Designing your log house: tips to avoid problems

Almost all log homes are custom designed, whether you’re modifying an inventory plan or starting from scratch. By their very nature, custom floor plans open up a host of unproven challenges, especially if you’re trying to design the home yourself. With almost all log home manufacturers, an in-house architect will take your design and turn it into a set of drawings to fit your building system. Your home will be structurally sound. However, you don’t need to expect every drawback or problem in your design to be pointed out to you. This is a practical business, and in the end, the design of your home is up to you … and you will have to live with it. Here are some tips that I can suggest to make your design more efficient.

MECHANICS: Open floor plans are the essence of the modern log home. They make a home feel bigger and prevent the cook from feeling isolated. However, if you have a second story, you need to consider how you are going to get plumbing, electricity, and conduit (both supply and return) to the rooms on the upper floor. You won’t be using the exterior walls for that, so you need to create enough interior walls on the ground floor to accommodate all the mechanics. Each object in all probability will occupy its own space between the 2x4s. Even if you use underfloor heating, you will need ducts for the air conditioning. There are some systems that use high pressure lines that are much smaller in diameter than conventional lines, so there are other possibilities if space is pressed. But the best solution is to think ahead. If you are tempted to use a full log interior wall (or none at all), you may be sacrificing the opportunity to install more ductwork upstairs.

PLUMBING: The smartest floor plans are the ones that try to keep the bathrooms together (either side by side or one directly on top of the other) and the shorter runs of plumbing. This cannot always be done, but when placing the bathroom upstairs, try to align it with an interior wall on the ground floor. This way the pipe doesn’t have to meander all over the place.

CABINETS: I would venture to guess that log homes typically have very little closet space. I know my home is. First of all, it would be a terrible waste to place a closet against an exterior log wall. Why hide your beautiful trunks? And because we try to keep square footage to a minimum, it almost seems like a crime to waste precious closet space. However, there is more than one reason to include them. Not only do we seem to collect more things as we age, but by law in various states the closet determines whether a room is a bedroom or an office. This could affect the resale (or refinancing) of your home. Here’s a suggestion: place two cabinets next to each other on the wall that separates two rooms; The closets may not be huge, but that doesn’t change the shape of the rooms. Try to include a coat closet near your front door.

WINDOWS: As I’m sure you’ve read many times by now, you can’t have too many windows in a log house. Wood absorbs light like a sponge. If you have a large, empty wall, inserting a window near the peak not only lets in more light, it adds character. Some people add windows to both sides of a shed loft. In my case, I had to move the ceiling line to increase the size of my bedroom window, because according to the code it had to be 6 square feet for the exit. In any bedroom upstairs, you will need your windows to be large enough to go out in case of fire. Also remember that too many direct fit windows will decrease the amount of airflow to the floor above. At my house I added an awning (a small hinged window) to the bottom of the stationery windows in my dormers. This helped to let in air, but rooms can still be stuffy. A ceiling fan helps, but ultimately you may need to add a skylight to create a draft.

KITCHEN VENTILATION: One of the most difficult decisions we made concerned how to ventilate the range hood. If you don’t want your stove to be on an outside wall, you will have an interesting puzzle. Will the exhaust duct pass between the floor joists to the outside? Will the race be so long that you will have to add another fan? I gave up and moved my stove to the outside wall, but then we had to cut a hole in the logs for ventilation. Horrors! How do you hide that? My builder built a little cedar box around the hole and we were lucky to have a porch roof underneath so it can’t be seen from all directions. Still, this ugly vent is in the front of the house, and if I had thought about it, it could have moved the kitchen to the back of the house.

DRAG SPACE vs. BASEMENT: There are many reasons to opt for a crawl space over a basement, none of them particularly comfortable. Aside from the obvious downsides of a crawl space, there are a few things we don’t think about. I, in my happy ignorance, did not think about the horrible electrical panel. Of course, I knew we would have meters and a panel, but I didn’t think about 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 do not have a garage, the electrical panel was installed in one of our rooms in the log wall. It is not beautiful? Another downside to crawl space: you’ll need a short water heater if that’s where you’re going, and you may need to purchase a horizontal mount oven. Because the water quality was poor, we had to install a purification system. This 54 “unit must be mounted in a vertical position and our driveway is 48” high. We had to drill a hole in the concrete floor to make room for the unit.

GUTTERS: Yes, you want to get the water out of your log house at all costs. There may be challenges; we have an alpine style house with a vaulted ceiling. However, the roof reaches a deep V at the corners creating a magnificent ramp of rain. This is not necessarily wonderful when poured on your deck! Due to the generous overhang that comes with a log home, the end of that V projects away from the walls and does not form a logical angle from which to hang a downspout. In one corner I settled for an old-fashioned rain barrel, and on the deck side we had to divert the water into the pergola we built against the house, and we ran a gutter along the edge of the pergola.

EXCURSIONS: You must have at least a 1 ‘foot and preferably a 2’ overhang to protect your logs. This overhang should be taken into account when designing your roof line. If you have overlapping angles, be sure not to create a water trap or snow trap. On occasion, your overhang could collide with another angle of the roof. You may need to raise part of the ceiling a bit to allow clearance.

DOOR SWING: This can be one of the most annoying mistakes you can make and not catch until it’s too late. Think about what your door covers when it is fully opened. Are you covering another door? Will two doors slam together? If it’s in a tight space, will it open completely? When we installed our bathroom vanity, we didn’t think about the movement of the door until the plumbing was already connected. The door cleared the dresser a full inch; It could have been worse. You can compensate by turning to the other side (before it is already hung, or its hinges will be on the wrong side). However, in the design phase you can use a narrower door. Or get a smaller dresser.

ELECTRICAL: The electrical and plumbing design will not come from the architectural drawings of your log home. The manufacturer is not concerned with where they put their outlets. Once the blueprints are firm, it will be time for you to sit down with the electrician and mark exactly where you want your plugs, switches, and light fixtures. The local code will determine the minimum distance between the outlets, but anyone will tell you to place more than you need; eventually you will probably use them anyway. Even if you don’t need it, put your cable and phone in every room; it is much easier and cheaper to do it in advance. Also remember, you can never have too many lights in a log home. Plan ahead for those accessories, especially the ceiling ones. They won’t be pretty to add later.

DEAD SPACE – If you are building a huge log home, you have so much room that it doesn’t really matter. But for most of us, every inch counts. There are a few approaches that can maximize your floor space. First of all, do you really need hallways? Some space-saving designs organize the rooms so that they all open onto a small hallway. I prefer none at all. Also, keep in mind that each closet door creates dead space. If you can arrange your floor plan so that the closet door opens onto a place that is already dead (for example, another closet door or a hallway), you can open up the room a bit. Does your loft have a purpose or is it just an open hallway from room to room? Can you put a piece of furniture? If not, it may serve to give you an angle and make your “open down” space a little smaller.

Hopefully it helped a bit. I learned a lot of these tips the hard way, and I’m sure there are many more that I haven’t come across yet. After all, a custom home is a giant learning curve.

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