Cabin Inspiration

Many are probably wondering- “yeah, but what’ll it look like when it’s done?” I don’t know, and that’s actually complicated to answer because a cabin like ours doesn’t really exist yet- for a couple of reasons:

  • This is kind of a “duh”, but every handmade log home is different- just the logs alone have so many differences from build to build- let’s look at a few differences:
    • Our logs don’t look like other logs- species differences: Southern Yellow Pine (afterwards “SYP”) vs Fir, spruce, Ponderosa, Douglas, Cedar, Oak, Poplar, etc.
    • SYP grown in open field, or close together: close together means they don’t put on as many branches (and they don’t get as thick). Out in the open, they spread out which means they have more knots, but the trunks are thicker. This might seem minor, but consider two log homes- one built with 20″ average logs, and the other with 10″ average logs:
      • taper: taper is the how fast the log gets smaller as you measure it from bottom to top (to find the taper, you take the difference between the top and bottom diameter and divide by the total length).  We wanted to shoot for a taper of less than 1% (didn’t happen- most of ours are 2%). Doesn’t seem like much, but most of ours got dangerously close to smaller than 8″ at 42 feet. My rule was minimum of 8″ at 42 feet.
  • Construction method:
    • methods for joining logs- cope, dovetail, milled, D-logs- I went through and researched all of these methods before I settled on the Skip Ellsworth Butt & Pass method. Skip’s is the most durable, has the lowest maintenance level, the easiest. The only thing it’s not is the prettiest: Swedish cope takes the cake on that one. But I think B&P takes the cake on durability.
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  • Maybe those differences are minor to you, so let’s look at plans:
    • Roof- we have settled for the moment on charcoal metal or gun metal gray. This is just a personal preference.
      • Roof material: metal. We had a brief moment of insanity where we thought about cedar…
    • Roof overhang: I was going to go for ten foot overhangs, but now with a wrap around porch, we’ll only need a bit of overhang- maybe 5-7 feet. This is significant- in the South (where we are), you need a lot of overhang to cover the logs- they cannot get wet. Add to that the fact that SYP isn’t that rot resistant, and a wrap around porch becomes a necessity more than a perk. “Oh, you should have used cedar or ponderosa….” Ok, that adds about $15k – $30k to the price because you have to buy them and truck them in. Or you can follow Skip’s advice and “build with what you’ve got”, which is what we are doing.
    • chainsaw-for-building-a-log-home
    • Two story home
      • We could go for a full size second floor- which means our walls would have to be twenty feet tall.
      • Or we could go for a knee wall and only have log walls that are, say, fifteen feet tall. Then the roof angles down in the bedrooms. We aren’t sure where we’ll end up, but this will affect whether the stairs curve or not.
    • And let’s not forget the foundation: Pier, crawlspace, or full foundation:
      • This is dependent on the water table. We decided not to chance flooding, and just go with piers. Then we found out that in the South, piers are recommended because the increased airflow keeps the house cool in the summer. Keeping cool is the name of the game in the South, whereas in the North, freezing your keister off is the name of the game. Hey, nobody said you had to live up North….
    • Other considerations:
      • Our home will be square, as outlined here
      • Size and placement of windows (we just bought 4 windows for $80 at a thrift store, but we will need more. Many LHBA members mix and match windows from various sources to save on costs).
      • Ceiling height on both floors- we want high (9+ feet) ceilings.
      • stove pipe or rock fireplace? And inside or outside? I like the ease of a stovepipe, and I like it inside
      • Ridge Pole Support log (RPSL): inside or outside? Outside, for us, and completely protected by the porch and roof overhang, of course.
      • Rafters made from logs or beams? Logs.
      • The inside floor plan: this is the best part of a log home. Since the outer walls hold the roof up, you can do anything you like with the inside walls and rooms. Our plan is to have the ability to completely live on the first floor, and then have a 3/4 floor upstairs- 3/4’s for living, 1/4 open to living area.

