Cabin Fever: Log Homes Popular 100 Years Later

14 Dec, 2006 By: Doug Graham

Today's custom dwellings dovetail century-old construction methods with modern know-how and technology

Custom, high-end, post-and-beam log home construction: It's a niche within a niche in the building industry. Yet, the allure of such dwellings -- majestic, natural and nestled in a beautiful backdrop -- keeps the trade alive. But custom log home building isn't an easy endeavor. It requires knowledge of century-old construction techniques married with modern building savvy -- and a dose of technology to keep things moving.

Even the most experienced builders need assistance when it comes to upscale log homes. The post-and-beam home, an increasingly popular choice for high-end timber frame designs, is a far stretch from the traditional stacked log home. The walls of a post-and-beam home are typically framed between the posts, leaving the logs exposed from the inside as well as the outside. Although 80% of an upscale log home reflects the contractor's expertise with contemporary design elements, the 20% of the home that is comprised of the logs themselves is what gives the home its definition and character. Success of this unique and complex construction can depend on the involvement of a master craftsman during planning and throughout the building process.

Rare Breed
These days, experts in log home construction are a very rare breed, as much of the old wisdom associated with the art has been lost to time or compromised in an effort to cut labor costs. However, such experts can prove invaluable when problems crop up, as few in the business possess the competence and willingness needed to help a troubled project get back on track.

This is a truth to which general contractor Dave Lockwood will attest. Lockwood is owner/president of Country Classic Log & Timber Homes, a builder specializing in upscale log homes. Recently, Lockwood was commissioned by a national developer/builder, Opus Corporation, to do the timberwork on a series of post-and-beam homes in the private Washington State development of Tumble Creek. Located approximately 80 miles from Seattle, Tumble Creek annexes another property called Suncadia, a four-season resort planted in a mountain valley surrounded on all sides by woodland, meadows and streams.

A third player would enter the partnership not far down the road, West Coast Log Homes of Vancouver, British Columbia. West Coast consulted on issues of design and manufacture, helping marry the conventional designs with traditional log-home craftsmanship. This would prove to be the necessary element in bringing the project's vision to life.

"The project called for a fusion of an exposed timber frame onto a conventionally framed house," Lockwood recalls. "The Tumble Creek architects were challenged by this concept as it meant merging and matching two radically different mediums, each of which basically constituted its own structure. We had to bring a specialist on board, and that turned out to be West Coast Log Homes."

West Coast Log Homes studied the issues that were stumping the architects. The $1 million price tag of each home would reflect their signature timber frame and presentation deck. Working with Opus engineers, their building specialists found ways to make these seemingly contrary components fit in with the rest of the construction.

Technology Steps In
CAD software stepped in to facilitate several steps of the post-and-beam design and construction process. According to Lockwood, West Coast put together a set of blueprints based on AutoCAD shop grinds that provided all parties involved in the project a preview of the completed house. Upon approval, a model house was built to spec in their British Columbia yard. Web photos were posted at each stage of construction so everyone, including the client, would get a chance to offer input as needed. CAD renderings by Streamline Design allowed West Coast to share views of 3D models and provide a virtual walkthrough of the house, as well as to detail each piece for production. After any problems are drawn on paper and transferred to the design program, construction challenges can be viewed with clarity and solved quickly. The ability to twist and turn the images on-screen helps with making changes, saving time and avoiding potential problems or conflicts.

A post-and-beam constructed log home, rendered by Streamline Design. Renderings enabled virtual walkthroughs of the home prior to construction.

Another CAD rendering by Streamline Design shows a preview of a finished living room in a custom log home.

With the combination of CAD as a problem-solving tool and their experience and ability to handle the fine points of design and construction, West Coast builds homes to suit and fit any type of terrain or environment. Log character, specialized techniques and attention to detail further define the finished home.

"We build each component individually," Koberwitz explains. "Our tolerances are within 1/32", the same as you get with furniture. We use no metal fasteners when building; no nails, no nothing. Everything is dovetailed wood-to-wood, a method used by framers a century ago that has since gone out of fashion."

The company also selects its own logs, 100% Western red cedar, all of it hand-harvested. Bark is removed via a unique power-washing technique to preserve knots, burls and other natural characteristics. According to Koberwitz, the eye-popping results not only sell houses, they also help promote the business of everyone who had a hand in their creation.

Builders and contractors depend greatly upon the integrity, the timeliness, and the superior craftsmanship of those working at the high end. With post-and-beams homes, it is particularly critical to get the assistance of log-home master builders who not only solve problems before they arise, but who consider it their duty to help the contractor do magnificent work.

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