Building in Stages

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Building, How-To, Planning

Planning for both the present and the future presents an array of options for those considering the construction of a log home during challenging economic times.

Several financial factors have influenced the concept of log home construction in recent years. Money is tight, and lenders are setting the bar ever higher for borrowers. Cash down payments and overall equity positions weigh more heavily on the credit decision than anyone can remember, and it is a given that credit scores and payment histories must approach pristine for an institution to take on the risk of a home construction project.

One solution that is gaining momentum quickly allows log home enthusiasts to realize their dream home today while the practical aspects of cost, floorplan, and time involved can be considered for the completion of a project in the future as resources allow.

“Once you have purchased the property you love, building your log home becomes more of a priority,” relates Stephanie Johnson, marketing manager for PrecisionCraft Log & Timber Homes. “You bought your land because you wanted to be there, but there are practical reasons that would push the project into the future. The solution may be to build in stages.”

Building in stages involves constructing a home that can be expanded, added onto, or attached to another structure at some time in the future. PrecisionCraft specializes in the turn-key construction of custom mountain homes, and more and more clients have embraced the idea, setting themselves up to occupy the property they treasure and to embark on a construction program that will be accomplished over time.

“It is possible to start your dream home now without making a complete investment,” adds Johnson. “Many future log and timber home buyers have land now but can’t enjoy it. We introduced the idea of building in stages using a carriage house. At PrecisionCraft and Mountain Architects we design to a budget not just based on square footage but also on the complexity of design, material selection, and level of finishes. If a client is looking for a particular style of home but has a smaller budget than they did two or three years ago, as long as they are still in the ballpark we will work with them to see if we can design a home that might be smaller with fewer roof lines and perhaps a different combination of log and timber materials to get their home within budget.”

The carriage house concept is simple and user friendly. Essentially, it consists of a two-story garage with parking and storage on the first floor and living space on the second. With a footprint of less than 1,000 square feet, it can accommodate a functional studio apartment that easily converts into a master or guest bedroom when the rest of the house is constructed. The carriage house provides the basics of sleeping space, bathroom, running water, and electricity, and construction might well begin much sooner. The design of the finished home can be finalized now and incorporate the carriage house in an overall master plan for today and tomorrow.

“Another way to build in stages is to leave the accessory buildings for later,” comments PrecisionCraft design manager Celeste Raygosa. “Perhaps the garage can wait—or the in-law wing you are planning can remain unfinished for a while. Also, you may want to consider a spacious outdoor living area that is covered and even ‘camp out’ there before or during construction of the home. An outdoor fireplace and screened-in eating area could be the beginning of a fantastic outdoor kitchen down the road. Building a barn for storage, livestock or future gatherings gives you an option to enjoy your property comfortably before the entire project is completed.”

At Alta Log Homes, the Sagamore floorplan with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, 1,138 square feet of first-floor living space, and a 549-square-foot loft, is ideal for building in stages. “As long as it is practical for the customer and for the lender, the idea is to plan for a future addition, and many of our customers are building smaller homes now,” comments Alta president David Mann. “The Sagamore has been popular with people who want to add more square footage later. It can be expanded into the Alta Classic with a wing for two bedrooms or a master bedroom.”

Tom Kuhns, president of Kuhns Bros. Log Homes, actually applied the technique of building in stages with his own custom log home. While his first concern is that building in stages might involve a bit more overall cost since contractors and vendors are giving the best discounts in a generation right now and it follows logically that having to return to a site to complete a home would include the cost of sending crews to a site more often along with scheduling requirements, Kuhns still believes it is worthwhile to consider staged construction.

“To build in stages usually would cost more, but right now there is a certain amount of overhead that contractors and vendors must maintain. Therefore, they are looking to get a certain volume of homes, and if that means discounting to 25 percent to achieve that, then it is being done. We are seeing this across the board because we also have a construction division and there are different vendors who want to get a sale even if it means giving up some of the profit margin,” Kuhns reasons.

“However,” he adds, “the thought process may be that you can’t do the whole project at one time. So, the best thing is to do at least something now. That is what I decided to do in 1995. We knew we wanted a master bedroom downstairs and poured the foundation and concrete slab. We used that slab for a patio until we were ready to build the master bedroom, and you could do the same thing with the foundation of a garage—use it as a patio until you are ready to build the completed structure.”

Carriage houses, fully functional, efficient floorplans, and pre-positioning structural elements are all viable components of the dream house that can begin to take shape today and become reality in the future. Architects, designers, and vendors are ready to cooperate with those who choose this option.

“We have home floorplans that are ideal for building a portion now and adding a garage and breezeway or a wing on later,” remarks Kuhns. “We are more than willing to do a complete set of construction drawings now and break the project up into what we can do now and what is expected to be done three to five years or so later. The drawings will be here. Customers have an idea of what they want, and sometimes that pushes the limitations of their financial condition.

“Instead of walking away,” Kuhns concludes, “we come back and say, ‘Did you think about making some modifications and live in that for the next five years and then add the additional wings or whatever.’ In this situation, the nice thing about a log home is that it is wood, and it is easy to add on. This makes it convenient for a buyer, particularly if building in stages is the intention going forward.”

For those interested in moving ahead with their dream home, building in stages offers an attractive alternative to simply marking time. Although the process may present challenges of its own, the opportunity to enjoy the log home lifestyle remains real and attainable.