End result for what it will look like? Something of a mix between everything below. I’ll continue to update this post with photos as I find new inspiration. Now, on to the inspiration:

A lot of these photos are from builds by Ronnie Wiley of wileyloghomes.

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2016 July 24: Schedule for the rest of 2016

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I got a little raise at work. Yay! Now, hopefully, our account will still be hundreds in the black instead of just tens a week before payday. It’s sort of self imposed: we committed to saving a small house payment-like amount when we started the build. We are counting on this amount to supplement our savings that we used to initially start things off. But I also have some student loan payments and we have the land loan every month, along with our utilities, groceries, gas, and the normal bills everyone has.

I’ve been worried about finances on the build for a few months now- the city charges $5,000 to hook up water, power, and sewer, and this amount will just about clean out our savings for the next few months, and make it difficult to get concrete poured (I’m thinking thousands for the concrete). But we can’t get a building permit until we have utilities, so it was becoming a roadblock to progress. With my little raise at work, we now have some breathing room on our build, although we won’t be able to do the concrete right away.

I’m still cleaning up tree debris from cutting twelve trees a few weeks ago- not ready to move logs, but hope to do so later this week. And the debris piles are getting huge. Even with saving the bigger branches, things are still piling up. I’m probably going to end up with ten or more debris piles. There is currently an annual “burn ban” for the summer in the county we live in, so no burning until October. And I think I’ll be required to have running water on hand while burning brush.

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I also need to borate the trees I have. Borating the trees stops mold and bugs (mostly termites) from setting up shop in your house. Borating only really needs to be done once if your logs are already stacked and dried in (protected from rain). My logs are laying around exposed to the elements, so I’m going to have to treat them twice- once now, and once again when they are under roof. Once they are under roof, further borating is not necessary. The boric acid discourages insects, while the glycol causes the tree to suck up the solution much farther than just water would do. For LHBA members (password and membership required), I like the thread “NOTICE – Borate Mixture- Notice” under the “log home construction” folder. Three ingredients- borax, boric acid, and some kind of glycol. There are some surface mold spots on the logs I’ve peeled (thank you,  ‘The South’, and your overly humid weather). I bought a metal bushel, but I still have to buy the borax and the glycol (both available at Walmart). I also have a sprayer (thank you, Harbor Freight, for having extremely cheap tools). Just need a few hours to boil up some brew…

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All of the above has caused me to think about a (very aggressive) build schedule for the rest of the year:

  • July
    • continue to cut trees, clean up brush.
    • Hope to end the month with 18 existing + 15 new = 33 trees on racks, and half of them peeled.
    • borate the trees I’ve peeled.
  • August
    • cut and haul more trees- hopefully, by end of August, get 20 more trees for a total of 53 trees- enough to start the build. I think I only need 48 for the walls, but I want some breathing room. I also still need a bunch for the roof purlins, lifting logs, cap logs, ridge poles, etc, but I can at least get the build going once I have the minimum.
  • September
    • Peel all trees, and borate the remainder once peeled.
  • October
    • pay for water hook up
    • submit plans and get building permit
    • dig and pour foundation
  • November
    • lay first logs for walls. This also means I’ll make this blog public- that is the goal- make it public after the first few courses of logs are laid.
    • burn brush piles and maybe stumps
  • December
    • Lay last log for walls
  • January 2017 (or whenever I have funds)
    • Get the freakin’ roof on!

At some point, I need to get more tools and materials. Items I’m still missing:

  • plywood for foundation forms ($200)
  • concrete ($2400)
  • rebar (about $1200)
  • 2 3-ton chain hoists ($160)
  • rebar cutter ($150) or chop saw blades ($50?)
  • styrofoam for roof (I don’t know- probably $200-500)
  • roof panels (probably metal roof – $3000)
  • T&G roof decking ($2000)
  • plywood roof underlayment (I don’t know)

It’s obviously very ambitious for one person, not to mention one person that has never done this before. I’m sure there will be delays due to finances or hassles with the city, equipment breakdowns, etc. But if the schedule needs to be adjusted by two or three months, that’s ok- I need to wait for a tax return for a boost to my finances anyway.  It still appears that I can “git-r-dun” within my goal of 2-3 years.

