Building your own log cabin is a massive undertaking. Contrary to some popular myths, however, it is possible to build an energy-efficient, cost-effective log home at or below the cost of a traditional stick-built home. A successful log home will require comprehensive planning, the right tools and materials and tapping into the experience of those who have already completed this difficult but rewarding project.
Picking a design
Log cabin kits give step-by-step directions and materials to complete your own log home. The kits can cost as much as or more than building a conventional home, however, so experienced builders might be able to develop their own design. Study all the different styles of cabins before choosing. Common designs with kits include the chinkless method, meaning the logs fit naturally on top of one another without cutting, and the saddle notch, in which logs overlap at the home's corners. The butt-and-pass design, in which logs meet at the corners without notching, is the most inexpensive way to build a log home but generally is not available through kits.
Besides standard woodworking and homebuilding tools, you'll need a few special tools for log cabin work. A beam saw is a stronger version of a circular saw that will be invaluable in log preparation. Power planers will help fit the logs, as even mill logs sometimes need further planing. A drawknife will remove a log's bark, which could contain pests. Other tools you'll need include a chainsaw, a sharp chisel and an electric drill.
Conifers such as pine, fir and spruce provide a lightweight, durable source of wood that is optimal for most homes. Hardwoods such as oak are usable but are more susceptible to worms and fungus. Whatever wood you choose, the logs should be straight, 8 to 10 inches in diameter and have little to no tapering. If you want to cut the wood yourself, down the trees in early winter so they can dry during the less humid winter season.
Laying a foundation
You can build a cabin without a foundation, but you should lay one if you plan on it being a permanent structure. Opt for concrete or block walls over stone; they're just as sturdy and require less work. Excavate to the frost line and build the foundation 20 inches above ground level. Install piers within the foundation walls to support the flooring. Using piers instead of a full foundation will help reduce the overall cost of your log home.
Unless you're an experienced builder of log homes, don't take the do-it-yourself approach too literally when building a cabin. Put together a team of experienced cabin builders to help you, and make sure any contractors have cabin-building experience. Plan for future cost savings while you build. Install energy-efficient windows. Save money by using a fireplace insert rather than a full-foundation fireplace. Building a conventional roof rather than a log-framed roof also will cut construction costs.
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