Log homes, when people think of log homes they rarely if ever think of what species of wood they would use and if it matters. I think it would be fair to say that a full seventy-five percent of all log homes are built using white woods. The reason that white wood is the most commonly used wood for log homes is simple. It is cheap and abundant. Not to mention that being a softwood it is re-cultivated quickly and it is easy to work with basic tools. Southern white pine, northern white pine, douglas-fur and spruce are all basically the same material and will for our purposes be considered the same. They are all conifers, which for you laymen means that they have needles instead of leaves. (for a basic rule, if it has leaves, it is a hardwood) For you die hard wood geeks, you know that there are distinct differences in these types of woods, but not so much that the consumer should be concerned. White woods are not only cheap, abundant, easy to work, but they also dry quickly in a kiln and readily take stain and can be made to look like almost any other species. All things considered, white woods are the the most commonly used because they offer the most benefits to the builder and the owner. Few of the log home manufactures offer many choices in species, however, several log home manufactures use specific species to distinguish themselves from the status quo.
The next most commonly used species is yellow pine (most framing materials are yellow pine). Same as white woods (it is a conifer), it is easily worked, plentiful, cheap and it’s growth rate is comparable. The problem with yellow pine is that it tends to be sappier. It also takes a little longer than white woods to dry in a kiln or even longer if it is dried naturally. Another problem that can arise with yellow pine is its tendency to warp or roll out of a wall when it dries. Like every other wood it is considered to be “dry” once it reaches a moisture content of less than nineteen percent. Having been in the log home business for years I have had the privilege of working with yellow pine and even when it is marketed as kiln dried, it often comes much wetter than nineteen percent. How could this be, you might ask. Well, often logs are left uncovered on-site or they are in the middle of a large pile of logs in the kiln and while the outside logs may be as low as fourteen percent, the logs in the center can remain as high as twenty-five or thirty percent. This is not like the manufacture is trying to pull one over on you, wood being a natural material is harder to control than a man-made material. The problem then becomes that part of your logs may settle at different rates than others. As a consequence I have seen individual logs roll completely out of a wall and have to be replaced. This is not a common problem but it does happen. One final note, the largest log home company in the world uses yellow pine, so they must be doing something right.
Next we get into the exotic species. Not that they are exotic woods, so to speak, they are just not as common in log homes. First among exotics is oak. Oak you say? Yes, oak (oak is a deciduous tree, deciduous meaning to fall off, such as loosing its leaves in the fall, this is the commonality of hardwoods) is not as uncommon as you might think in log homes. The drawback to oak is that being a hardwood it is often very heavy. To compensate for its weight, oak logs are often smaller. Oh, you can get oak logs in any size that you desire, but the cost of construction has just multiplied because it may take heavy machinery to place your logs. One question that I am often asked is “how do you stack the logs?” by hand I say. This is not always possible if you have a twelve inch round oak log that is eighteen feet long, especially if it is a header log (a header log goes over windows and doors). Another drawback to oak is that you are pretty much restricted to its natural color. Of course you can stain white oak to almost any color, but when you are paying for oak, are you not defeating the purpose. Another drawback to oak is it is harder to work with and wears tools out quickly. Most oak logs come pre-drilled to help minimize wear on your tools but that is kind of like waxing your car before you wash it. Not that much help if you know what I mean. One major plus to oak and other hardwoods is that once they are dried, they do not shrink and move as much as softwoods.
Then there is cedar, well what a natural choice for a log home you might think. This a cost issue, cedar is plentiful but it is still a more expensive option when compared to other white woods. When you consider that you can always stain your white logs to look like cedar, then why would anyone use it. Simply put, it is cedars natural ability to resist rot, decay and wood munching predators. I can’t tell you how many times that before I finished a pine log home, the carpenter bees had drilled a million holes in it before we got to finishes. This is a big plus for some homeowners especially if they plan on slacking in the maintenance department. ( I will be doing a entire article on log home maintenance in a few days) Cedar also dries well in the kiln and is almost as easy to work as white wood. Some homeowners choose cedar for the smell, but this can be a mistake also because even though cedar resists rot, it still needs protection. These products can seal in the smell that you are trying to capture. Not to mention that after a certain period even if you leave the inside alone, the smell can only be reactivated by sanding the wood. So what you are trying to gain is not as obtainable as it may seem. You are just as well off to build with white wood and line your closets with cedar, you will get basically the same effect without the expense.
Cypress is the next species on the list. (cypress is also a conifer and is generally considered a large shrub) Honestly, I have never built a home using cypress, however, I have a buddy who used to build exclusively with cypress when he worked in Florida. Florida is the home of the cypress log home and due to the weather conditions in that area, who can blame them. Cypress is kind of a best of both worlds type of wood. Not only is cypress easy to work it also is better at resisting decay than cedar. I guess because cypress grows in the swamps around the world, it is naturally resistant to pests and water damage. The biggest drawback to cypress is cost per board foot. It is not like white wood that can be grown almost anywhere in the world, it must be grown is certain geographical areas. This limits the amount that can be harvested, which in turn limits the amount that actually makes it in to the log home market. All things considered, if I could afford it, it would be my number one choice for my personal log home. But that is just me.
When you look around the world at all of the species of wood available and all of the different log home companies, you can get almost anything that you are willing to pay for. I am sure that if you wanted logs made of birds-eye maple, you could get some one to mill them for you. It would be a hell of a waste, but it could be done. All in all, dollar for dollar, white pine is the best choice. Anything other than that is not only more expensive, but environmentally irresponsible. I would like to think that people who choose log homes do so in an effort to be closer to nature. This in turn leads me to believe that these people care about the environment just a little more than your average home owner. Oak, larch,maple or any other hardwood is going to take three to four times longer to replenish in the long run. So, I hope I have helped you with your decision. Remember, buying a log home is a major decision. Cost alone cannot be the deciding factor for you. If it is, you are probably building the wrong type of house. Good luck and come back to check for more log home facts from your log home specialist.