Maintaining Your Log Cabin Home

by | Jul 9, 2021 | Designing, How-To, Maintaining

From the design phase, through construction, and into a long, enjoyable lifetime, the maintenance of a log home is a critical element in retaining that like-new look, controlling present and future costs, protecting resale value, and preserving a significant investment.

Owning and maintaining a log home presents ongoing challenges; however, an understanding of the available options during design, completion of construction, and future years facilitates informed decisions and simplifies the process. Rather than a costly, time-consuming burden, log home maintenance can be a breeze with preparation and vigilance.

Design Considerations

The initial design of a log home contributes substantially to the scale and extent of any future maintenance, helping to ward off the elements, prevent structural deterioration, and preserve those alluring qualities that drew you to log home living in the first place. An ounce of prevention on the front end is more than worthwhile—both money and time well spent. Take the necessary steps to incorporate no-maintenance and low-maintenance materials and architectural features wherever possible while considering location, climate, and seasonal variations, and both structural and cosmetic woods used in construction.

“In the construction of a new home, start with logs and lumber that have a moisture content of 18 percent or less,” advises Joe Ignatoski of ISK Biocides, Inc. “The reason is twofold. Fungi cannot grow on dry wood. There is no free water in the cells of the wood with an 18 percent moisture content or less, and all the checking and cracking are behind you.”

Structurally, give the home a fighting chance against traditional pests. The recommended termite treatment is a must, while any wood-to-ground contact can prove problematic in the future, speeding deterioration or rotting of the wood and inviting wood-boring insects to a feast. So, keep the logs at least six inches above ground, whether building on a slab or with a basement. Design the roofline with plenty of drainage and an adequate pitch to allow water and debris to run off to the lowest point with ease. Wide overhangs keep moisture away from some exterior portions of the home. Compare materials and evaluate the useful lives of such critical construction variables as species of wood or metal roofing versus cedar shakes, and remember that certain wood mulch or pine straw ground covering may attract insects.

Surefire Sealants

Once log home construction is completed, the choices of sealant and other preservative safeguards are essential. “One of the things I have rarely seen addressed is what color the log home should be for the lowest maintenance,” comments Barbara Murray of CTA Products Group, a manufacturer of wood preservatives that provide stain, water protectant, sealer, protection from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, and preservative in one application. “It is really very simple. The sun wants to take the color out of everything, and every wood—mahogany, cedar, pine, or whatever—naturally turns a gray driftwood color. The fact is that gray is not a popular color. Fewer than three percent of log home owners will select a gray color, but if they understand and appreciate what I am saying it might make them a little more interested. It will save a lot of money.”

Sjoerd Bos, vice president of the Sansin Corporation, notes that the proper coating is critical. “Rather than looking at coating as a ‘film’ or ‘shield’ on top of the wood, one needs to consider log home protection as a preventative conditioner for the wood. It is a protective layer that allows the wood to breathe freely, preventing moisture from getting trapped and causing decay. Additionally, since the beauty of a log home is due in large part to Mother Nature’s handiwork, many log home owners want to protect their home naturally, without sacrificing quality.”

According to Ignatoski, the wood must be clean prior to any application of a preservative or stain. New wood may contain mill glaze or crushed wood cells that absorb preservative at a reduced rate and give an uneven finish and treatment. He recommends washing new wood with a solution of tri-sodium phosphate, liquid bleach, and water using a nylon brush, garden pump sprayer, and a power washer set below 500 psi.

“All log homes will need some amount of sealing regardless of the log profile or construction style, in between log courses, at corners, and around windows and doors,” remarks Nadia O’Hara, advertising manager for Perma-Chink Systems, Inc. “The sealant or chinking you use must be compatible with whatever stain you apply to your log home. If you are not sure, call the manufacturer.”

Remember some sealing basics to avoid post-construction complications. Use products specifically designed for log homes and bear in mind that a change in product lines may require stripping of previously applied products and starting over. Choices for physical sealants include log home wool, bond breakers, synthetic foam, gaskets or sealant tape, and splines of wood, masonite, or vinyl. Chinking is often used to fill wide gaps and must be applied with care. Modern chinking options are considerably improved over those of an earlier era and remain pliable for years. Consult with the log home manufacturer and the builder for input on recommended products.

Future Care

Keeping a maintenance diary, complete with products used and dates of application and inspection, eases the maintenance process from year to year. Locating any maintenance issues early and dealing with them directly saves time and lessens the probability of expensive and more problematic repairs later.

“One key for keeping your log home in tip-top condition is to take an hour or so once the weather turns nice to inspect the exterior of your home for signs of potential problems,” notes O’Hara. “Make a diagram of your home that you can carry while you conduct your inspection. If you have a digital camera, take it with you. Use a checklist of the things that are relevant to your home.”

Routine maintenance includes keeping gutters and downspouts clear to prevent backflow of water into eaves and other exterior and interior areas. An interior inspection is a good idea as well. Signs of mold or deterioration inside often indicate problems outside.

“Clean any dirty surfaces that might support the growth of mold or mildew, which could damage the wood,” says Bos. “Also, test for water repellency by spraying the surface with water to make sure the coating is repelling effectively. If the coating is transparent, look for color loss by comparing a treated section that is more exposed to the elements to another section that is more protected. Once there is color loss, coatings tend to deteriorate quickly. So, if color loss is determined, consider washing the surface … and then applying a maintenance coat.”

Periodic inspections, possibly coinciding with the changing of the seasons, help to identify maintenance issues early. The finest in products will eventually need reapplication or some form of maintenance.