For many people, becoming a log home owner takes years of planning and saving funds. Once you’ve built your dream log home, you want to do everything possible to protect your investment. Regular maintenance is certainly important, and carefully selecting high-performing stains and finishes will help preserve the beauty and integrity of your home for years to come.
Stains and finishes protect the logs from the elements, including sun, wind, and rain—strong forces that can cause severe damage over time without proper maintenance. A good stain also should bring out the natural beauty of the wood, showcasing its natural hues and grain patterns. It’s important to find a stain that not only complements your species and style of wood, says interior designer Stephanie Hintz of Wisconsin Log Homes, but also to consider your location and the area’s typical weather patterns.
“The stain’s first job is to protect and seal your home,” says Hintz. “Its second job is to look good.”
And when it comes to stains and finishes, Hintz and other experts caution that often you get what you pay for. Don’t walk into your local hardware store expecting to find a stain that’s appropriate for log homes. While the price tag on stains may be lower at the local hardware store, “homeowners really have not saved any money if they have to stain more often—using more material, and in many cases, more labor costs,” Hintz adds.
“Not all wood stain is the same,” adds Jeremy Bertrand, national sales manager of Log Homes of America in Jefferson, North Carolina, and former executive director of the Log Homes Council at the National Association of Home Builders. “With the stains you see at a big box store, the quality just isn’t there for a solid log structure. Log homes are a different beast than dimensional wood or furniture.”
So many choices, how to decide? Stains are available in water-based or oil-based formulas, each offering pros and cons. Consider factors such as where the home is located, what type of wood is used, and the types of sealants have been used in the past, says Hintz, who recommends looking for a stain that has added mildewcides, borates, and low VOCs (volatile organic compounds). While oil-based stains have a better track record for performance and duration, Hintz says, “water-based technology has come a long way.” Homeowners should look for a stain system that allows the wood to breathe, protects against moisture and rot, and gives the desired appearance.
Design choices affect product performance. Maintenance on a log home begins during the design stage, says Paul Peebles, a commercial sales representative for Perma-Chink Systems, Inc., and good design features will affect the performance of any stain system.
“The most important thing is to do the maintenance you need to do on your house,” Peebles says. “You get into the maintenance during the design of the house.” Peebles recommends incorporating porches and overhangs—especially on the southern and western exposure sides—to protect the logs from the sun’s UV rays. Take care to select the right roofing and gutter systems that will properly guide water away from the logs. Additionally, well-placed trees may offer shading from the sun as well as protection from strong winds. Taking these practical steps will ultimately enhance the performance of any stain system.
How long do stains last? While many homeowners want to know how long to expect stains and finishes to last, Josh Watson, project coordinator at Honest Abe Log Homes in Moss, Tennessee, says this is a “loaded” question.“
“Different products have different time frames associated with them,” Watson says. “A lot of it depends on where you’re located—if you’re in a shaded area, for example, obviously the stain will last longer.… A lot also depends on the correct application.”
There are a few predictable factors that affect the life of a stain. Hintz says that “the darker the color, the longer the stain lasts.” UV protection is carried in the stain’s pigment, she explains, and a darker stain will not be as easily penetrated by the sun as a lighter stain. Many oil-based stains tend to last longer than water-based stains, she says, but “there are exceptions to every rule.” Generally speaking, Hintz estimates that with quality products manufactured specifically for log homes, homeowners can expect light stains to last one to three years, mid-tones to last three to five years, and much longer for darker or more opaque stains. Ask your log home producer for recommendations based on the company’s experience with various products.
Interior vs. exterior stains—are they the same? Interior stains are a completely different product than exterior stains, and the two systems should not be used interchangeably. Exterior stains are designed to protect the logs from the harsh elements, while interior stains are used “to protect the wood from airborne cooking grease, finger oils, and moisture,” Hintz says. These systems typically contain substances that can be easily cleaned without damage to the surface.
Is staining a DIY project? Whether a homeowner wants to tackle staining as a do-it-yourself project really depends on the size and location of the home, experts say. If the home is very large or located on a spot—such as a steep hill—that makes safety a concern, hire a professional. But if you want to take on the project, “make sure the logs are dry, clear of any dirt, dust, mildew, or mold, and stain when the temperatures outside are reasonable,” says Dave Carter Jr., log home and log care sales for Appalachian Log Homes Inc., in Knoxville, Tennessee. “When in doubt, read the manufacturer’s directions to avoid errors.”
If you do hire a contractor, make sure they are skilled at staining and maintaining log homes and use products developed for and tested on log homes, Peebles says. “Ask about a long-term maintenance contract if your budget allows,” Peebles adds. “Face it, there’s a certain amount of maintenance that has to be done [each year] on any home. If you’ve got someone who comes back each year and does touch up on the stain, you’re going to be way ahead of the game, compared to the homeowner who doesn’t do anything for five to seven years and has a big maintenance and repair bill.”