BUDGETING YOUR LOG HOME:
Where do you start?
by Mercedes Hayes
The log home industry has matured these last many years, but there is still a lot of confusion about how much a log home costs. Naturally, everyone wants to know the cost of the log package; however, the budgeting only starts here. If you are shopping for a milled log package (as opposed to hand-crafted, which is a totally different category), the difference between one manufacturer's price and another is minimal when compared to the total cost of the structure. Here are some reasons why:
The logs themselves only form a portion of the material costs of the home. Once the log walls are erected, you still have to worry about a floor, a roof, the windows, the doors, the plumbing, the kitchen... the list goes on and on. Some manufacturers quote a "weathered-in shell" which includes the logs, the windows and roof - all the elements that enclose the building (protecting the house against the weather). Other manufacturers only quote the log package, and leave it to the contractor to provide the other materials locally. When pricing a log package, make sure you are comparing "apples to apples".
From our experience, the price of the Logs only constituted approximately 1/5 of the total price of the finished structure. As for the rest... it's a high-end custom home, and like any custom home, your cost is limited by your imagination - and your budget. You decide whether to use hardwood floors or carpet, marble counters or Formica, a metal roof or asphalt shingles. No log home company will offer these products to you. Unlike a Development contractor who offers you a limited selection, you choose everything yourself, from doorknobs to toilets. Once you start factoring in all these items, you will discover that there isn't a whole lot of difference between a log home any another home - except for the exterior walls.
Local price differences
We built our log home in New Jersey, which tends to be a lot more expensive overall than much of the rest of the country. The same house in Tennessee would cost considerably less in lumber and other materials. Also consider that labor costs vary wildly as well. A very big part of your budget will cover the labor, because this home will be built entirely by hand. Your contractor may not have to peel or notch the logs, but he will still be placing the logs one at a time, making sure the walls are plumb, drilling holes for the wiring, cutting settling gaps above the windows and doors, possibly fitting the roof frame one board at a time. Your builder is the most critical part of the project, and it's not necessarily a good idea to go with the cheapest quote. Do you really want him to cut corners to stay within a low quote?
Design features of the house
The most dramatic log homes have roof lines that point in all directions, dormers that grace the front, vaulted ceilings in the great rooms. But remember that every new angle you add to the roof adds exponentially to the cost of the project. If you need to keep costs down, think about a simple roof line with not too many angles. Also, the old adage remains especially true with log homes: it's much cheaper to go up than go out. If you want a rambling one-story ranch house, you will have a bigger foundation cost, a bigger roof to consider, and lots more labor. If you build more stories and a smaller foundation, even though you will have to invest in a staircase the savings are considerable.
So what is the bottom line?
A basic budgeting cost in the Northeast US would be $140-$150 per square foot for a milled log home; this is about the equivalent of a high-end custom stick-frame house. This does not include the land, the well, the septic, the driveway, etc. It does include the basement, the kitchen, the plumbing, etc. This is the turnkey budget for the house only. You can certainly do less if you give up a lot of amenities, but I wouldn't advise a starting budget of any less than $130 per sq. ft. You may find yourself running out of money way too soon, and that would be a terrible shame.
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.