How to buy a small log cabin kit
We don't all need a big mansion. In fact many of us prefer smaller, more affordable and easier maintainable houses. We have come to realize that working only to pay of debts and living from paycheck to paycheck is not as glamorous that it seemed when we sat on the outside of it looking in. Now that we are living that reality it is in fact only tiring.
So as a result of this realization we have set out to look for ways to cut back, going smaller, more manageable, more sustainable. There are so many options to consider and the journey of exploring them are fun. There are tiny houses often on wheels, you could go for a container home, a house boat, you could build your own cob house, or buy an inexpensive yurt and so the list goes on and on. Another option to go small in a relatively inexpensive way, is to buy a small log cabin kit, and that is what we are going to discuss today.
Tips when you are shopping for a small log cabin kit
Photo by Peter Bond
If you pick one of the smaller DIY kit, where the logs are precut and properly marked to fit, it should be quite manageable for one or two persons (with some help) to assemble. By manageable we do not in any way mean easy, because it will be hard work and it will take its time.
The best way to find kits is to search for log homes and contact the supplier for quotes. Some of them may have a catalog of small log cabin kits, but many of them do in fact not. What they will do is to create a kit adapted to your needs, without any additional cost.
Southland Log Homes even have a tool where you can design your log home before you submit it to them for a quote.
We are not going to suggest any particular supplier, but we are going to give some general advice for what to look at when you are shopping for log cabin kits and considering prices etc.
Discovery Dream Homes show here in their video how a cabin kit is being assembled.
The above log cabin kit is not availeble from amazon.com, but, Allwood, another company, actually do sell their log cabin kits on amazon. Pretty amazing.
The price for the basic shell is $34,900.00
The varieties of wood used in log cabin kits
Most of the log cabin kit suppliers offer a range of different woods to choose from. Each of them have their own characteristics, and your choice of wood can affect the cost of your cabin very much. But cost is not the only thing to keep in mind when choosing the wood. The most common wood species for log cabins are:
Pine is perhaps the most common logs to use when building log homes. The advantage is that pine is stable, it does not shrink a lot and it is easy to work. It is also lightweight and strong. Add this to it being energy efficient and relatively inexpensive and it is easy to see why it is so much used. Low to moderately decay resistant depending on species.
Particularly Douglas Fir is frequently used for log cabins. As pine, fir is also energy efficient and inexpensive. Douglas fir has a beautifully reddish in color. It is strong and moderately decay resistant.
Spruce is a somewhat expensive, lightweight wood. It is a soft wood but very durable and stable, with little shrinkage when dry.
Cedar is beautiful and aromatic. It is a soft wood and easy to work with. It is quite resistant to checks and warping. Cedar is also highly resistant to decay. This is of the expensive woods for log cabins.
These species, along with a couple more, are the most popular choices for the construction of log homes. Which one is the best fit for you should be determined by your personal preferences and budget.
While investigating the log cabin kit to buy you should inquiry about the exact species of wood used as there are many subspecies of for instance pine or fir, that does not offer the same qualities that we refer to here. So get the exact species of wood and look up its qualities.
What does a log cabin kit contain?
It is very important when finding your kit is to check what they contain and what they do not contain. You see, not all kits are equal and the labels may change from provider to provider, so make sure you check what your kit contains and make sure you get a kit that is prepared for DIY with proper drawings and marked lumber and precut lumber.
Now over to the kits themselves and their content:
There are basically three types of packages or kits
WALLS ONLY KIT
The most basic package and in consequence, the least expensive package. It will contain logs for exterior walls and the materials for fastening and sealing. It will not include the roof system, but it may or may not include windows and doors, and the logs may or may not be pre-cut. As this is not complete structure, you will not have the drawings to apply for a permit if required. This type of package has a very attractive entry cost, but it may not end up being the cheapest option when fully finished.
STRUCTURAL SHELL KIT
This package is perhaps the most common package and it typically contain everything found in the walls only package, in addition to the materials for the roof, the exterior doors and windows, and everything required create a a weather-tight log cabin. This is a complete complete structure, so this should comply with current building codes and documentation for obtaining permits should be available to you.
This package is becoming increasingly popular and should contain everything found in the structural-shell package, plus materials for complete floor system, interior partitions, stairs, doors, hardware and interior wall paneling.
It is very important that you make sure you understand what your kit contain and how it is delivered. Note that the different providers may use the same name on their kit but the content may not be the same. Also the kits may be provided with or without pre-cut logs, so make sure you get the pre-cut ones, unless you really know what you are doing.
The thermal properties of wood
You should not limit your reading of woods thermal properties to an R-value number. R-value is a number that expresses the Thermal Resistance of a given material.
In this video Corey Binford explains what R-value means
The R-value of wood will vary a bit from species to species, but will average about R-1.
However wood also have thermal mass. This means that the logs acts as heat batteries and will store heat from for instance the sun and slowly release the heat again back into the house at night.
Another characteristic to take into account is the woods thermal conductivity. Thermal conductivity measures the insulating value or resistance to heat flow. The lower the conductivity, the higher the insulating value.
It gives us an indication of the heat that flows in one hour through 1 sqft of 1 inch thick material and causes a temperature change of 1ºF between the two surfaces of material.
Woods conductivenes is at approximately 0.8 BTU per inch, per hour, per sqft per degree Farenheit. Steel on the other hand is at 320 BTU, concrete has 8 BTU and glass 5 BTU.
However, you should always look into ways to make your home energy efficiency independently of the building method and materials you chose. An energy efficient house will save both you and the environment in the long run.
Know the wood used in your log cabin kit
Living trees have a high moisture content. This moisture begins to evaporate when the tree is cut. This will cause the wood to shrink. Consequently, if you cut fresh logs to fit each other and lock together, they may not fit or lock together a couple of days down the road. This is the reason why most of the log cabin kit providers will let the wood try before cutting and fitting the logs.
There are several methods used:
This wood has about 25% of its original moisture content. It usually takes about 2-4 weeks for wood to reach this state. Most wall logs will be surface dry wood.
This wood has about 19% of its original moisture content. It would usually take a year or so to reach this state.
This wood has about 15% of its original moisture content. Because building logs are thick it would normally require years to get the moisture content so low. It takes on the other hand only a couple of weeks to dry them in forced-air oven. Once the center of the log has reached this level of moisture, very little additional shrinkage will occur. The heat in the oven will also kill any insects that may have infested the logs.
There are several different ways to cut the logs to be stacked for walls, read more about this here, but independently of this, the logs should also be fastened vertically using a long bolt, drift pins, spikes or similar for increased stability.
As an added security you could also check if the logs have been structurally graded. This is a standard developed by The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). Log homes Council and Timber Products Inspection Inc grades logs according to these grading standards. If your chosen company does not use graded logs, that does not necessarily mean that the logs are not good. You can get them graded independently by one of the two mentioned organizations.