Today's log homes are more than cabins Buyers are choosing high-tech designs

March 22, 1992|By Gene Austin | Gene Austin,Knight-Ridder News Service

Jerry and Judy Williamson felt a conventional home would look out of place on the wooded lot they own at Mount Gretna, Pa., near Manheim in Lancaster County.

That's why, after five years of research, they decided to build a log home on the lot. Completed in December, the house illustrates several recent advances in log-home design and construction.

"Aluminum or vinyl siding wouldn't fit there," said Mr. Williamson, an engineer employed in Harrisburg, Pa. "The log house lends itself to the aesthetics."

But Mr. Williamson pointed out that the house, which appears on the outside to be solid-log construction, is actually a combination of split logs and high-tech construction that is energy-efficient and adaptable to a variety of interior decorating techniques.

The exterior logs, which are flat on the inside, are spiked to a framework of 2-by-6-inch wood that is packed with fiberglass insulation.

Some interior surfaces are finished with knotty-pine paneling, others with painted or wallpapered drywall.

Oversized south-facing windows with energy-efficient glass provide passive solar heating and ease the load on the propane-gas furnace.

Ceilings as well as walls are insulated to a level well beyond that of most conventional houses.

The house has a plow-shaped front and sharply peaked roof that give it contemporary flair and provide space for an interior loft that Mr. Williamson and his wife, a travel agent, use for an entertainment center.

The Williamson house is based on a design by Wilderness Log Homes of Plymouth, Wis. -- one of about 350 log-home manufacturers in the nation -- but many details were adapted to suit the buyers.

"It's really our design," said Mr. Williamson. "We modified it to incorporate the things we like."

The finished three-bedroom home has 2,400 square feet of living space plus a two-car garage and full basement.

Like many manufacturers, Wilderness uses computer-aided design technology to adapt many of its standard designs to customer specifications. Manufacturers also offer full custom designs, as well as a choice of construction techniques, including solid-log construction, split logs plus insulated framing such as that used in the Williamson home (called Insul-R by Wilderness), and even thin, log-look siding that is installed much like aluminum or vinyl siding.

Most log homes are sold in kit form, with pre-cut components assembled at building sites. Basic kits for small homes can cost less than $50,000.

"The sky's the limit" at the upper end, according to Mike Youndt, business manager of Mountaineer Log Homes of Downington, Pa.

A recent survey by Log Home Living, a leading trade magazine based in Herndon, Va., revealed that most current log-home buyers are college-educated baby boomers with professional or technical jobs and annual household incomes of $50,000 or more. About 84 percent of log homes are primary residences.

Typical new log homes average more than 2,000 square feet of living space, and often include many upscale amenities, such as whirlpool baths and sun rooms. About 70 percent have six or more rooms.

Tom Kupferer of St. Louis conducts about 40 seminars a year around the country, demonstrating the design and construction of log homes and offering tips for financing them. The seminars generally include exhibits by several log-home manufacturers.

Log homes are available to fill almost any building plan, said Mr. Kupferer.

"There are companies that will send you a pre-cut package of logs all you have to do is stack them and fasten them together and you can literally build your own log house," he said. "Some companies will build the house for you. You can also get a general contractor to build it, or use one recommended by the company."

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