Ask the Expert

Mark Elliott, Vice President at Coventry Log Homes, Inc., shares his expert insights to your top questions about designing and building your dream log home. Check back soon for more answers.

Electrical Installation in a Log Home

Question: How Is Electrical Installed in a Log Home?

Answer:

When it comes to building a log home versus a traditional stick-frame house, there are plenty of construction differences. One that causes the most head-scratching among those new to the log home world is how a house built with logs is wired. In fact, it’s one of the questions they’ve fielded the most at Coventry Log Homes, says Vice President Mark Elliott.

In a conventionally built home, electrical wiring is run through the studs in the framing, but what do you do when your walls are solid logs? The method isn’t quite as tricky as you might expect. “With the Coventry building system, the process involves stacking the first two rows of logs then drilling a hole into the logs to run the wires through before adding the third row,” explains Mark. (He warns to look out for companies that cut corners by skipping this essential step by putting outlets directly in the floor.)

For switches or outlets near a doorway, wires are chased inside the door jamb, while outlets or light fixture boxes simply require the logs to be notched where those elements will be placed. “It’s really very straightforward. Beyond that little bit of effort, it’s no different than doing electrical in any other type of home,” Mark says. “You use the same wires, boxes, outlets and covers.”

The key to a smooth installation process is to have a plan. “All of the details can feel overwhelming, but a little planning goes a long way,” he says. When marking up your plans with your electrician, Mark recommends taking a mental walk-through of your house, room by room: “Think about everything that is going to go into that room.”

For most outlets and switches, your electrician will follow standard national or local codes, but there are some specific things to consider when creating a personalized electrical plan:

  • The type and placement of your light fixtures. If you’re going to hang a trio of pendants above your kitchen island, the wiring will be different than if you choose a single fixture or recessed lighting. The same goes for ceiling fans, which require special boxes. Additionally, you’ll need to alert your electrician if you plan to include accent lighting above kitchen cabinets or to highlight beams in a cathedral ceiling.
  • The weight of any special light fixtures or accent lighting. If you’ve got your heart set on an antler chandelier in your great room, be sure to notify your electrician, as he will need to plan for the added weight.
  • The type of finish on interior walls. Your electrician will want to know if you plan to use tongue and groove pine, drywall or some other finish on your interior walls. Here’s why: Outlet boxes need to be flush with your wall and the thickness of the wall covering will determine the placement of the boxes. (For example, tongue and groove is generally about three-fourths of an inch thick, while drywall is only about one-half inch.)
  • Any special electrical features, inside and out. If you hope to install a hard-wired security system, multiple wireless internet hot spots, a landline phone (for remotely located homes), a media center with a mounted television or special lighting around the holidays, you will need to make allowances for these features.

In addition, Mark offers this tip for creating a successful, long-term electrical plan: “Think of your house in terms of how you use it now and also how you may use it in the future. Go ahead and put in plenty of outlets to give yourself the ability to change up the configuration of a room later on. What may be the nursery now might be an office someday. Changes can be made down the road, but it’s much easier to do it all during construction than after the fact.”

The Cost to Build a Log Home

Question: How Much Does It Cost to Build a Log Home?

Answer:

Whether you’ve been dreaming about owning a log home for weeks or years, you’ve undoubtedly snapped back to reality at some point to think about your budget. Though it’s not as fun to talk numbers as it is to fantasize about the details of your future home, it is essential you have a firm understanding of what a log home will cost before starting your building journey.

“The question of cost is usually one of the first — if not the first — people have when they call us,” says Mark Elliott, Vice President of Coventry Log Homes, Inc. “The best thing we can tell someone is that the cost of a log home is comparable to a quality-built custom home.” Of course, that raises the question — how much does a quality-built custom home cost? While it would be great if there were a one-size-fits-all answer, the fact is, there are just too many variables at play to lay out an accurate figure.

