NACHI and the International Log Builders Association

Originally Posted By: loconnor
This post was automatically imported from our archived forum.

Thought some of you may be interested in this article. Also included some repair tidbits at the end.

Cabin fever: Calling in the 'log doctor'

Saturday, July 02, 2005
By Amir Efrati, The Wall Street Journal

In 2003, Tom and Beth Galati built their dream house -- a frontier-style four-bedroom cabin in Mt. Jackson, Va. Like most log homes, it arrived in a kit -- in this case, a $130,000 shipment of about 200 pine logs that were ready to be assembled into a 4,600-square-foot residence. "Log homes are the epitome of 'American,' " says Mr. Galati, a 30-year-old director of a medical laboratory. "They're awesome."

Two years and $900,000 later, the Galatis are still working on making the place awesome. Many of the doors don't close properly because the local contractor they hired didn't leave space above the doorways for the logs to settle, says Mr. Galati. Workers "drew on the logs and stained over it -- so you can see words and numbers on our logs," he says. "It's like having hieroglyphics in my house."

In the past decade, interest in log homes has exploded: More than 25,000 log homes are built annually, compared with about 7,000 a year in the mid-1980s, according to trade publisher Home Buyer Publications. They've also become something of a status symbol. Celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates have all been high-profile log-home owners.

But there's a problem: Many log homes are starting to fall apart. Eager contractors (and eager customers who hire them without proper due diligence) are taking on log-home assembly jobs even if they've never done them before. "It's like asking a doctor who specializes in broken bones to do heart surgery," says log-home builder Scott Campbell of Clyde, N.C.

The problems have even spawned a cottage industry of people who do nothing but repair log homes -- they're called "log doctors." Tracy Hansen, who's based in Jackson, Wyo., and trains new log doctors, estimates there are more than 200 repair companies, up from about 50 five years ago. "There's a need for more," he says.

While they may look simple, log homes are difficult to build and maintain. In time, logs lose moisture and shrink, warp and twist, pushing down on windows and doorways and creating small gaps in walls. Stains that repel water must be redone every few years. When stains aren't applied correctly or lose strength, logs may rot and need replacement. Many log homes are vulnerable to infestations of bugs such as flies or wasps.

Log homes are more expensive to build, too. On average, they cost 25 percent to 50 percent more than usual homes because of their labor-intensive construction, says Robbin Obomsawin, an Oneida, N.Y., log-home builder. Logs weighing as much as 1,000 pounds must be stacked on top of one another, and windows and doors must be cut out of the walls.

One of the effects of log homes' increased popularity is that people are building them in some inhospitable places. Robin and Richard Scarborough's four-bedroom log home in Malibu, Calif., showed no signs of trouble when they bought it two years ago for about $1.3 million. The two-story home, built in 1995, sits on a 2,000-foot ridge overlooking the coastline, which makes it vulnerable to foul weather. The original builders didn't install roof overhangs that were long enough to shield the house from the elements. In addition, when Mr. and Mrs. Scarborough bought the home, neither he, an environmental home inspector, nor the log-home inspector he hired caught the wood rot and termite problems because the previous owner had concealed the damage with paint. "It was a major disaster," Mr. Scarborough says.

For many log-home owners, the roots of their dissatisfaction have to do with the way the log-home industry operates. More than three-quarters of all log homes are kit homes, says Edwin J. Burke, a professor of wood science at the University of Montana's College of Forestry. Log-home kits are purchased from a vendor and then shipped to the customer's site to be put together. In most cases, the company that ships the kit isn't the company that builds the house. "That's the easy money," says Evan Balazsi, a Kenly, N.C., log-home builder. "Then the companies leave it to the homeowner to get the home erected, and they run into problems," he says.

After Michael and Bonnie Woodward spoke with the satisfied customers of a traditional-home builder in New York state, they hired that builder to complete their two-story vacation log home on Seneca Lake. The couple paid $425,000 for the logs and signed a contract with the builder for $895,000. After two years of work, Mr. Woodward says the house suffered from mold and log rot due to the fact that the builder left logs exposed to the elements for too long. He says the builder also allowed a leak to occur between the chimney and roof because he didn't anticipate that the logs would settle.

"He told us he was an expert at log homes but he had no idea what to do," says Mr. Woodward, a 58-year-old executive with a financial-management firm. Mr. Woodward directs some of the blame at himself. "We weren't knowledgeable about the difference between regular and log construction." In December, the Woodwards filed a lawsuit in Monroe County, N.Y., against their contractor. The contractor didn't respond to repeated requests for comment.

The Galatis have taken their matter to court, too. Their contractor, Freddie Neal, says log homes are a "very minor part" of his business and that the Galatis "brag" about their house and "have told us some positive things." He agreed there was a problem with the roof but says his subcontractors offered to redo it. In regards to the lawsuit, filed in Shenandoah County, Va., Mr. Neal says the Galatis are "totally incorrect" in their assertions of what went wrong, but declined to elaborate.

Mistakes in custom-home building aren't exclusive to log-home construction. Jeremy Bertrand, executive director of the National Association of Home Builders' Log Homes Council, which represents 55 log manufacturers and builders, says that if unqualified log-home builders are indeed causing problems, "it's in a small percentage of the homes" being built.

Others in the log-home industry say the problem is widespread and expanding. Steve White, a director of the Log Home Builder's Association of North America, says his group gets three calls a week from log-home owners with problems, up from two or three times a month five years ago. In Ellijay, Ga., lawyer Herman Clark says that last year in his area there were about a dozen lawsuits that involved poor construction of log homes, compared with half as many five years ago.

A remedy may be at hand: This fall, the International Code Council, which develops U.S. construction codes and standards, is expected to adopt the first log-building codes that will make contractors accountable to national codes and standards, says Marc Nard, an ICC senior technical staff member. The codes would be available to house inspectors when they take effect next year.

The hassles log homes can present don't mean that everyone regrets owning one. Mr. Scarborough of Malibu, Calif., says he spent about $80,000 for repairs but still feels lucky. "It's such a gorgeous home," he says. Plus, construction difficulties don't seem to have had an adverse effect on the house's resale value in this heated market: The price of the home has risen to around $1.8 million, up more than 40 percent in the past two years.

Splinter Shock

Log-home owners deal with a different set of problems than most traditional-home owners face. Below, some of the common issues of log-home living, and what can be done to fix or avoid them.

PROBLEM: Bug infestation

COMMENTS: Flies or wasps can enter through cracks that develop in the wood or gaps between logs. Certain borate treatments applied to the exterior of the home can help prevent beetle, termite and ant problems.

PROBLEM: Cracks and gaps

COMMENTS: When logs dry, cracks may open up in the wood, allowing water and insects inside. Some log doctors use thermal imaging to find cracks (cost: about $1,500). Caulking and sealing costs between $1,000 and $10,000, says Tracy Hansen, a log doctor in Jackson, Wyo.

PROBLEM: Settling

COMMENTS: Logs may shrink and twist as they dry over time, so gaps should be left above doors and windows to allow for log movement.

PROBLEM: Log rot

COMMENTS: Log walls that are regularly exposed to rain and snow can rot. Large roof overhangs are recommended to draw water away from exterior walls, says Steve White, a Seattle log-home builder.

PROBLEM: Stain failure

COMMENTS: If applied right, log stains, which help prevent rot, last about five years. Applying a log stain costs "$5,000 and up," says Robert Wielhouwer of Crystal Clear Home Services in Garner, N.C. Annual inspections are necessary, he says.

Western Michigan NACHI Chapter

"We confide in our strength
without boasting of it.
We respect that of others
without fearing it"
Thomas Jefferson