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2015 December 22: The owner-built Log Home Philosophy

images.duckduckgo.comThis post should have been first, but the anvil was hot on the other topics. Reading through them, though, I realize I haven’t even discussed my philosophy. Why am I so interested in a log home? Why not a brick home or a traditional frame home? Why not a stone house? How about straw-bale, cinder-block, timber frame, trailer (hey- they are cheap, if nothing else)? And why not just buy a traditional home that someone else built and save myself the trouble?

I think it boils down to a few things:

1. Finances

Most Americans’ financial path looks something like the following:

live off parents (0-20+) ->  get a minimum wage job (16-20+) -> go into debt for a cell phone and a car ($10k-$20k) -> Go into debt for college ($20k-$60k) -> Get married (go into debt for ring – $2k, honeymoon- $6k) -> go into debt for a house – $180k, credit card debt – $40k -> go into debt for a minivan – $20k -> get a blue or white collar job and hopefully break even by the time they retire.

From the point they go to college until the point of retirement, they live in debt- something like 45 years of debt, and anywhere from $300k to $350k of debt. Student loan debt, car payments, credit cards, home loans- by the time we’re done paying off our homes, we could have bought two of them. Why do we (as a country) follow this path? Why doesn’t the path look like this:

live off parents, learn how money works -> get a minimum wage job, save for college or tech school -> go to school debt-free, while working and save for a home and drive a crappy car -> get a job, save even more for a home -> hefty down payment on home, go into debt only $100k – $150k -> able to use leftover from small house payment to maintain a modest car, or save for a nice car -> pay off house early, set up investment accounts -> retire early -> enjoy retirement.

The answer is really and simply: easy credit. It is getting easier and easier to borrow money.

A few years back, I was living the dream like I described- all except for the car payments, credit card debt, and student loans. But while my job paid well, I was in debt for a house, and was going to pay for it for the next 30 years. My then-wife (now ex-wife) was also working, so we had a bunch of extra cash. We decided to buy a vacation home near a lake (Bear Lake, Utah). It was great- 20 acres and a cabin. Then we got divorced, and had to sell. In the middle of selling it, I got remarried and moved to Alabama. When the cabin finally sold, it sold for more than double what we paid for it. After paying off the loan, and giving my ex her share, I had just enough to buy a fixer-upper hud-home. So we were still debt free. But I was having a hard time getting ahead financially- the economy wasn’t my friend.  After going back to school for a second degree – this time in Mathematics, and a scary sidetrack as a teacher, I ended up finding a better job as a systems support engineer.

My credit is awesome. I should get a loan….Which brings me to my principles.

2. Principles

“Interest never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation. … Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.”~J. Reuben Clark, famous attorney, and prominent leader in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church).

Being a slave to debt: I would like to avoid debt as much as possible. If I should suddenly kick the bucket, I do not want my wife to have to go get a job to support the family, or pay off the house or debts. After my LDS mission, I had a goal of “be debt free by 35”. I actually reached that goal….and then went back to school (and into debt)- that was a mistake. I could have probably saved in between each semester and paid cash for my classes, but my income from contracting fluctuated wildly, and it was hard to determine ahead of time where our next meal was coming from. But the house was paid off, and so were the cars, and we had no credit card debt.

Of course, the idea is to earn interest, not pay it. Still working on this one. The stock market- over the last 8 years at least- has been funded by funny money from the U.S. Treasury, so land or gold seems to be where it’s at if you want any security.