Even a price-per-square-foot quote from a log home company isn’t a reliable way to assess projected costs. Here’s why: When you build a log home, most companies will provide the price of a log package, and what’s included in a package can vary drastically from one company to the next. For example, Coventry’s packages include windows and doors, along with porches and decks, while another company’s quotes may only cover the log shell.

Plus, the price of your log package is only the beginning of your home’s final cost. You’ll also need to add in permitting, site prep (including lot clearing, laying a foundation and building a driveway), and running utilities to the property, along with roofing, interior finishes (such as flooring, cabinetry, light fixtures and appliances), landscaping and more. Take note: you’ll have to keep labor-related costs in mind if construction fees aren’t included in your package.

Mark also notes that location can heavily impact your bottom line: “Depending on where you in the country you build, it can make a huge difference in costs. For example, you might need special materials if you’re in a fire zone or a seismic zone,” he explains.

While all these details might seem overwhelming, there is a silver lining. Because there are so many variables at play, you as the homeowner are squarely behind the wheel when it comes to your total spend. If you’re looking to get your feet wet with a basic build, you can do that. Or, you can go all out with all the bells and whistles. “Depending on the quality of finishes you choose, Coventry homes finish up around $180 to $300 per square foot,” says Mark. Citing one client who hung a $10,0000 chandler in their great room, he adds: “You can change the cost of the same 2,000-square-foot home greatly in either direction."

If we’ve got your head spinning with numbers, take heart. There are plenty of helpful tools that will take the mystery out of building a budget. For example, Coventry offers an online calculator that allows you to input the total amount you want to spend which it then uses to create an itemized projection of how much you should allot for a log package and other variables, such as site work, labor and appliances.

Mark also recommends making using of “multipliers,” which is industry speak for taking the listed retail log package price and multiplying it by three or four to get to your ultimate cost. “If you’re building somewhere like Colorado and choosing higher-end finishes, go with four,” he advises. “If not, you can start with three.”

Of course, the best way to know how much the home of your dreams will really cost is to reach out to a log home professional. Most companies, including Coventry, will be happy to walk you through the particulars (and price) of your dream home. And, once you’ve arrived at a number, you can be sure of this — log home living will be worth it.

Pre-Cutting Logs at the Factory is Important

Question: Why is Pre-Cutting Logs at the Factory So Important?

Answer:

If you’ve done your homework, you know that each log home company follows building practices they believe lead to the best log homes. For example, debates rage over whether dead standing timbers or green logs are best, whether kiln-dried or air-dried logs create a higher quality home, and the list goes on. But there is one subject that is hard to contest when it comes to building a better log home — that pre-cutting the logs at the factory is a must.

“Pre-cutting is essential,” affirms Mark Elliott, Vice President of Coventry Log Homes. “How you approach the building process makes a huge difference in the quality of the final product.”

Here are three top reasons why pre-cutting the logs is important.

1) Pre-cutting ensures quality. When logs are cut on-site, the conditions are unpredictable (from weather to equipment to the crew’s skill level), making precision cuts difficult at best. To get a precise cut requires heavy-duty machinery simply not available on job sites. “The equipment necessary to cut these logs can weigh hundreds or even thousands of pounds,” explains Mark. “There is absolutely no way a builder on the job site can cut a log as precise and square as a factory.”
Improperly cut logs can lead to construction problems down the road — not to mention additional costs in time, labor and materials. Factory cutting the logs before they reach the job site means they will be cut to precision, so your home will fit together perfectly, creating an airtight shell.

Tip! Even if your log home company of choice touts pre-cut log packages, be sure to ask if any cuts happen on-site. Some companies claim to offer pre-cut logs but still do certain cuts on the job site, such as those on the gable ends.

2) Pre-cutting saves money. A log home is a significant investment, but there are ways to keep costs down. Choosing pre-cut logs is one of them. Because the logs will be ready for assembly when they arrive on site, homeowners can save on on-the-job labor costs.

