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Forest Products Extension

Log Home Design and Durability

Building with logs offers the opportunity to live in a unique and beautiful house. Log homes are a symbolic connection to a rural, more self-sufficient past and they also can offer good performance in terms of fire and earthquake resistance and heating and cooling costs. However, log wall construction also presents some special challenges in terms of design and durability.

Wood shrinks when it dries. In the “stick-built” frame construction that is standard building practice, shrinkage is not an important consideration when designing a structure; wood shrinks very little along the grain, so a stud in a wall won't change in length very much as the wood dries. In contrast, wood shrinks substantially across the grain. In a wall built from logs this means that the height of the wall will change as the individual logs shrink. Depending on the wood species and other factors, log walls can shrink by as much as ½” per foot of height after assembly. Wall openings for windows and doors must allow for this settling, and plumbing connections need to be flexible.

The long-term durability of a log home also depends on a proper initial design. The over-riding principle is keeping the wooden parts of the structure dry. This includes having a roof with large eaves and gutters, and building a foundation that keeps the logs well away from the ground. In areas that wood cannot be kept dry – posts in the ground, decks and exposed railings – rot-resistant materials should be used. These can include preservative treated wood or naturally durable wood species such as cedar.

Maintenance of a log home is similar in principle to that of any building. Periodic inspection and repair is needed to keep the original design working. For example, gutters should be kept clean and vegetation trimmed away from the walls to help keep the building dry. Any signs of water infiltration and pest infestations should be investigated and fixed before they turn into big problems. Finally, while wood finishes are not strictly necessary to prevent rot, regular application of stains and water-repellent finishes can help to preserve the appearance of log walls.

There is a long history of building with logs in Tennessee . Today, the state boasts the highest concentration of log home manufacturers in the nation and is home to thousands of log buildings ranging from simple cabins to grand mansions. With proper design, appropriate use of durable materials and regular maintenance, a log home can provide decades of excellent service.

The Log Homes Council has more information and pictures about log homes and manufacturers.

For more information, contact:

Adam M. Taylor
Tennessee Forest Products Center
2506 Jacob Drive
Knoxville, Tennessee 37996

Phone: 865-946-1125
Fax: 865-946-1109

Adam Taylor's email