3. Practicality

This is where it gets interesting: just look at the layers on a brick home: you have bricks, some kind of moisture barrier, maybe some OSB, some 2×4 framing, insulation, drywall, and then paint. A stick home is worse- instead of bricks, you have vinyl siding or something, moisture barrier, OSB, then the 2×4’s, etc. All of those layers require a specialist- a brick mason, siding person, a framing person, someone to insulate it, a drywall specialist, and a painter.  How about a log home? Well, you’ve got logs….and that’s it. I actually think you use less wood for a log home over a stick home by the time you cut all your 2×4’s and OSB, but that’s probably debatable. At the very least, logs require far less processing than 2×4’s. Why isn’t this more popular? Well, it takes longer….

How about special skills for building a log home: the ability to follow directions, the ability to sweat a lot, the ability to finish what you started. Little 90 lb women are building these things with a block and tackle.  As far as I can figure, you lay out your logs so that a big end will alternate with a small end. With the butt & pass method, you don’t have to “cope” or carve the logs to fit- just butt them up against the corner of the other one. Then spike the whole thing with rebar every 2 feet. Add a ridge pole and purlins or support beams for the roof, add decking and shingles or tin, then chink as necessary. Put in floor, stairs, interior walls wherever you want (the interior walls are never main supports- the outer walls hold everything up). Plumb, do electrical, HVAC, counters, appliances, finish and enjoy. Lots and lots of work, but when it’s done, it costs literally 10-15% of what a home of similar size (but not quality) would cost you.

4. Philosophy of life

So, how do you avoid going into debt and still buy a house? Building your own home does not seem possible to most people. But why? My two favorite reasons:

  1. It seems complicated- Permits, engineering, materials, tools, heavy equipment, labor, inspections, and general know-how seem to be just out of reach for most people.  I’m lucky enough to know which end of a hammer to hold, so half of those issues are not an issue. What’s weird is that when you go to college- it’s just as complicated- maybe more so: you have no idea how to pay for it, you don’t know what to expect from each class, everything changes every semester, you have to learn what each professor expects, you have to juggle your schedule to get everything done, not to mention if you change your major (which everyone does). So what is the big put-off? I believe it’s reason #2:
  2. Media/commercialism: the media tells us that you get a loan to buy a house. “It’s my money, and I want it now.” It seems easy- just get a loan, and then pay for it for 30 years. I was thinking that way, too- until my cabin tripled in value (yes, I only sold it for double what it was worth- that was in 2007- looking back, I’m lucky I sold it when I did). I could sell it after 5 years and make a profit because the market had changed, and it was suddenly worth 3 times what I paid for it. I didn’t have to remain in debt.

Doesn’t it make sense to – if you could – spend 3 years building a house, and then the next 50+ enjoying the fruits of your labor? What if you could get it all done debt free, but the price was 3 years of your life? Well, the alternative is: it costing you 30 years of your life, which is the Master Mahan principle- turning life into property: the bank turns 30 years of your life into their property (interest). Enter the Skip Ellsworth log home method.

I’ve looked at log homes ever since I bought my cabin. The guy who built it was in his 70’s when he started building it. It had a rock-pile-and-cement foundation, gas lighting, a loft, a living area, and a kitchen. But it wasn’t a log cabin-it was framed in. I started looking into how to build a log cabin- there were classes, methods, builders, dealers, kits. And everyone was saying it takes years to learn how to do it, and you can’t do it yourself. Hmmmmm. Then I found the Skip Ellsworth method. You do it yourself. In a nutshell, you find property, get logs for free or very cheap ($0.05-$0.10 per log – yes, really!), peel them, build a foundation, stack the logs, put a roof on it, chink it, finish the interior. A few have done it for $9,000. Most do it for under $60,000. A few end up at $100,000.  The quickest people get it done in 9 months. Most people take about 2-3 years. A few masochists really enjoy not finishing things they start, and end up taking 25 years (no. just no.).  Then, if you decide to sell it, log homes always sell for more than regular homes- most of the owner built log homes sell for more than $300,000. Yes. Spend $40,000 to build, sell for $300,000, profit = $260,000. And you don’t have to pay off the bank. Skip goes on to say that at that point, you can use the profit to build 4 more log homes, sell them, and now you retire. You’ve made your millions.

