Log homes have some characteristics that differ from conventional houses, and Richardson Building Inspections understands these differences. Some of the main issues that need to be addressed are settling and moisture control.
Look for cracks, crevasses, and long spaces between logs that need to be filled. Also, check chinking for proper application and renewal needs.
Log homes may attract termites if builders omit proper foundation materials and use wood with a low moisture content. Termite inspections are a routine part of any log home purchase. However, a log home inspector should check for signs of other wood-destroying insects as well. Carpenter ants and bees can also damage wood by burrowing honeycombed tunnels to create nests. Look for piles of sawdust or a small hole in the side of a log to find these pests.
Other problems are specific to log homes, such as settling and rot. A cabin should have a substantial roof overhang to protect the log walls from rain and snow. Overhangs should be at least three feet wide or more. If the overhang is narrow, a log home may require more frequent cleaning and staining.
Cracks and crevasses are common in log walls, especially in old cabins that have not been restored for some time. This is due to shrinking of the logs, loss of chinking or poor craftsmanship. This can cause water to seep into the logs, causing wood rot and other problems.
New cabins should have a certificate of occupancy issued by the local building inspectors. However, these inspectors do not inspect every detail of the house and are only able to make sure that construction codes have been met. A log home inspector will be able to spot many issues that would not be caught by a building inspector but should be fixed before the cabin is occupied.
Generally, log home inspectors are familiar with the various types of wood-destroying insects that can affect wood. The termite, however, is probably the most well-known and understood issue associated with log homes. The insects do not attack healthy, living trees but usually infest weakened or dead trees that are either damaged or felled for lumber. Unlike conventional stick frame buildings, which are constructed using wood that is mostly sapwood (softer), log homes use mostly heartwood (harder). This makes them more resistant to damage by wood-destroying insects.
However, the type of wood that is used in log homes also creates other concerns. For example, when a newer home is built with green (unseasoned) logs, settling can occur. When settling happens, the logs lose height and doors and windows may stick or not open properly. To accommodate this, builders often install screw jacks which support the weight of doors and windows. A failure to notice these screw jacks can be a costly oversight.
Also, the end-grain of log extensions that are exposed to the elements can develop decay faster than the rest of the log. This is usually seen as a dark discoloration in the log extension. This can be prevented by sealing the end-grain with before a log finish is applied. The same treatment can be helpful for areas that have been sanded or treated with a chemical insecticide.
Many log home buyers are surprised to find that some of the same issues that affect other homes can also impact a log cabin. For example, wood rot is a common problem that can occur in any type of home, but it’s particularly likely to happen in log homes due to constant exposure to moisture and a lack of proper maintenance.
Checking for rot is important, especially in the lower course of log walls. These areas are more prone to be soaked by splashback from roofs, and they can be dripped on continuously from the corners of upper-story windows. A good inspector will poke these areas with a screwdriver and look for soft or rotten wood.
Older cabins often have shallow or nonexistent overhangs, leaving the lower courses of logs prone to back-splash and rain runoff. Also, they may not have gutters to redirect water away from the logs. The result is often a dark discoloration in these log ends, which can lead to rot and insect infestation.
Also, be sure to check for plant and tree limbs close to the logs. Vegetation holds moisture against the logs and provides easy access for insects such as termites, powder post beetles and carpenter ants. If there are signs of rot or insects, the logs should be cleaned and stained to prevent further damage. A trained and qualified log home inspector will know the appropriate building methods, staining techniques and materials for these unique structures.
Log homes are built in a different way than stick framed houses, and they require special care and attention. Inspecting them requires a unique set of skills that not all home inspectors possess. This is why it’s important for potential homeowners to hire a qualified and experienced log home inspection professional to watch over their investment.
When examining a log home, a home inspector should pay close attention to the chinking, as this will be a major factor in how long the home will last. When chinking is not done properly it can crack, peel and pull away from the logs. This can allow moisture to enter the logs and cause rot and damage. It’s best to use a chinking mix that is made especially for log homes because this will provide the longest lasting results.
As well as checking the chinking, a home inspector should check the logs for signs of insect infestation. Insects such as powder post beetles can leave pencil sized holes in the wood that can be hard to see without a magnifying glass. If there are any holes in the logs, a good practice is to cover them with masking tape and then examine the area a week later. If the tape is still on the logs, then there may be an active infestation.
Another thing to look for is areas of water penetration in the walls and roof. This could be due to improper flashing, building methods or sealant application.
Leaks are a serious problem in log homes and must be addressed. Unchecked leaks can lead to rot and mold-a triple threat to the aesthetic and structural integrity of a log home. Logs actively look for moisture and will absorb it if the logs are not protected. This is why it is so important to kiln-dry logs before building and apply protective finishes that control moisture. However, even well-built and kiln-dried logs need regular maintenance to prevent moisture infiltration.
During a home inspection, look for areas where normal log shrinkage has opened minor cracks in the logs or between them. Inspect where a wood product such as stone or slate has been set against the top of the logs or where two different types of materials meet such as a sill log and a floor assembly. Look for a gap where chinking meets the wall and check chinking around windows and doors both inside and out.
Also, inspect log extensions on corners of the logs to ensure a good seal and to see whether design features such as runoff from roof overhangs, or lack of a window spline or gasket/caulk barrier, have encouraged a condition known as “wood decay” that appears as dark discoloration. These problems are typically caused by moisture entering the end-grain of the logs. These conditions can be prevented by proper design, construction methods and routine maintenance.
Log homes need special attention when it comes to the foundation. An experienced log home inspector knows to look for a variety of things that most regular home inspectors do not know to check.
The most important thing is to make sure that the logs are not touching the ground. This can cause many problems. It is normal for logs to settle, but if they do so to the extent that the foundation is coming out, it can create large structural problems and cost a lot of money to fix.
To prevent this from happening, all log walls should have at least a 12″ foundation. Also, logs need to be kiln dried before being used in the house. This helps to prevent air leakage. This is especially important in newer log homes.
Another concern with foundations is that if the foundation is not inspected regularly, it can crack and eventually allow water to seep into the logs, causing decay and damage. This can be very costly and is easily avoided if the foundation is checked periodically. Also, the inspector should inspect for proper drainage, a requirement in any log home. Check that rain spouts do not drain next to the logs and that there is no standing water on or under the foundation. He should also check that the logs are not in contact with vegetation, which will hold moisture against them.