Cracks in log home logs -- and other warnings

Cracks in logs used in log home construction are normal, but not necessarily desirable. August 10, 2000

I am looking to buy a log cabin. The model I looked at had extensive cracks in the pine logs, both inside and outside. I questioned the builder and his response was that the logs were "air-dried," and that he would be putting "sealer" in the cracks. Should I be concerned? Some cracks were over 1/4-inch wide, and 18 to 24 inches long.

Forum Responses
From my experience those cracks will get a whole lot wider and longer, so you can guess where the "filler" is going to end up!

This area was opened up by folks that started with log cabins because they had a huge surplus of logs and no fiberglass [insulation]. They are now living in energy-efficient homes and quite puzzled as to why people now want log homes. (The cracks are great for raising spiders.)

I've seen lots of neat cabins and have built a few myself that consume a lot less trees than those log cabins, nor do they keep shrinking and cracking for a decade or more!

And that beautiful, light, shiny appearance doesn't last long. Sure I am biased, but I suggest you talk to people who live in log homes and get the straight scoop.

I agree with the above. However, one thing you could do is to make a deep cut in the bottom of the log when it is first peeled. (The "bottom" referred to is after the log is in place, so you need to have the future in mind). This kerf runs the length of the log and will absorb most of the cracking.
Gene Wengert, forum moderator

I have helped build three log cabins, two from kits, and one from logs we cut ourselves. They all split, although the kit ones not so bad. It's a natural characteristic of wood. Besides, you can always finish off the inside with homemade wood paneling or sheetrock.

If it is the appearence you want you can get log siding called "half logs." You use this on stud-framed houses. It is shaped to look like the building is a log cabin. It could also be used inside on walls. This does not crack as full logs would.

As a homebuilder, I can give you my opinion on log homes; they're not worth having.

If you want the exterior to look like a log home, get log-shaped siding. If you build the home and want to finish the inside with drywall, then you will still have to frame walls inside, so you spent all of this time and money on logs for merely a siding. Not to mention that the window and door wells will be extra wide. When someone asks me about a log home kit, I try to talk them into a conventionally framed home every chance I get.

That's just MY opinion; form your own, but either way, I wish you luck.

I built a log home out of red pine in 1979. It's a story-and-a-half, gambrel-roof style. I sawed the logs (6,000 lineal feet of them) with a Granberg chainsaw mill, peeled them, and dipped them in Cuprinol wood preservative.

During 21 years of living in this home I've dealt with carpenter ants, spiders, and rot in the logs, especially around the windows that are exposed to the weather.

We don't have termites in western New York - yet. The inside of the house is natural logs and it is dark, so you have to have the lights on even in the daytime.

I don't have much money invested in this home so I'm now planning on tearing it down and building a stud-frame ranch with lots of insulation. This will allow me to heat the house much cheaper, and with board-and-batten siding, maintenance will be a lot less.

If you're thinking I'm kind of down on log homes, you're right. Log homes were built by our forefathers as temporary homes until they got their mansions built.

You can seal up a frame home from the weather much better than a log home.

I just built myself a new, 2,100-square-foot home last year. I had it insulated with "Nu-Wool" brand insulation. They blow it in the walls and it gets rock-hard. It seals up all air gaps tightly.

They measure up your window and door openings and figure your annual heating cost. They have guaranteed me that I can heat my home for less than $300 per year or they'll pay the difference for the next three years. Last year, my heating bills were barely over $200 for the entire year. I live in central Indiana, so the winters aren't like up north, but it still gets cold in the winter.

Let's see what a log home costs to heat for a year (without, of course, a fireplace or wood-burner).

I would only be concerned with the cracks if the logs are exposed to rain. My cedar log home has many cracks in the logs, some are large enough, and on both sides of the log, that it's a wonder you can't see light through 'em (I don't feel heat transfer either).

My logs are flat on three sides and round on the outside. There is no chinking between the logs, only a bead of caulk. I think chinked log homes look crappy.

I'm somewhat surprised at some of the responses you've gotten so far, especially when it comes to insulation. I find air transfer to be the biggest problem for heating both traditional structures and log homes.

One of the biggest problems I've seen with log homes is the lighting. Wood doesn't reflect light like conventional walls do.

It takes a 9-inch-thick log to equal the insulation value of a conventional 2 x 4 stud wall with fiberglass insulation.

Cedar logs are much better than the pine (they shrink less, twist less, and have natural decay resistance).

I have worked with companies making three flat sides and one rounded. They have a lot of trouble with warping, so the logs are not flat when using pine (red pine and Southern pine; the twisting isn't as bad with white pine).

The sealer your builder will use will squeeze out after a rain (when the logs swell) and will be inadequate when the heat is on and the logs shrink on the inside.

A major complaint of log home owners is that the floor is cold in the kitchen and bathroom. Insulate the floor. Also, the dark walls are another complaint. The uneven heat (often they use a woodstove in just one room) is a third problem. Wherever it is cool and the relative humidity is up, mildew odors are more common.

