When considering a new log home, the issue that is most likely to cause apprehension is the mechanical system. Future log home buyers are often overwhelmed by the vague answers that they receive from salesmen and contractors alike. More than one future log home buyer has decided not to build their dream home simply because they were scared off by this one issue. The funny part is that typically the plumbing aspect is usually no different than from a standard framed home. The only time plumbing becomes an issue is when a bathroom is placed on a second floor over an area where you want to see exposed beams instead of water lines. These issues can easily be overcome without breaking the bank. If you want to keep your sub-contractors honest I suggest that you have one extra set of plans made showing your cabin as a stick frame. Have the contractor give you a price based on this set of prints. After you receive a hard dollar cost, go back and have him do the same takeoff using your cabin drawings. If he comes back with some outrageous price and says, “it’s a log home” send him packing. Dollar for dollar there is no difference in the plumbing in one house versus another including an upstairs bath. The only price difference in an upstairs bath is the cost of your carpenter building a chase to hid the water lines. One last note on plumbing is that none of the water lines or drains will need to be placed in the log walls.
Electrical, the big E. This is the one that they will really try to take you to the cleaners on. Why? Because the electrical lines have to be drilled into the log walls and if you have a built-up roof, the lines have to be run above the tongue and groove and below the insulation layer. This sounds way more complicated than it really is. First, keep in mind that ninety percent of the electrical in the walls only needs to be drilled into the bottom three courses. Sometimes only into the second course, this is determined first by code and second by the size of your logs. The remainder of the electrical is usually above the kitchen counter-top, which can be concealed by the cabinets. Switch legs are always beside the doors and can be drilled in from the side and ran behind the door trim. In the case of overhead lighting, the wires are brought down the edge of the door jamb, through the floor, under the sub-floor and then brought back to the ceiling by coming up a stud wall. Now, this does mean more work and wire for the electrician, because he will have to go down to go up, I know that doesn’t really make sense, but it is true.
The cost should not be more than twenty percent of a typical home. So, try the same trick with the plans, if the cost difference is more than twenty percent, the contractor is trying to milk you. All log home builders will drill for the electrical and cut the holes for the boxes as they stack the logs, if they don’t include that in their bid, they are not log home builders. They are newcomers looking to bilk you. You do not want a novice learning to build these types of homes on your project, they have schools for that. Also beware of carpenters who have been framing their entire career and say, “I can build anything, sure I can build a log home.” I have seen so many butcher jobs where the homeowner would have been better off to burn their house rather than to try to fix it, because they let their brother-in-law have the contract. There are allot of good builders in this world who have no business working on a log home. Get a professional, you wont regret it and they do not cost that much more.
Now for the biggie, HVAC. As long as I have been in this business I have yet to see a log home manufacture who pre-plans for the HVAC system and the ductwork. Go to your nearest model log home and look through their book of homes, do you see where the HVAC and ductwork goes? Do you see a place for the hot water heater? Odds are you don’t, I cannot tell you how mad a woman gets when she finds out that she is loosing closet space for a duct to heat her loft. This happens so often that it is almost a joke in the industry. Why they don’t plan for these essential systems I will never know. That is another of the kit manufacturers failings. Oh, you can find a place to put these items, but odds are you wont be happy. No one likes an afterthought. Once we had to build a chase in the corner of this wonderful woman’s kitchen in order to heat her loft overhead. Not only was she not happy, but every time she walked into her kitchen she was reminded of how unhappy she was.
Kits, kits, kits, great for the industry, so-so for the consumer. Now don’t get me wrong, there are some wonderful homes in the kit system of homes, they just don’t always include everything that you need. If you go into this knowing what to expect, you can pre-plan for these situations and not have an afterthought in your kitchen. I would also like to add another thought to the process, whenever you change a kit type home the manufacture will try to charge you for a custom home. If your sales representative tries this crap when you try to plan for your mechanical systems, tell him that it is o.k. you know where you can get what you need without extra fees. He will back off and then he will be more than happy to “customize” your plans so that a water-heater can fit in your house. A final note on HVAC systems, there should be no real difference in price in a log home system and a stick frame home system. You know what to do! Now that you are just a little more prepared than you were before, you are almost ready to go shopping. However, don’t go buy anything just yet, I have a few more articles to write. When I am done exposing the strength and weaknesses of the log home industry I will let you know. So, keep coming back for the real deal on log homes from your log home specialist…..