Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Choose the right builder for a log home that lasts

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W hen most people think log house they think cottage. But for some people, a log house is their ultimate dream home -- and they might be determined to make it a reality.

I love log houses -- their look, their feel, the way they smell. I've always wanted to build one. If it's built right, a log house can last centuries. Plus, heavy timber is a great thermal insulator -- so the house can also be very warm.

But the reality is a log house is extra-vulnerable to problems that can affect any house, like weather. It takes a lot of maintenance, so you better know what you're getting into.

Traditional log homes are built by stacking the logs one on top of the other. But logs shift and shrink over time -- most of it happens during the first decade after the log house is built. And as that happens, the seams between the logs can widen, allowing wind and water to come in. Windows and doors can also crack or stop working properly as the logs settle, too.

Secondly, wood can crack as it dries. These cracks are called checks and if moisture gets in them it can lead to insects, mould or rot.

Third, the entire exterior of a log house is made from wood -- that's the point. But that also means the entire exterior can be prone to mould and mildew.

Before you decide to live the dream and build a log house, address the issues. Your best bet is to talk to an experienced log-house builder. The good news is building practices have improved, so there are solutions to some of the big problems that have plagued log houses.

For example, you can hire a home builder who constructs log walls that fit together tighter. One way is tongue-and-groove. That means tongue-and-groove profiles are carved into the top and bottom of each log, which helps form a really tight fit and seal.

Most manufacturers use their own systems of gaskets and sealants between the logs, too. Closed-cell foam in the grooves and a sealant on the tongues also helps. Some even use an elastomeric caulking tape on the tongues. Elastomeric means it's flexible, so the caulking tape moves with the logs.

Another modern practice for building a traditional log house is using through bolts. These are bolts that go from the bottom of the log wall to the top. And at the top of the bolt there is a spring that pushes down, so as the logs settle the downward pressure makes sure they settle evenly.

The best through bolts also have a self-tightening mechanism that can squeeze the logs together as they dry and shrink. This minimizes the space between logs.

When it comes to the corners in a log house you have a few options. But the most popular are saddle-notched, butt-and-pass and dovetail.

Saddle-notched is where a notch is carved out of each log so the logs saddle on top each other, forming a tight seal at the corner. Butt-and-pass -- when the logs butt against each other at the corner -- are the original pioneer log house corners.

Then there's dovetail. Dovetail corners are usually done with square logs. Joints are cut at the end of the log on an angle so the logs lock into place. This creates a tight, interlocking corner that tightens over time.

Dovetail corners have been used for a thousand years. But today's version can have a layer of asphalt-impregnated closed-cell foam between each dovetail. That makes them very tight -- some manufacturers will even offer a 25-year, zero-air-infiltration warranty on the log shell.

The logs used for building a log house are milled, primed (with a natural, low-VOC primer) and then cut to exact design specifications. Spaces for electrical plugs and switches can also be pre-cut by the log manufacturer. Having them pre-cut saves time (and money) on the job site. But the better option is doing it once the log walls are up.

This gives the homeowner a chance to stand in the room and imagine where they want their furniture and fixtures, which provides a better idea of where outlets and switches need to go. Because once you cut into a log, there's no going back.

But the real trick to building a log house that stands the test of time is finding the right log-house builder. It can make or break your log home -- literally.

Catch Mike Holmes in an all-new season of Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 F22

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