Building with Logs

To hear Harry and Pat Pelton tell it, they ''live with logs and love it.'' By that they mean they are more than satisfied with their log home here in northern Vermont.

They find it comfortable and cozy and they love the ''homey feel'' that somehow seems unique to log construction.

Moreover, ''you just know it isn't going to blow away in the wind,'' says Mr. Pelton, commenting on the solid nature of such homes. They also feel that it is energy-efficient, but add that their home was built before the energy crisis of the early '70s and that newer log homes are much tighter.

The Peltons are still a little surprised that they bought a log home in the first place. The idea hadn't occurred to them when Mr. Pelton, a banker by profession, was transferred here from Connecticut and started hunting for a house.

The Peltons looked at many conventional homes but for one reason or another none seemed suitable.

''We were getting nowhere fast,'' says Mr. Pelton. Then he came across the log home.

''I loved it instantly,'' Mrs. Pelton says, recalling their visit. ''The moment I stepped through the door, I wanted it.''

Apparently log homes have this effect on many people, and more and more are turning to them. In the process, the log home that was looked on as a novelty in the '60s now is considered a practical home-owning option in the US and Canada.

There are several reasons for this growing appeal. Log structures are:

* Good value for the money. Log homes are not automatically less expensive than conventional houses. If a log-home kit is given to a contractor to erect, it will probably cost as much per square foot of living space as a stud-wall home. But its solid construction and low maintenance costs make it a good buy.

In addition, log construction (one log laid on top of another) is readily understood by the layman.

Anyone, given rudimentary carpentry skills and a few friends to help, could erect a log home from one of the available kits and save 20 percent or more on the cost of a contractor-built house.

* Substantial and durable. The log home is less subject to storm or other damage because it is so solid. Owners stress the sense of security which their home gives them.

Log homes can and should last for at least a century, and perhaps even longer. The log cabins of pioneering days frequently rotted from the bottom up because the logs were placed directly on the soil.

The modern log home, by contrast, sits on a concrete or stone foundation (often a full basement) so decay no longer is a problem.

* Fire resistant. Log homes are wood and wood burns. But fire in a solid wood home spreads far more slowly than it does in a hollow-wall stud home, even one filled with glass-fiber batting.

Top-quality conventional homes include fire stops in the walls - blocks of wood placed horizontally in the walls to reduce the chimney effect of hollow walls. In the log home there is no chimney effect; every log is a ''fire stop,'' so to speak.

* Inexpensive to maintain. Once it is up, it is up. Only occasional exterior staining needs to be done at ever-widening intervals. Stain, unlike paint, slowly penetrates the wood, going deeper and deeper with every application.

If the interior is left in natural wood, no painting is ever required. On the other hand, the options are open in a log home. Conventional wallboard can be readily applied to the interior of a log home although this will mean periodic repainting or wallpapering.

Decorating is also a simple matter. You can hang a picture or place a shelf anywhere on the solid wall. As Harry Pelton puts it: ''You don't have to look for a place to drive a nail home.''

* Energy efficient. The manufacture of a log home, from felling the trees to erecting the home itself, is less energy-intensive than conventional stud-wall or brick construction. In addition, the log home, naturally warm in winter and cool in summer, has been improved since the energy crisis of the mid-1970s with the inclusion of gaskets between each log. This dramatically cuts down on air penetration, the major cause of heat loss in most homes.

Log homes also perform to a greater degree than the R-factor (the resistance to heat transfer through a material) suggests they should. This has long been recognized, but until recently no one knew why.

Now some studies suggest that the R- factor in wood seems to increase as the temperature drops. In one test a 4 5/8-inch log wall had an R-factor of 8.23 at 70 degrees F.; at 0 degrees F. the R-factor of the same wall had risen to 12.

''No one yet knows why this should be,'' says Rich Horn of Northeastern Log Homes in Kenduskeag, Maine, but a log home has been erected specifically to ''test the early findings.''

Another plus for solid wood homes: the R-factor of wood does not decrease as the material ages. In fact, in new homes it noticeably improves as the logs steadily dry out.

Currently, there are about 200 manufacturers of log homes in the US and Canada. They manufacture the homes in kit form and truck them to all parts of North America and in some cases overseas.

If you are interested in getting a log home you would do well to subscribe to the ''Log Home Guide for Builders and Buyers,'' edited by Doris Muir. Doris and her husband, a Scottish-born former sea captain and onetime owner of a fisheries magazine, put the first edition together at their kitchen table back in 1977.

As the log-home industry has thrived so has the Log Home Guide. It includes a comprehensive list of log-home manufacturers in its annual directory issue which is updated in subsequent issues during the year. The magazine also includes articles on a wide range of topics related to building and owning a log home.

In Canada, write to: Muir Publishing Company, Gardenvale, Quebec, H9X 1B0; in the United States, the address is: Muir Publishing Company, PO Box 37, West Rutland, Vt. 05777.

Ask several companies for brochures and compare designs and prices. Many companies offer computer-design services in which they transform your rough plans into the finished product. Be sure to find out just what you will get. Some companies may offer a more complete package than others.

Note, too, the thickness of the logs. Remember, the thicker the wall the better its R- value. See that the logs come with a gasket or some form of sealant so as to eliminate wind penetration.

One final warning: logs are heavy. If you want to build a log home yourself, don't attempt it without several pairs of helping hands.

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