Q. I have thought about building a contemporary log-home kit myself or using a builder. I am concerned about energy efficiency. Are solid logs the best way to go, and can I really build a kit myself?
A. There are many new log-home kits with almost any styling you can imagine, even contemporary. The average do-it-yourselfer can probably do much of the construction on a traditional log home. The more intricate contemporary designs will likely require help from a builder.
Log homes with contemporary styling, large windows, high ceilings, lofts, skylights and massive fireplaces are ideal for using free passive solar. They are also ideal for wood heating during the winter and natural cooling during the summer. These homes are often more energy-efficient than most traditional log-home styles.
The log-home kits you refer to range in size from about 800 square feet to more than 4,000 square feet. With the larger log homes, and particularly the contemporary ones, the manufacturer will probably have a standard floor plan from which you can make modifications.
Advantages: Log homes can be energy-efficient and are often among the most comfortable house types to live in, particularly during the summer.
The heavy thermal mass of the logs tends to moderate indoor temperature changes throughout the day and night.
Solid-log construction is one of the least expensive methods to build a log home. The material costs are reasonable, and you can save on labor expenses. An even less expensive method to create a true log look is to use thin real-log siding. It is attached over a standard framed wall.
For the most energy efficiency and lowest utility bills, consider one of the half-log wall designs. These resemble solid logs from both the exterior and interior, but there is regular insulation inside of the walls.
Half-log homes combine the advantages of a standard framed-wall home with a solid log home. Wall insulation levels can be in the superinsulation range of R-40, not including the energy benefits of the mass of the logs.
Flexibility: Using a half-log wall design provides much more flexibility for the interior design of your home. You may want to use another half log on the interior walls for a true log appearance in some rooms. In other rooms, you can finish the walls with standard drywall or wood paneling.
Pine or cedar logs are most common and reasonably priced, but redwood, spruce, fir and poplar are also used. Choose among round, Swedish cope or flat-milled log profiles to give your home the unique look you prefer. You might also consider contemporary vertical or saddle-notch corner posts.
Q. During the past several months, my utility bills (combined gas and electric) have skyrocketed. I have been using two electric space heaters, but nothing else is different. Would they cause the increase?
A. If you run two electric space heaters on high (usually 1,500 watts), they will increase your utility bills substantially. The only way to save overall by using them is to set your furnace thermostat lower.
The best way to check if a particular appliance is driving up your electric bills is to have someone watch the electric meter spin as you unplug one appliance at a time. It will be obvious which ones are the biggest electricity consumers.
XWrite for Update Bulletin No. 944, which gives a list of 13 half- and full-log home kit manufacturers, showing eight plan layouts and exterior diagrams, size ranges, types of wood, log profiles and corner styles available. Please send $3 and a business-size SASE to James Dulley, The Vindicator, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244. For an instant download, visit James Dulley online at www.dulley.com.