5. Summary

I think we’ve been duped as a country to believe that “that’s just the way it’s done” on waaaayyyy too many issues. They (whoever they are) have got us right where they want us: believing there’s only one way to do anything. I’m not buying what they are selling. I guess I’ve never done things the traditional way; maybe that’s been a mistake- maybe, if I put my nose to the grindstone long enough, I’ll get rich….but I think I’d rather build a cabin.

Cost analysis

I got bored while looking for land, so I priced out all the materials I could think of that I will need to build this log home. I went to HomeDepot online, and just looked there for everything. I’m sure that I can get stuff cheaper if I keep my eyes open- for example, I saw an ad recently on Craigslist for 3/4″ OSB for $7.00/sheet.

The cost is very surprising. Assuming I can get the logs for free (I found a Craigslist ad for a guy that wants someone to come take 50 mature trees out of his yard), everything else prices out as below. I’d have to hire a logging truck to come pick up the logs, but I already found out it’s about $300 or less. So, here’s my price list: log-home-cost-analysis

For less than $10,000, I get the shell. That includes a sawmill, a chainsaw, other tools, concrete for the foundation, the logs, the spikes, and the roof. I forgot to add one thing: a tractor. Found out I’m going to need a way to load the logs onto the sawmill, dig holes, drag chains attached to pulleys, level the ground, build driveways, move dirt, and basically lift heavy stuff. I’ve been looking, and it appears I can get one for about $3500, so the shell will cost about $13,000.

The whole thing (not including the land) will cost about $40,000. I’m using the sawmill to make the beams, and also the flooring. We may even do concrete counter-tops like this: concrete-countertop

Our plan right now is 36’x48′ two levels, with 5 bedrooms, 3 baths, an atrium for plants, and a balcony. $40,000 for a 3,000 sq ft log home is pretty darn cheap!

Found some land:

We found some land. We’ve been looking seriously for about 3 months. We’ve both changed our minds several times. I wanted 5 acres or more, Julie wanted 0.5 acres or more, but thought 5 acres was too big. We started off looking for houses, but with all the problems we’ve seen with the ones we liked (mold, location, high power lines going over the yard, and of course, the ones that are way out of our price range), Julie finally messaged me one day:

Screenshot_2015-12-07-12-48-38[1]

So, the journey began. I had been studying the “how” of building a log home ever since I bought my first big piece of land in Idaho- about 15 years ago. We talked about doing it here, but it just didn’t seem possible. Then, this message.

The pursuit of land. Requirements were: close to Huntsville, more than 0.5 acres, hopefully with water, power, sewer or septic, and under $25,000. It was harder than it looked- we found bowl shaped property, rocky hillsides, brambles, swamps- but nothing we just loved. Then I found a piece of land with a house on it- 2 acres and a house for $27,000. Was the house burned down? We went to look. Nope. House was fine, with someone living there, apparently. The area was great- close to Hampton Cove, good schools, walking trails, a Walmart within 5 minutes. Then a lady pulled up next to us- “whatch’yall doin’ here?”  Seems there had been a lot of theft in the area, and she was checking us out. RED FLAG!  Also, the Realtor said the house wasn’t for sale, it was the 2 acres behind it (but the listing says….!) Darn. We went up the road a little further and found our current pick. Complete with  a slightly nosy neighbor, but no thefts. Surrounded by trees, driveway already built, good schools, still 5 minutes from Walmart (maybe 6, now, but still). Google map image:

property-satellite-view

It’s the cleared out area, plus about 20 feet into the trees on all sides.