Advantages and Disadvantages of Log Houses
This is intended to answer the questions many of you ask about log homes, but which most companies shy away from and try their best to avoid answering. We have to admit that we too have been guilty of this in the past. After all, who would want to admit that there could possibly be negatives relating to their product?
We decided it was time someone took an honest look at log homes and addressed the benefits AND the disadvantages, so that you, the buyer, can make an informed decision whether or not a log home would suit you and your lifestyle.
We recognise that log homes aren’t for everyone, and until you have the knowledge to make a decision, you are left wondering if this might be right for you. Once you have the information you need and (most of) your questions answered, you can then decide whether or not you want to get in touch.
Let’s address the issues – starting with the advantages and benefits of log homes. Some of these may be of no concern and offer no benefit to you, whereas for others this will be just what they want. So here goes:
Timber is just about the most sustainable volume building material available. We are excluding mud here as not many people build cob houses and anyway, soil takes hundreds of years to form, so it’s not really renewable. Trees grow relatively quickly and are harvested as a crop in around 90 to 100 years. That means you need a lot of them and fortunately Scandinavia has plenty.
Finland, where our houses come from, is around the size of France and is 75% forested. This forest is all managed for biodiversity and natural regeneration is encouraged. Furthermore, timber sequesters carbon as it grows, absorbing around 15 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per cubic metre, so when used in construction, the resulting building is carbon negative.
Being largely built in the northern hemisphere, log houses are inevitably mostly found in the coldest climes. Designed for warmth and comfort even above the Arctic Circle, they can be produced to comply with Passiv Haus house standards if that is what’s wanted. If certification isn’t a big thing for you, the house can just be highly efficient and give you low running costs.
Coupled to the last point, one of the most important issues in passive house standards is air tightness. Poor sealing results in loss of warm air that you’ve paid good money to heat up. Log houses are relatively easy to seal – sealing standards are built into the design codes – and are designed to minimise heat losses.
Contrary to many opinions, log houses can be customised to suit individual needs. They can be single storey, one and a half storey or chalet style or full two storey houses. Standard designs are only shown to give an idea of the wide range of styles possible and by opting for a log home, you can design the home that perfectly suits you.
We know most people don’t actually want to build the house themselves but if you do, then log houses are ideal. As most parts are machined in a factory, the process is more of an assembly than a build. It is a job that any handyman could do and it is a relatively quick way to build a house. If, like most however, you intend to appoint someone else to do the job, it’s still a quicker and easier process for them and should save you money. Just be aware that complicated designs will take longer than you might expect.
Full parts kits
Log houses are supplied as a full kit of parts to assemble to a watertight shell. You don’t need a quantity surveyor to tell you how much timber you need for roofing, battening, flooring or boarding; it’s all supplied, including windows, doors and roof covering if wanted. That saves time and cost and concerns about getting anything wrong.
Suitable for difficult-to-access sites
As the parts are supplied flat packed, they can be unpacked and trans-shipped to site if access is difficult. Parts can even be hand carried if necessary, though we don’t recommend it! If for instance you plan an annexe or outbuilding at the bottom of an enclosed garden and it isn’t possible to crane in ready made panels or a factory assembled building, a flat pack log building would make it possible.
Apart from foundations and decoration which are mostly unavoidable, there are no wet trades in a log house assembly: it’s all pegs, bolts, nails and screws. You can even avoid wet foundations in some cases by using screw piles. Then your only wet trades are plastering and tiling in bathrooms and kitchen, and you might want to paint or stain cladding, skirtings and architraves. Even some of this is avoidable by using pre-coated boarding rather than plasterboard.
You can paint or stain your exterior – and your interior for that matter – any colour you want. That’s the beauty of timber. Plus if you use a particular colour and change your mind later, you (or someone else) can paint it a different colour.
It’s widely recognised that log homes are healthy. Not only does timber regulate humidity but it is naturally antiseptic (that’s why butchers’ blocks are made of wood). If you choose timber panelling on the inside it’s reckoned to be good for people with respiratory conditions such as asthma (though you can of course have plasterboard if you prefer it). Plus, because the houses are designed to be airtight and typically will need controlled ventilation systems, there is far less dust around than in less well designed and ventilated homes.
Log homes can be mobile homes. If you only have permission for a home that meets the Caravan Act but don’t want a standard factory product, a bespoke mobile home can be designed for you (see below).
OK that’s the good bits! So let’s turn things round and address the stuff nobody wants to talk about. What are the downsides?
Well here’s a bald statement – log houses need maintenance. Just like if you don’t maintain your car, sooner or later it will let you down. So, while it may seem a bind, any timber structure will need looking after. That doesn’t mean that you have to paint it every year like your fence and nor does it mean you have to do it yourself.
As with servicing your car or your heating boiler, you usually get the experts to do it. Unlike cars and boilers though, you don’t want to do your whole house every year and it’s not a good idea anyway. Modern breathable coatings are designed to last 5-6 years or longer and cease to breathe if you recoat them too often.
That’s it! The logs form the facade of your building, so timber finish is the only choice. If you want a rendered finish or a brick facade, a log house isn’t for you. Moreover, unlike larch or oak, the logs need timber treatment, so if zero maintenance is your thing, this isn’t a good choice.
No, not the final frontier. The whole house kit will arrive on one or more trailers, usually on the same day, so you need somewhere to put the pallets. You also need room for your scaffolding and room to move around, so you need quite a bit of space – ideally. That said, we’ve worked on some very congested plots, so it is possible to build a log home in a constrained space. It does mean though that you’ll end up moving pallets and piles of material around several times to get to what you need.
Let’s face it, there are some things you just can’t do with logs. Circular towers, awkward angles and curved roofs just aren’t possible, so if that’s what you want, you’ll need some other type of building system. It’s also worth mentioning that lots of corners and bits that stick out are more time consuming and costly to assemble, as well as being less energy efficient. So simpler designs are better all round. Log houses might not always fit in with architects’ visions!
It might seem a bit of a positive, rather than a downside but many of the parts are likely to be far heavier than can be manually lifted. Finnish manufacturers don’t do the thinnest and cheapest structures possible – quite the opposite – and large logs and roof beams can weigh 150kg or more, so you’ll need some sort of lifting equipment.
If you opt for the timber cladding inside, your walls and ceiling may need treatment with an intumescent product. Fire is one of the greatest fears people have about timber houses and the treatment is to meet fire safety regulations. In practice, wood burns at a slow and predictable rate and chars to give a protective layer. Studies show that this char can have a similar effect to intumescent coatings and log houses are deemed by some authorities to be safer than masonry buildings.*
We hope this provides all the guidance you need to decide on a log house. If not however, you can always ask us for further information.
* American National Association of Home Builders report “Fire Performance of Log Walls” 2021