DESIGNING YOUR LOG HOME:
Tips to keep you out of trouble!
Nearly every log home is a custom design, whether you are altering a
stock plan or starting from scratch. By their very nature, custom floor
plans open up a large number of untested challenges - especially if you are
trying to design the house yourself. With almost all log home manufacturers,
an in-house architect will take your design and turn it into a set of
drawings that conform to their building system. Your home will be
structurally sound. However, don't necessary expect them to point out every
inconvenience or snafu in your design. This is a hands-on business, and in
the end, your house design is on you... and you'll have to live with it.
Here are a few pointers I can suggest to make your design more efficient.
Open floor plans are the essence of the modern log home.
They make a home feel larger, and keep the cook from feeling isolated.
However, if you have a second floor you need to consider how you are going
to get the plumbing, the electric and the ductwork (both supply and return)
to the upstairs rooms. You won't be using the exterior walls for that, so
you need to create enough interior walls downstairs to fit all the
mechanicals. Each object in all likelihood will take its own space between
the 2x4s. Even if you use radiant-floor heating, you'll need ductwork for
the air conditioning. There are some systems that use high-pressure ductwork
much smaller in diameter than conventional ducts, so there are other
possibilities if you are pressed for space. But the best solution is to
think ahead. If you're tempted to use an interior full-log wall (or none at
all), you may be sacrificing an opportunity to get more ductwork upstairs.
The wisest floor plans are the ones that try to keep the
bathrooms together (either back-to-back or one directly above the other) and
the shortest runs on the plumbing. This can't always be done, but when
placing the upstairs bathroom, try to line it up with an interior downstairs
wall. This way the plumbing doesn't have to snake all over the place.
I would venture to guess that log homes are usually notoriously
short on closet space. I know my home is. First of all, it would be a
terrible waste to put a closet against an exterior log wall. Why hide your
beautiful logs? And because we try to keep the square footage down to a
minimum, it almost seems a crime to waste precious space on closets.
However, there's more than one reason to include them. Not only do we seem
to collect more stuff as we get older, but by law in several states the
closet determines whether a room is a bedroom or an office. This could
affect the resale (or refinancing) of your house. Here is a suggestion: put
two closets side-by-side on the wall separating two rooms; the closets may
not be huge, but it doesn't change the shape of the rooms. Try to include a
coat closet near your front door.
As I'm sure you've already read many times, you can't have too
many windows in a log home. The wood sucks up the light like a sponge. If
you have a large empty wall, the insertion of a window near the peak not
only lets in more light, it adds character. Some people add windows along
either side of a shed dormer. In my case, I had to move the roof line to
increase the size of my bedroom window, because by code it needed to be 6'
square for egress. In any upstairs bedroom you'll need your windows to be
large enough to climb out in case of fire. Also remember that too many
direct-set windows will decrease the amount of air flow to your upstairs. In
my house I added an awning (a small hinged window) to the bottom of
stationery windows in my dormers. This helped let air in, but even so the
rooms can be stuffy. A ceiling fan helps, but ultimately I may need to add a
skylight to create a draft.
One of the more difficult decisions we made concerned how
to vent the range hood. If you don't want your stove to be on an exterior
wall, you are going to have an interesting puzzle. Will you run the exhaust
duct between the floor joists to the exterior? Will the run be so long
you'll have to add another fan? I gave in and moved my stove to the exterior
wall, but then we had to cut a hole in the logs for the vent. Horrors! How
do you hide that? My builder built a little cedar box around the hole and we
were lucky enough to have a porch roof underneath, so you can't see it from
every direction. Still, this ugly vent is on the front of the house, and had
I thought of it, I may have moved the kitchen to the back of the house.
CRAWL SPACE vs. BASEMENT
There are many reasons to opt for a crawl space
rather than a basement - none of them particularly comfortable. Aside from
the obvious disadvantages of a crawl space, there are a few things we didn't
think of. I, in my blissful ignorance, didn't give any thought to the ugly
electrical panel. Of course, I knew we'd have meters and a panel, but I
didn't think of where they were going. What I didn't know was that by code,
we couldn't put the panel in the crawl space. Since we don't have a garage,
the electrical panel was installed in one of our rooms on the log wall.
Isn't that lovely? Another disadvantage of the crawl space: you'll need a
short water heater if that's where it is going, and you may need to purchase
a horizontal-mount furnace. Because our water quality was poor, we had to
install a purification system. This 54" unit must be mounted upright, and
our crawl space is 48" tall. We had to punch a hole through the concrete
floor to make room for the unit.
Yes, you want to get the water away from your log home at all
costs. There can be challenges; we have an alpine-style home with a vaulted
ceiling. However, the roof comes to a deep V on the corners that create a
magnificent rain chute. This is not necessarily wonderful when it dumps onto
your deck! Because of the generous overhang that comes with a log home, the
end of that V projects far from the walls and doesn't make a logical angle
from which to hang a downspout. On one corner I satisfied myself with an
old-fashioned rain barrel, and on the deck side we had to divert the water
to the pergola we built against the house, and ran a gutter along the edge
of the pergola.
You should have at least a 1' foot and preferably a 2'
overhang to protect your logs. This overhang needs to be taken into
consideration when designing your roof line. If you have overlapping angles,
make sure you are not creating a water trap or a snow trap. There are times
your overhang might bump into another angle of the roof. You may actually
have to raise part of the roof a little to make clearance.
This can be one of the most annoying errors you can make and
not catch until too late. Think of what your door is covering when opened
all the way. Is it covering another doorway? Will two doors bang together?
If you are in a tight space, will it open all the way at all? When we
installed our bathroom vanity, we didn't think about the door swing until
the plumbing was already hooked up. The door cleared the vanity by one whole
inch; it could have been worse. You can compensate by swinging the other way
(before it's already hung, or your hinges will be on the wrong side). Or, in
the design phase you can use a narrower door. Or get a smaller vanity.
The electrical and plumbing layout will not come from your
log home architectural drawings. The manufacturer is not concerned about
where you put your outlets. Once the plans are firmed up, the time will come
for you to sit down with the electrician and mark exactly where you want
your outlets, switches and light fixtures. Local code will determine the
minimum distance between outlets, but anyone will tell you to put in more
than you need; eventually you will probably use them anyway. Even if you
don't need it, put your cable and telephone into every room; it's so much
easier and cheaper to do it up front. Also remember, you can't ever have too
many lights in a log home. Plan ahead for those fixtures - especially the
ones in the ceiling. They will not be pretty to add later on.
If you are building a huge log home, you've got so much space
it doesn't really matter. But for most of the rest of us, every inch counts.
There are some approaches that might maximize your floor space. First of
all, do you really need hallways? Some space-saving designs arrange the
rooms so they all open into a small hallway. I prefer none at all. Also,
consider that every closet door creates dead space. If you can arrange your
floor plan so that closet door swings into a place which is already dead
(for instance, another closet door or a foyer), you might open up the room a
bit. Does your loft serve a purpose or is it merely an open hallway from
room to room? Can you put a piece of furniture on it? If not, perhaps it
would serve to give it an angle and make your "open to below" space a little
Hopefully I've helped a little bit. I learned many of these tips the hard
way, and I'm sure there are plenty more I haven't bumped into yet. After
all, a custom home is one giant learning curve.
About the author: Mercedes Hayes is a Hiawatha Log Home dealer and also a
Realtor in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. She designed her own log home which
was featured in the 2004 Floor Plan Guide of Log Home Living magazine. You
can learn more about log homes by visiting
Jersey Log Homes.