For starters, there is no need for additional equipment, such as sawhorses and cutting saws, to be brought to the lot. Plus, this simplified construction process will reduce potentially costly cutting errors that can impact your bottom line and it can help speed up the building timeline.
“Rather than paying a contractor for doing that extra hands-on work of measuring, notching, and cutting, he can begin building right way,” says Mark.

In a nutshell, a simplified construction process will reduce labor time and costs, helping keep your bottom line in check

3) Pre-cutting is eco-friendly. Here’s why: pre-cutting allows for every inch of the log to be used to the utmost. During the drafting and design phase, the strategy for how each and every log will be used and cut is carefully considered, ensuring far less wood goes to waste.

Additionally, by readying logs in the factory, the shavings from the sawing and milling of the trees is able to be repurposed, often as bedding for animals or firewood. In fact, Mark reports that Coventry loads upwards of 20 cars per day with firewood. “Some people have even told us they can’t use anything else to heat their homes due to allergies,” he explains.

Besides helping out the local community, Coventry is able to heat their entire mill with the waste that comes from the logs. “When you cut in the factory, absolutely nothing is wasted,” says Mark. Turns out, pre-cutting is a win-win for the homeowner and Mother Nature.

How to Design for a Sloped Lot and Still Save Money

Question: If I have a sloped lot, how can I design for that while still saving money? 

Answer:

Good news! If you’re building on a sloped site — and on a budget — you’ve got a match made in log home heaven.

Here’s why: A sloped lot naturally lends itself to adding a basement to your design, and in the world of home building, there is no better way to add square footage to a budget-conscious build. In fact, a basement level offers the least expensive square footage you can get in a home.

But there is a key strategy used by cost-savvy home builders that you’ll want to adopt if your goal is saving money and not just creating more usable living space. Rather than using the basement only as “extra” recreational space (for, say, a game room or hobby area), place essential rooms, such as guest suites or a home office, down below. Incorporating these types of necessary rooms into your lower level will allow you to consolidate the upper floor(s) of your home into a smaller design while still achieving the same amount (or more) of livable space. And having less square footage on the upper areas of your home will impact your bottom-line in a major way.

Here are just a few areas where you can potentially save by pairing a basement with a smaller, above-grade footprint:

  • Site prep, from excavating the footprint to building out the basement walls
  • Floor systems, including finished flooring
  • Heating and cooling systems (They can often be sized down, reducing up-front costs and long-term utility bills.)
  • Roof systems, including shingles and other needed materials

“It literally affects everything related to your costs when you are able to take advantage of that lower-level square footage and build a smaller footprint,” affirms Mark Elliot, Vice President of Coventry Log Homes, Inc.

Building on a basement, rather than on a concrete slab, may also save labor costs with your subcontractors, such as plumbers and electricians, now and down the road. They will be able to install your home’s mechanical systems more easily on a basement foundation, as well as make any necessary changes or repairs later on.

And speaking of the future: Another way that many new log homeowners with sloped sites reduce up-front home building costs is by saving some of the lower-level finish work for later. If you’re including a basement with any spaces that are not immediately needed, you have the freedom to complete the areas at your own pace, as time and budget allows. “Finishing a basement can be a project that you complete down the road,” assures Mark.

Another, less obvious, way that a sloped site can positively affect your home-building budget is by lowering the cost of landscaping. A flat property may call for an expansive sodded, manicured lawn, without which, it may run the risk of looking wild or unkempt. But a sloped site lends itself to a more natural look. Embracing your lot’s native landscaping will reduce both up-front design and material costs, as well as long-term maintenance.

One final thought: As you move forward with building a log home on your sloped site, keep in mind that while budget is a factor that must be considered, you’ll also want to keep your design dreams and lifestyle needs front and center. With careful up-front planning, they can all coexist — and, quite possibly, nowhere more beautifully than on a sloped lot.
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