Mention the words “log home” in these environmentally aware times, and unfortunately the first thing likely to spring into the minds of many people is an image of lumberjacks clear-cutting entire forests and destroying habitats for spotted owls. At a time in this planet’s history when climate change, pollution, the destruction of the natural environment, and soaring fuel costs are truly legitimate concerns, the thought of a home made from trees can understandably cause an initially panicked reaction.
That notion of log homes being anti-“green,” however, could not, however, be farther from the truth.
Today’s log homes are, in fact, among the most environmentally friendly residential choices available, good both for the planet and for the people who live in them. Log homes can help restore, renew, and safeguard nature. The best-made log homes are manufactured with virtually zero waste. From every stage of their creation, from standing timber through construction to move-in, are responsibly built log home leaves one of the smallest carbon footprints of any residential choice.
A Log Home Begins: Responsible Logging
Every log home has its start when the logs from which it is built are first cut. Today, the most responsible builders of log homes become responsible stewards of the environment by carefully choosing the trees they cut for the most positive impact on the environment.
Some trees may be harvested strategically for log homes with the goal of optimizing the well being of trees left behind. Done correctly, this can allow remaining trees more room to grow and more direct access to sunlight and rain.
More importantly, however, is the fact that the smartest log homebuilders aim to use dead standing timber—trees that, at first glance, may look alive because they appear upright and strong, but have in fact died. One prime example of such trees are pines killed by beetle infestation, a major problem in America’s forests.
Dead standing trees scattered throughout the forests are removed selectively by helicopter logging. In many cases entire tracts of woodlands may be composed of dead standing timber, which are most efficiently removed by clear cutting. Either way, such dead trees have drier wood that is much more prone to catching fire from lightning strikes, sparking power lines, or careless campers. Caught alight, one such dead standing tree can lead to the devastation of vast living forests and related ecosystems.
Fortunately, most dead standing timber is prime material for log homes. Beetles, for example, attack only the cambium, the thin growing layer beneath the bark, leaving the rest of the timber unaffected. Since a tree destined for a log home will be milled down to its heartwood, any and all traces of infestation are eliminated long before construction.
In these fundamental ways, logs are a sustainable resource. And that fact alone makes log homes a superb green building option. But there are more good reasons still why log homes make superb eco-friendly choices.
Log Homes: Less “Embodied Energy”
The term “embodied energy” is becoming more and more familiar among folks concerned about the environment. In brief and put as simply as possible, it refers to the sum total amount of energy expended to produce a product. For a brick wall, that would mean every bit of energy involved in digging up the clay, trucking it to the brickworks, building the moulds, firing it in the kiln, trucking it to the store or brickyard or building site, similar energy for the mortar, and assembling the wall, plus a share of the energy expended to make all the machines or equipment used in every step of the process.
By this standard, the walls of a log home contain consume less energy than walls of brick and mortar, and also less than walls of milled boards. That makes logs a much more responsible building material choice for the wellbeing of our planet.
Log Home Milling: Waste-Free Manufacturing
Once they reach the mill, responsibly harvested timbers go through a milling process that is a model of environmentally responsible manufacturing. Virtually no part of the tree goes to waste.
As mentioned, trees destined for log home construction are milled down to their heartwood and cut to length. But what, you may wonder, becomes of the parts that are milled or trimmed away?When a manufacture receives a log it is usually in the form of a "cant." A cant is a round log that has had slabs cut off of the sides to make it square. These cants are ready to be run though the planner machine but before this happens they go through the first grading process. Logs that have a large amount of cracks, bends, curves, bows, or other flaws are either rejected before they are even milled or are cut down to a smaller usable length and placed in a Grade B or Grade C pile. Logs that make it through this process are Grade A logs.
These Grade A logs are run through a large planner which mills the tongue-and-groove pattern into the top and bottom of the log and makes one face of the log round (the side that is on the outside of the home) and mills the inside face of the log flat. This is done with tungsten carbide tipped cutter heads which makes for an extremely smooth finish.
After the logs are milled they are cut to length according to a log layout. The log layout is a blueprint of the house and contains the exact length of every that is going to be used in the home.
When the log is cut to length it a small slab is cut off the front of the log to make it flat and smooth. Sometimes if the log has a crack which was not seen in the first grading process that portion of the log will be cut off to assure that it meets Grade A standards. These small trimmings from logs are sold as firewood.
Logs graded “B” or “C” because of cracks, bends, curves, bows, or other flaws that render them unsuitable for large-scale quality construction also may be turned into playhouses, sheds, or garages.
Logs which are below Grade B or C quality logs get cut up for dunnage, the strips of wood that secure bundles of logs for shipping or are used to make the borders for gardens.
Even the wood shavings from the planer machines that make the tongue-and-groove cuts that fit logs together are sold for horse bedding or to decorate and hold moisture in garden flowerbeds.
Believe it or not but even the finest particles of sawdust finds use with environmentally friendly composting toilets or to soak up oil on shop floors.
Log Homes: An Ideal Choice for Sustainable Living
Once a log home has been built, its value as a green living choice becomes all the greater. Especially when a log home is positioned on its site to take maximize direct sunlight during the colder months and to maximize shade during warmer months, logs are an ideal building material, absorbing heat effectively and releasing it slowly to reduce heating costs in winter, and keeping interiors well-insulated against exterior heat in the summer.
Using dry wood to eliminate shrinkage and built following proper construction, sealing, and chinking procedures, log homes are also extremely airtight. This factor not only further reduces heating and cooling costs but also improves indoor air quality. The result is a far healthier interior environment.
In such practical, everyday ways, log homes provide true benefits to those who build and live in them. From the ways in which the logs are harvested, through their milling process, to the construction of the finished home, they make an ideal choice for anyone who wants to reduce their carbon footprint and live a sustainable, environmentally responsible life.
From Forest to Finished Residence, a Log Home is True Green Building Choice