The Sky Above, The Mud Below

setting-wallsI once saw a magician, ‘The Amazing Rudolfo’ or something like that, make an entire house float on thin air! He cautioned viewers not to try this at home. That’s good advice, even if you’re considered to be amazing and have your own T.V. special. If the magic you want to perform is actually living in your new log home, I’d plan to put it on something more substantial like a foundation or a slab.

This is one of the most important construction elements you’ll consider since it’s the portion of your home that will interact directly with the ground, not only holding the building up but also anchoring it down! Foundation systems, when properly designed and constructed, allow you to erect a structure that can withstand the powerful forces of nature such as soil pressure, water, ice, expansion, contraction, wind, fungus, insects and even the effects of gravity. When a foundation is poorly designed or weak, very little else can sentence your home to an earlier grave.

In certain areas, people build on a treated wooden platform for economy. That may be acceptable for a small vacation cabin but not a permanent, year ’round dwelling. If economy must prevail or the terrain prevents basement excavation, a poured concrete slab is both strong and durable. This is basically a single layer of concrete that’s several inches thick. It is poured thicker at the edges to form an integral footing and then rods are placed to strengthen the edges. The slab is poured on a bed of crushed gravel to improve drainage and a wire mesh is placed into the concrete to reduce the chances of future cracking.

The ideal choice, for my money, is a full-fledged foundation which provides a roomy cellar and a solid base to support the massive weight presented by the logs. Of the various materials and systems available, here are three of the more common foundation types:

Cinder or Cement Block is the least expensive but often takes the most time to erect. Typically, cement footings are poured below the frost line, then the blocks are stacked and mortared together on top of the footings. Holes or channels are filled with cement and reinforced with steel rods (rebar). Cinder block, especially, is porous and tends to hold moisture which doesn’t hurt the block but tends to encourage a damp basement. Still, block is strong and offers many of the advantages of other foundation types for only slightly more cost than a slab.

Poured Concrete comes at a higher price but is seamless, doesn’t retain moisture like block and should give you a nice, dry area for storage or finishing. It tends to be more labor intensive, therefore takes longer to build, but its strength and durability are second to none. Footings are poured below the frost line, much like with block construction. Then aluminum or insulated wall forms are placed on top of the footings, into which concrete is poured and reinforced with rebar for added strength. After a week or so, the concrete has cured enough for the walls to stand on their own and the molds [unless insulated] are removed. When they discover the ruins of an old town and decide to restore the buildings, they often use the original foundations … which you can bet were made from either stone or poured concrete.

Pre-Cast is the way we decided to go when we built our home. Why? Speed, strength and drainage. Pre-cast systems appealed to us for a number of other reasons, too. The walls are poured under controlled conditions in a factory using 5,000 pound per square inch (PSI) strength concrete instead of 2,500 to 3,000 PSI concrete like most walls poured on-site. The pre-cast walls are cured at the factory so they are guaranteed to achieve the intended design strength. Since they are manufactured square, if the site has been properly prepared the foundation will be plumb, level and square once it is assembled. Most pre-cast systems have an inch or more of foam insulation built into the walls. This minimizes cold conduction problems and provides a warmer basement in climates like the Northeast where we live. Should you decide to finish your basement, nailers are incorporated into the wall structure making it easier to add more insulation and construct your interior walls.

If you’re in a hurry, as we were, one of the biggest attractions of a pre-cast system is that it’s not weather dependent and can usually be erected in less than a day. The panels are bolted together and the seams waterproofed with special high performance urethane caulks. Building on an average 20% grade such as we did, an important feature was the unique ability for drainage offered by these systems. Because they are erected on gravel instead of a traditional footing, we were able to run several drains to empty a good distance from the house. Technically, a sheet of water coming down the hill would pass under the house and never rustle a pebble. So far … nine years worth of bone dry basement. Oh, at first I wondered about the gravel footing instead of solid cement but, after being compacted, it’s hard as a rock!

It was not my intention to lean more heavily toward pre-cast than other foundation types but, since that’s what Vigi and I chose for our own house, it only seemed fair to tell you why. Everyone has different needs, budgets and preferences. As with anything you do, it’s a matter of selecting the right tool for the job; for us, pre-cast turned out to be the right tool. Whatever you select as the foundation for your new home, just be sure to use something more grounded than the hovering hocus pocus of ‘The Amazing Rudolfo!’

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Log Profiles and Corners

full-round-cornerWhen planning your ideal log home or cabin, so much attention is often paid to the INside that many people are surprised by the number of decisions they must make about the OUTside. How do you want the rest of the world to view your creation … or, more importantly, how will you feel about what you’ve committed upon the welcoming face of your mountain or meadow? Continue reading →

A Place for Your Stuff

reverse-blueprint Among the hundreds of decisions you’ll make during the planning and building of your new log home, few will have a more lasting impact on your long term satisfaction than the layout. Other people may gaze with admiration at the outside but you’re the one who has to live on the inside! That’s where you and most of your stuff will spend most of your time. So, what is the perfect floor plan? Continue reading →

Perfect Place to Build

Trying to find the perfect piece of land is a lot like trying to find the perfect mate. In both cases you’re looking for physical appeal, an easy going personality and financial demands that won’t land you in the poor house. If it turns out you’ve made an unwise choice, getting either one out of your life can be an unpleasant experience! Appearance is strictly an individual matter but, at least with land, Continue reading →

Chickens and Eggs

Which comes first, your land or your house plan? This is probably one of the most common questions we hear and one that is usually addressed fairly early in the planning stage. Naturally, it’s also a question we managed to miss when we were building, and that bit of oversight gave birth to a 121st and 122nd version of our house plan. Being kind of a chicken or egg thing, there’s really no right answer but since there are several considerations that might make your Continue reading →

Christmas Touches

In the past I’ve written about the feeling of Christmas everyday in a log home … but for the actual December 25th celebration, as well as other holidays for that matter, most people like to add those extra touches that bring the season to life. As it turns out, log homes have more places to hang, tack and dangle neat stuff than any other type of dwelling and just a little advanced planning can enhance the effect! Continue reading →

I’ll Huff and I’ll Puff …

If you want a log home, build a log home. The first thing you hear from anyone selling an alternative to solid logs is, “No one will know the difference. It’ll look the same.” So does a knock-off Rolex! Actually, they’re right … mostly. From the outside, it probably will look pretty much the same and, to anyone who isn’t savvy about log cabin homes, they might not see any internal differences either. However, there are a couple of problems and the biggest one is Continue reading →

To Buy or To Build

Once you have an idea of your budget and make the decision to become a log home owner, you face your first possible dilemma. If you haven’t already made up your mind, will you buy an existing home or build a new one? Up until now, I’ve made the assumption that you’ll probably build. You probably will, for several reasons we’ll cover, but there are pros and cons with both options and I feel Continue reading →

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