I want a log home but where do I start and where do I go from there?



Worthy of special note: We strongly recommend that you do not make a down payment on a log home or log cabin kit until you have reached step 10 below.  Too often individual log shoppers have come to us for help because their kit is scheduled for delivery within weeks and they have met with neither a log builder, log lender nor obtained a building permit.  All we can do at this point is refer them to our directories of log builders & log lenders.  If the kit cost is paid in full, It is possible for the kit to be delivered months before construction starts.   If the balance due is not paid as scheduled, you may well lose your down payment. Dealers should fully understand your reluctance to prematurely sign a log kit purchase contract; if not, look for another log home/cabin dealer.

1. The first step is, in my opinion, not debatable, i.e., find out how much house you can afford. In other words, visit a log lending institution and get qualified for a loan. This is a free service.  However, you will quickly find that not every mortgage lender will finance the log home of your dreams.  As noted earlier, visit log lenders where you will find a list of lending institutions that finance log homes.  Shop for financing to be sure you get the best possible deal. 

Why is this first step so important? If you do not know accurately how much house you can afford you will waste a lot of time and eventually end up highly frustrated.

Since you planned ahead and have been qualified for your loan, your challenge will now be to design and construct a log home or log cabin  that "fits" within the constraints of your financing.  If you aready own property you can apply for a home equity loan.

The next few steps may take place in a different order or even simultaneously.

2. Now it is time to select a log home style (traditional log cabin vs. contemporary log home) and floor plan, keep

   
ing in mind the cost of a lot (assuming you have not yet purchased a lot). Perhaps the best way to develop an acceptable floor plan is to find one that is close to what you have in mind. Mark up the plan and take to your local builder for a "ball park" cost estimate.  Any stick floor plan can be built as a log home.

3. If you have not done so, it is time to price building lots in your area. Totaling the lot cost and the builder's estimate, you now know about where you stand financially.

4. If you are a typical log home buyer (or perhaps simply a typical human being) the combined cost of the lot and house probably exceeds your budget. Now it is back to the floor plan to look for options for reducing the cost. For a discussion on this subject, visit the home page of www.log-home-plans.com .

5. After making changes to the floor plan and obtaining a revised cost estimate from the builder, prepare the construction drawings.

6. Another decision to be made (and a real opportunity to reduce costs) is, "How will you proceed with the construction?" Your choices are:

  A. Do it yourself with the help of family and friends.

  B. Assume the role of the general contractor and save about 20% of the cost of a turnkey job.

  C. Seek bids from general contractors and pay for a turnkey job.

We rarely suggest that a log home buyer take on the construction project as a famiLogy affair. The job is simply too large and complex for most of us. Turn key construction is the easy way out but the most expensive. Today, many log home buyers elect the be-your-own-contractor option.

We will not spend time on turnkey construction because that is rather straight forward.

That leaves us with the be-your-own-contractor option and, since so many buyers take this route, we will assume you have also; therefore, we will focus our attention here. Financing is available for this option.

  Now, we need to back up a bit and look at lot selection. If sewer is not available, by all means, do not purchase the lot unless the health permit has been issued or is guaranteed. Next, you should consider the features of the home and how well the lot is suited for that home. For example: is the lot wide enough, will the lot accommodate a walk out basement, how long will the driveway be, will it be necessary to pump to the drain field (add ~$2.500), etc. Of course, these are considerations whether you are building a log home or "stick" home.

  At this stage you have elected the be-your-own-contractor option and decided on a lot and house plan. Now we recommend that you contract with an experienced log builder to construct the weather tight home.

  Take your house plans to the local building code authorities and apply for your building permit.  Remember, during the review of your construction drawings, it is not unusual for local building code officials to require a design change or two.

  Once the building permit is issued, sign your l kit purchase contract and close on your construction and permanent loan.

  Begin construction of your driveway and foundation.

  Schedule the log builders to start as soon as the foundation is in place.

  Schedule the log kit delivery once subfloor is in place.

From this point forward, it is necessary to stay ahead of the contractors. Decisions must be made far enough in advance for deliveries to be made when needed and for sub-contractors to start work promptly. Typically, financial institutions grant a construction loan for up to six months. If construction takes longer, additional fees are expected.

Here are the various subcontractor skills needed if you are going to be your own general contractor. The list that follows is more or less in chronological order. 
>> Log Home Designer: to prepare your construction drawings. Remember, the best way to begin your design is to start with an existing floor plan that is "close" to what you would like. Mark up the plan with the changes you need and take it to the designer. Also, if your changes are not too drastic and the local code officials are not too "progressive", it is possible they will allow you to proceed with existing, marked-up plans. Remember, any plan for a stick built home can be converted to a log home.