Keep the shrubs away from the house so that the logs can dry after a rain.

Always use a foundation that is elevated to help keep the floor and bottom logs dry.

Many items are covered in a log-home building book.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
I have lived in a log home since 1986. I raised four children there. I loved it so much I went to work for the company that built it. I find most of the comments made to be unfounded and showing a lack of knowledge in the area of log homes. The government testing done back in the 1970's when everyone was so worried about the energy shortage, opened the eyes of the home building industry to the fact that logs are not only as warm as a brick home in the winter but also easier to cool in the summer, as wood does not transfer heat with the same intensity. Thus making it the more economical of the two. The fiberglass insulation and other forms tested had no significant difference in what they were originally thought to do.

Log homes have since become a major factor in the building industry. As for interior lighting, if a brick home had no windows it too would be dark. There are stains that allow for a variety of colors on log walls.

As for the cracks in question, they are called "checks" and are a natural part of the wood drying process. The only time that a check needs to be filled is if it is facing upwards where water will stand in it after a rain. The others are a trait of log homes and only enhance the rustic look of the home.

In a surprising factor, log homes are actually safer in the area of home fires. Because they burn so slowly there is more time for people to escape. Traditional homes have all those air pockets in the walls that tend to fuel a fire. If you doubt this, build a fire and place a 2x4 on it and then place a log on it. See which one burns up first. This is a very big reason to live in a log home.

We built our gambrel style log home in 1981. Lack of construction knowledge and R-factors (insulation) were the only problems we have had with our home. Once we moved in we immediately knew that our expectations had been realized. There is no way to measure the feeling of warmth that a log home can generate.

After 22 years we decided to have the outside of our hand hewn logs refurbished. They "corncob" blasted the outside logs, replaced rotten logs that were a result of poor construction, treated them with borite, sealed them and added chinking that we had not had previously.

Yes, we have experienced some checking (cracking), but nothing other than the nature of the logs aging. Our logs are of hand-hewn white pine and even after the corn blasting display their beautiful grainage.

Log homes are greatly underestimated as to their ability to retain heating/cooling. Maintenance has been minimal compared to any wood sided home, and the unique challenges that surround a log home make living in that environment truly special.

Lighting is not a problem with adequate windows throughout (dormers are a wonderful means of source and lend character to the wood homes). In areas that tend to be darker (not attributed to the log construction but merely by construction), creative lighting sources add immense ambiance to the home's "feel."

The logs look brand new and the chinking has really made the home's exterior look inviting.

We too have had difficulty in educating people as to the low flammability risk that a log home presents. We were told by our homeowners insurer that they could no longer provide us coverage (after 16 years with no claim) - the reason being that should a fire occur, a log home wall would have to be completely replaced where a standard construction home would simply have to be patched and painted. This assumes that an entire wall would be destroyed in a fire, similar to a wood framed home. This would not occur with logs as we have tried burning scraps from our construction in our firepit and they would not catch fire.

After the replacement of the damaged logs, we can attest first hand that the process is not any more labor/material consuming than a "standard" home would be with similar damage. In fact, only the damaged logs had to be repaired and finished, where a standard home would have to finish an entire wall, at least, in order to blend the repair to be unnoticeable.

Comment from contributor L:
I am a professional log home restorationist and have seen a very diversified sampling of log home construction methods and materials used for them. It is my experience that pine logs and cedar logs do check and split pretty much the same. Although this is considered normal and expected, it can be minimized by the use of pre-construction treatments developed especially for this.

The single issue I see the most is the construction method. Cedar seems to have more carpenter bee problems, however the decay is generally not as severe when compared to pine. Water shed is also a commonly neglected issue in the construction and maintenance of log homes. Generally, builders use the most economical sealers and stains, which offer very little real protection. They will most likely lose some sales because of the cost of effectively preparing your log home. Dealers will not discuss the appropriate finishes available, and the builder wants to be paid for the construction as fast as possible, and will not want to put the additional time in pre-construction treatments, nor will he/she want to spend any money above the cost of $20.00 a gallon for sealers or stains. These really are a waste of money and actually create work down the road, which I'm sure the dealer or builder has not disclosed. I believe that these issues should be fully disclosed.

I look forward to the future when persons like myself are engaged in the purchasing process. A dealer has very little knowledge of the consequences of inappropriate finishes and/or construction methods, hence the homeowner is most often not properly educated about the immediate/long term needs of the home.

I do agree that checks are really only a concern if they allow water in, or heating or cooling to escape. With today's materials, they are easily remedied.

Comment from contributor R:
I have lived in my lodgepole pine 9 inch diameter milled-log home for 24 years and love it. It is incredibly energy-efficient. Comparing R-value of stud-framed walls with logs is not correct because the mass of the logs stores heat and retards heat loss, so the log wall is quite efficient at retaining heat in a home. I have a lot of south windows for passive solar heating and during the day have no problem with lighting issues.