When inspecting a log house, some special key characteristics are unique to log houses that require close scrutiny. I have outlined some of them below to help on an initial visit when considering purchasing a log home:
1. What is the general condition of the logs? Deferred maintenance can lead to trouble for any home, especially log homes. Generally, log homes require frequent staining to prevent deterioration. The frequency is dependent on the quality of the stain and the exposure of the log walls. Then there is the question of whether the stain on the logs is latex or oil-based. Oil-based stains tend to last longer, but latex stains are being engineered better as time goes on. The worst thing anyone can do to a log wall is applied paint to the outside. Solid color stains are sometimes difficult to tell from paint on the initial inspection. You want to avoid paint because logs, being cellulose-like cotton, have a natural “moisture regain”. This natural regain and loss of moisture with changes in seasons, will cause paint to peel and can result in wood rot. Stain, however, will allow the moisture to pass without blocking it, preventing damage to the finish and logs. Stains are like Tyvek around a frame house; it resists water but allows moisture vapor to pass.
Caulking and proper flashing on the outside of a log home are also critical to the longevity of the log walls. If during your visit you notice staining on the inside of the log walls around door openings, window openings, corners, and fireplace openings, you may have a caulking/flashing issue. Prior to re-staining a log home, you should caulk log home with a “log builder” type caulk. Caulks designed for log homes are specially engineered to last longer on log homes given the unique movement issues related to moisture regain.
2. Are there sloping floors? This is very common in log houses. It can be related to frame design but can also be related to logging shrinkage and associated settlement. Good log package framing designs can often overcome potential floor slope issues.
Often shrinkage is the culprit and does not show up until several years after the home is built. Logs used to build log homes vary in moisture content or “greenness”. Some log home package providers use “dead standing timber”, some use kiln-dried logs, and others use “air-dried” logs. Air-dried logs tend to have the most moisture and shrinkage issues. Logs can shrink by as much or more than 1/8” per 8”. Using 1/8” as an example, this can add up to 2” per wall as the number of logs on a typical 10’ ceiling height is 15 courses (15 x 1/8”= 1.9”). This amount of shrinkage and resulting 2” of settlement can put pressure on floor systems in some areas not designed for those loads leading to deflection and sloping. The good news is that most of this log shrinkage and settlement occurs during the first 3 to 5 years of a log home’s life.
3. Are there big overhangs or porches that surround the house? Wider overhangs result in better protection from the elements of the log walls. Narrow overhangs result in over-exposure and potential damage.
4. Are there cracks in the walls on the interior that line up with the exterior? You want logs to have the “heart” of the log visible on the outside corner ends. That way, cracks, or “checking” as we call it in the log home trade, will stop at heart and not go through the wall. Cracks that go through the wall can cause many problems that are best avoided.
These are just a few things to consider when buying a log home. Of course, we inspect several other items when inspecting a log home, including electrical, plumbing, mechanical, structure, roof, crawl space, exterior, appliances, etc.
We have built, sold, and inspected log homes for over 30 years. If you are considering a log home purchase in the East Tennessee area, please call us to help with the inspection process. Our number is 865-658-1050.