Questions about Log Home Construction
with replies by Thomas J. Elpel
To avoid re-writing my book Living Homes for every person that comes along, please read the book before you write to me. Then, if you have any questions beyond what is presented in the text, then yes, please do write and ask away! I may be a little slow to answer, since I have more than a few distractions, but I will get back to you in time, and I will answer your question to the best of my abilities. Please let me know if I can post your letter and name to the website. Thanks!
Also, if you have a better answer to a question than I do, or additional useful information, then please send me a note through our E-mail Contact Page, and I'll add your commentary to the web page. Questions and answers on these pages will help guide revisions of future editions of Living Homes.
Can I build a log house out of juniper?
I have 3 questions I hope that you can answer:
1. How easy/hard is it to replace a log that is damaged or decays over time?
2. Is juniper/mountain cedar an acceptable wood/tree?
3. Should green wood been used, or should it be left to dry?
Thanks for your letter. I've never replaced a damaged or decayed log, but I know that it happens a lot, especially on old log cabins with minimal foundations, or in damp environments where the water from the roof splashes off the ground onto the lower logs. I don't think it would be that difficult to do with some car jacks and some careful work.
You ask if juniper/mountain cedar (probably Juniperus spp.) would be a good wood to work with. From a decay-resistant standpoint, the answer is definitely "Yes!" Junipers, cedars and redwoods are all highly resistant to decay. Juniper has often been used for fence posts because it can be placed right in the dirt for an amazingly long time before it rots. On a proper foundation it would seem to last forever.
The challenge would be to find any juniper straight enough and large enough in diameter to work with. And if you find junipers with a big enough base, the tops might taper too much too soon to bother with. You may have to design a house where the longest logs are 8 to 12 feet long.
You might want to research cordwood construction where the logs are cut into firewood lengths and stacked like firewood, but with mortar to fill the spaces in between, kind of like a stone wall made with logs.
Cordwood construction would also help to emphasize the great beauty of the juniper when cut in cross-section. It would be worthwhile to put a protective sealer on the outside ends of the juniper to prevent the colors from graying over.
Yes, you can use green wood for log home construction, at least for the butt-joint method we use, but it is preferable to let the logs season ("dry") first. You should definitely season the wood fully before building cordwood-style, or the wood will shrink away from the mortar.
I hope this helps!
Thomas J. Elpel