Because of this fact, a rancher style home with one storey is more expensive to build. Stairs only occupy about 40sqft of living space and when stacked, they access both the basement and second floor. A basement is about a third of the cost of the main floor to build. Even if the basement is buried, it can be used for a laundry, mechanical room, extra storage, wine cellar, root cellar, a home office or theatre room. Bedrooms can be designed using well windows for egress. Baths do not need a window if a sizable fan is installed for ventilation. A sloped building site allows a walkout basement which means cheap living space opened to the outside with windows and doors letting light and view in. Building a second floor within the roof slope adds bedroom space, or, so common in log home design, a simple loft overlooking a great room. To maximize living space, you may have to convert the vaulted ceilings into second floor extra space. 3-Design an expandable home… You may have to delay finishing the basement and/or the second floor. It is advisable to plan for window spaces to allow light in and doors for egress. The bonus room over the garage may be just framed with attic manufactured trusses and left unused for years until the money is finally available to turn it into a guest apartment or playroom for the kids. Just make sure you plan for that bathroom in the basement by installing the rough in plumbing thru the concrete slab or extend the plumbing and electrical wiring to the unfinished upper level. A room dedicated to be a home office or den can with foresight easily become a guest bedroom as need dictates. A computer desk can be designed in an alcove or even in the corner of the kitchen. 4- The basic shape of the economical log home… A house shaped as a circle (yurt) will have the best ratio between lengths of wall at the perimeter to amount of living space inside. This house shape is of course not achievable with log wall construction which is linear. A four corner log home as close to a square shape will mean less perimeter wall length for maximum inside square footage. That translates in a lower amount of wood in the log package. For handcrafted log construction a 34’x34’ square home using minimum 14” diameter logs with only four cross corners with staggered wood dowels or lags at the laterals will be the cheapest log shell design because only four cross corners are required which means less labor cost. The more cross corners in a log home design, the more costly the log shell will be. As well the higher the log walls, the higher the cost of the log shell for a handcrafted project only. Extra round of logs are about twice more labor to build than lower logs in the wall as the craftsman must work of the ground, up and down ladders.
About smaller homes...
Within the last half century, North American homes have more than doubled in size becoming castles to impress by volume alone. Real estate agents define a home by it square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms and pictures of luxuriously furnished formal living and dining rooms that are left unused by its occupants. Due to high building and energy costs, dwindling investments, savings and pensions and an emerging consciousness not to waste and embrace “green concepts”, designing a home is now much less about impressing our neighbors and friends with size and wow factor. Instead today’s house design trend is all about quality and function within a manageable budget. Creating a house that nurture a personal connection to each rooms and is customized to fit our family life style and needs, becomes a home to be enjoyed every day by all. 1- Why downsizing your dream home… First, the word “downsizing” is associated with economic recession and unstable business situation, hardly a positive concept. In the 1950s homes averaged under 1000sqft and regular family size was huge. Today family size is a fraction of yesterday’s, with retiring baby boomers being the bulk of new home owners. We downsize because the huge houses we lived in during the 80s, 90s… do not make much sense anymore. Planning a smaller home is smart because… 1- It is much more affordable as it requires less building materials, labor and land. 2- It cost much less to heat in winter, keep cool in summer and upkeep during its lifetime. 3-However the most powerful reason to go smaller is because the space defined by the rooms tend to be more to human scale, therefore cozier, with everything important within reach. Massive great rooms with high vaulted ceilings do have that wow factor that is difficult to resist. It can be filled when you entertain large group of friends and it then feels great. However if you are alone, you will (perhaps unconsciously) choose a smaller area within the perimeter of that room to relax like a bay window sit, an alcove with lower ceiling or even a corner by the fireplace. If that large room has nothing designed for a simple single or double occupancy, then it will probably remain empty as you may migrate to that small den around the corner… 2- How to downsize the dream? First understand how you live now by listing all your activities in each room and time spent using all those rooms. This exercise will quickly help you identify the rooms you use the least and the most important rooms for your life style. Rooms do not need to be conceived around a singular activity. A room can be designed to serve many different functions especially if small alcoves are created for single use (reading, house bookkeeping, homework, internet surfing…) A- The kitchen. In the old days the kitchen was a private room by itself, out of the way from the main living area. Today the kitchen has become the centre of activity of the household where family and even guests will congregate. It is the heart of the home and needs to be open to the dining and sitting area. The kitchen is highly visible so it has become a show case room called the theatre gourmet kitchen. It is so big, it is