>> Land Surveyor: to prepare a plat showing the proposed location of the home. You may also want the surveyor to mark the footer and foundation corners (after the house site is excavated). The cost is reasonable and you can be confident that your house will be "square."

>> Excavator: to clear the land, open a driveway, excavate the house site and dig the footers.

>> Well Driller: if public water is not available. We have found that a few lenders want the well drilled before construction starts.  Presumably, their thinking is, "No water. No loan."

>> Drain Field and Septic System Contractor: if public sewer is not available. This may well be the same contractor as your excavator.

>> Concrete Contractor to prepare the excavated footers and pour the concrete.

>> Foundation Contractor: to pour the foundation or lay the block for the foundation. This could be the same contractor that poured your footers.

>> Framing Contractor: this should be an experienced log home builder who will at least put the home under roof and install the windows and doors.

>> Electric Utility: to connect the home to the power grid.

>> Roofing Contractor: to shingle the roof.

>> Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning Contractor (HVAC) - You will need to be on site during his first visit. The contractor will be asking questions and making suggestions regarding routing of the duct work.

>> Electrical Contractor - Again you will need to be on site to answer questions about location of fixtures, switches and receptacles.  Yes, the drawings will show locations but once the house takes shape you (or your spouse) will want to make changes.

>> Plumbing Contractor - In addition to the work inside the house, the plumber will hook-up to the water supply and sewer/septic system. Again you need to be on site for the contractor's first visit.

>> Insulation Contractor

>> Dry wall Contractor

>> Trim Contractor - Be prepared to answer many questions; however, a good trim man will have suggestions. This person can install interior doors and cabinets.

>> Floor Covering and Tile Contractors.

>> Interior and Exterior Painting and Finishing Contractor.

>> Finish Grading and Seeding of the lawn.

>> Landscaping.

Following are a few thoughts on selecting and managing subcontractors after you have elected to construct your Log home as your own general contractor. Many readers will find this information rather elementary; please bear with us. We know from talking to hundreds of visitors to our model, that what follows will be helpful to the majority of readers.

Acting as the general contractor can save the homeowner 15 - 20%. In today's market that translates to $20,000 - $60,000 and more. To us, that is a pile of money: however, as we tell each Log home shopper, you will earn this money. And so, the first step begins with you - understand that there will be problems and be prepared to deal with them. However, the task is not impossible and when you finish you will be both pleased and relieved.

Here are our suggestions:

1. Always, ALWAYS, check out each prospective subcontractor. Ask for references; visit former jobs. Was the subcontractor's work acceptable? Did he complete the job on schedule? Was his final cost in line with his original quote/estimate? Insist that each subcontractor provide you with proof of builder's risk liability insurance and worker's compensation insurance.  These forms will be supplied by the contractor's insurance agent.  Should a contractor not be properly insured and a problem develop, you the homeowner, will no doubt be expected to pay any claims. Also, if required by local officials, ask for a copy of each contractor's license.
 2. Develop a list of back-up subcontractors.
 3. Consider hiring a local person with building experience, who will charge by the hour, to visit the job site and give you advice.
 4. Do not always select the lowest cost option. Dependability and satisfactory work have value.
 5. The fewer subcontractors on the job the better. For example, if the job site needs to be cleared you will need an excavator. If that clearing excavator can also deliver gravel for your drive, do your drain field, dig your basement and dig your foundation footers, you should get a better price than if you hired separate sub's for each job. Perhaps even more important, with one sub responsible for multiple jobs there will be no "finger pointing," i.e., blaming a problem on the other guy.
6. Unannounced visits to the job are very important. The visits must be on no fixed schedule. Check for work quality, number of workers and schedule for completion.
7. Well before one trade has finished, contact the next subcontractor and verify his timely availability.  If you sense a problem, contact your back-up subcontractor.
8. Be prepared to make changes as the job progresses. For example, you may add or move electrical outlets; you may move a stud wall by all means, make changes as you feel necessary but be prepared to pay for them - it is only fair to your subcontractors.
 9. If you are supplying materials (e.g. bath fixtures) needed by a subcontractor (plumber), the materials must be on the job when the subcontractor arrives. Failure here can result in additional cost and/or delay construction.
10. Make sure the subcontractors understand your payment terms and abide by those terms.
What is the role of the log home dealer in your project?  B&H contends the dealer should always stay in touch with the job.  Local log contractors and subcontractors understand B&H is always involved. The contractors understand B&H sends business their way. They understand that B&H maintains a list of subcontractors and references. Your log home dealer should be an important player in the successful completion of your home. 

Your comments and thoughts are welcomed.  Please send any via email.

 

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