exhausting to work in, as appliances and work areas are so far away from each other. Remember that kitchen square footage is the most expensive in the house. Any professional chef will tell you that they would rather work in a compact kitchen where all is at hand with minimum walking around. Managing storage space is a key to a great easy to use kitchen within a smaller space. Lower cabinets should have drawers instead of shelves. All content in open drawers are readily accessible and little space is lost above when closed. Deeper counter from common 24″ deep to 30″ deep provides more working area and more drawer storage below. Use ceiling height upper cabinets to maximize storage for rarely used items. If you want to impress your friends, you can invest in multi function appliances to save space and have the latest from Europe. The Multiplo from Scholtes is a great compact multi purpose counter top appliance that can roast, boil, steam, fry and slow cook within its own stainless steel containers, thus eliminating the need for pots and pans. A large capacity oven with internal partition allows cooking different dishes at same time. A Quooker’s instant boiling water tap saves much time when making tea, coffee, bleaching vegetables or sterilizing kitchen utensils… while probably using less energy than a kettle. Add an island or peninsula for more preparation counter space, storage space below and a sitting bar to talk to the cook or have breakfast… B-The dining room. Some houses design have a large dining room with chandeliers, a nook off the kitchen and a eating bar at the island. That is overkill for the smaller home concept. I think a large dining table is a must if you ever will entertain. However that table can be located right by the kitchen because everyone loves to be around the kitchen. Dirty dishes can be stacked away in dishwasher, hidden in deep kitchen sink or behind a raised countertop. At our house the dining table which is right along the kitchen is daily used by our kids for homework… The dining table is a great place to hang out as a family when cooking meals. C- The bathroom(s). It is the second most expensive space in the house after the kitchen. A bath for each occupants of a home is a cost that can be avoided. In Europe the toilet with sink has its own private room and the bathroom means sink and shower (or bath tub). If several people are likely to use a bathroom at same time of the day, split the toilet area from the shower/sink area. Showers are much more in use by active professionals and elderly than bath tubs. Stacked bathrooms at each level of living space is a good design option to consider. The most common model is one bathroom for parents and one for children. D- Rooms with shared functions… A home office can be readily transformed into a TV room, a guest bedroom (with a murphy bed for example) or an away room for quiet times. A back entry, mudroom and laundry are commonly combined into one. The entry or foyer should have a cloak closet , a bench and shoe storage and possibly a powder room for guests. E- Storages. The smaller home can not stand clutter. To feel spacious it must have extensive built in storage to put away what is not in use or be seen. Detail design is key for the smaller home just like on a boat or RV. Do not hesitate to create storage under stairs, in no headroom area below the roof, under bay window seat, floor to ceiling closets on each side of corridor… Add wall recess for custom cabinets and alcoves for small computer desk, sleeping booth and reading recess. F- Tips to make the smaller home feel bigger. Add decks, covered patio, sunroom, screened porch around the house to extend the house for outdoor living with matching floor patterns from inside outward. Use natural light from two sides of a room. Use light, color and scale contrast to expand a room space. Work with the third dimension (ceiling and floor heights) to define different spaces in a room. Use thick window/door jambs and large baseboards. Avoid narrow hallways. Design diagonal views within the house to make the inside space feel bigger. 3- Our dreams versus the hard reality of cost. The cheapest house to build is a two full level rectangular to square framed box with vinyl windows and exterior siding, an asphalt roof on manufactured frame trusses, commonly called the colonial house. You get the most amount of living space for the least amount of exterior walls and roof cover. Headroom is 8 foot high in all rooms with no vaulted ceilings. Interior trim work is minimum, ceilings and interior walls are sheet rock. It works as a starter home in a city subdivision but this is not the dream home for our retirement years after the kids move out… The dream home has spirit and is a personal expression of your tastes and lifestyle. It is specifically designed for your building site to take advantage of slopes, views and sun… Quality of construction and quality of interior and exterior finishes is high, so more expensive than the regular city house. It may be a house with much wood millwork and stain glass or the so popular timber frame home or even a handcrafted log home with those massive logs you see in magazines or web pages dedicated to that timeless construction style. To fit your budget, a quality home may need to be scaled down so the dream becomes reality. It too often comes down to a choice between how big and how beautiful and comfortable. It does not mean settling for less but rather being smart with each square footage of space. Detail design makes all the difference. A 3000 square foot poorly designed unpersonalized stock plan can feel smaller and sterile compared to a cozy 1200 square foot professionally designed smaller home with private spaces and detailed storages like on a boat. 4- Professional design. Hire a good house design professional that can help you make the necessary transition between wishes and reality by identifying what matters less for you to allow your house dream to come true.