Log Home Preliminary Planning Basics: 20 Strategies To Save Costs

Regardless of your log home budget, getting the best value possible should always be the goal.  But cutting costs doesn't mean cutting corners.  Instead, take an informed, measured approach towards creating the log home of your dreams for less.  Here are 20 cost saving strategies to get you started.

1.  Integrate the players early for design success.  Get your builder of record on board early during the preliminary design phase, why? Imagine designing your home without the log home builders knowledge of construction methods and codes, material and labor costs and expertise in design cost savers and drivers.   

2. Sweat equity.  Today it's common for homeowners to do some of the work themselves and we encourage our clients to review areas where they can contribute.  It's a great way to save on labor expense and can be a fun and rewarding experience.  But before you grab your tool belt, make sure you have the time, flexibility, skill and understanding of the building process so you don't delay YOUR OWN project or worse create issues resulting in costing you more in the end.  Think this through thoroughly and seek your builders guidance on this one before you commit.

3.  Select a "D" profile. Today's milling technology has spawned a variety of log profiles to choose from. There are many kinds of round or square profiles and sizes to meet most desires.  But one profile in particular is more cost friendly, the D profile.  Here's why...because it's round on the outside and milled flat on the inside, kitchen and bath cabinets fit nicely on the log walls without modification, window and door trim lays flat, electrical switch and outlet covers lay flat, less labor cost for cutting into round profiles to fit all of the above.  Its probably the reason why it's the most popular profile in the USA.

4.  Roof design.  Elaborate designs with steep roof pitch with multiple roof planes adds significant costs to your project for both materials and labor.  There's a variety of roof design and construction methods so ask your builder how to create the look you want, but for less.  

5.  Think drywall.  Select drywall for some or all of your interior partition walls to add color to your home, plus it brightens it as well.  Drywall is less expensive than T&G paneling, plus if gives you the flexibility to change colors in a room.

6.  Build down.  Every house needs a foundation, so if your land will allow a full basement foundation you can capitalize by designing living sq. ft. in the basement from the start.  If your property has walkout basement potential, even better.  You maybe able to reduce the overall footprint of your home by designing down.

7.  Build up.  Building up is always less expensive than building out.  Consider designing loft space or bedrooms on a second level.  Keep dormer design under control so costs don't creep.

8. Don't get cornered.  A log home that has 4 outside corners is the least expensive to build.  Each corner beyond four (both inside and outside corners) will increase costs simply because there are more materials, added complexity which adds time to build.  

9.  Be your own general contractor.  If you have the time and knowledge to be the project manager of your log home construction, then you could yield substantial savings.  The general contractor wears many hats with some of the duties that might include: hiring and scheduling the subcontractors, oversees performance and quality, trouble shoots issues and conflicts, orders materials and tracks costs, etc.  Keep in mind the G.C. is a full-time job that requires you to be both on-site and in the office to keep the project moving.  Plus don't forget you're the homeowner who has to make all  decisions regarding amenities and products selections.  Check with your lending institution to see if they allow a homeowner G.C. option.

10.  Complete the design.  Seems logical, but finish the entire design as you move through the preliminary phases to final construction drawings.  If you take the approach of, "we'll figure that part of the house later, just draw it as is", be ready to accept the consequences, such as costly change orders and/or design or construction conflicts that may impact other areas of the home.  

11.  Understand where to invest.  Consider both short and long term approaches during the preliminary planning stages.  There are design and construction elements that must meet national, state and local building codes.  But beyond the codes there are areas of the home that you may want to invest if they are offset by lower operating cost over time.  Such as the higher insulation values, high performance windows, energy efficient heating and cooling systems,  high performance wood burning stoves or fireplaces.   Do the math yourself to calcuate if skimping on some of these items may actually be more costly over time.  

12.  Size maters.  Keeping the log home footprint in check will help keep material cost down.  If your builder of record is with you during the preliminary design process, he'll be able to explain the cost drivers for materials and labor based on the log home footprint.  

13.  Choose pine versus cedar logs.  Yes, cedar does have more resistance to heartwood decay than pine, but it also carries a premium price tag of 30-60% more.  So when you consider the cost differential between the two species, pine maybe the smart option for your log home.

14.  Room with a view.  Top-of-the-line premium windows and doors can get expensive and can be 8-15% of your total budget.  Most window and door manufacturers offer several product lines with varying degrees of options, quality and performance levels.  Shop smart and review the performance specifications between the manufacturers best and mid-level window and door offerings.  In many cases you'll find performance features that carry down to the mid-level which can save you thousands of dollars.  Ask your builder to review and explain performance measurements (NFRC Energy Star Ratings) with you so you can make an informed decision.

15.  Site planning is one of the most overlooked aspects of building a custom log home.  Your dealer and builder of record should walk your property with you (multiple times) to conduct a building site evaluation using your preliminary design.  They'll consider the entire scope of the project for the best placement of your new home and review things like the foundation elevation, solar angles, views, set-backs, utilities, driveways, maintenance, etc.  Your site evaluation probably will influence design changes, which may produce some cost saving opportunities, but the overall goal is to insure your log homes performance and costs are maximized based on the unique features of your building site.  

16.  Odd or even?  The majority of dimensional lumber and wood materials are produced in even numbers.  As an example, if you've designed your log home to be 27' wide, things like floor joists and other materials will be ordered at 28' to accommodate the odd number width.  Plus there maybe additional labor costs for all that cutting and trimming by your builder, not to mention the material waste.  So pick even numbers when you design your log home.

17. Upgrade later.  There are areas of the home that you can upgrade later to reduce your initial cost, such as flooring (carpet v. hardwood), fixtures (plumbing and electrical), counter tops (kitchen and bathroom), appliances, etc.

18.  Place interior log posts, beams and rustic accents wisely.  These beautiful log details add costs to your project.  Consider using these structural or design elements only is specific rooms such as the great room and forego areas such as bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways.

19.  Avoid custom built kitchen and bath cabinets.  Today you can easily find very high quality stock kitchen and bath cabinets with a variety of optional stain finish colors, sizes and operating hardware choices.  Custom cabinetry can cost 50-100% more than stock cabinetry.

20.  Needs and wants list.  By creating a list of things you must have ("needs") and a list of items you wish to have  ("wants") can help you prioritize your ideas when developing your design.  It's a great way to keep your ideas organize when you have to begin to make decisions as you develop your preferences through the preliminary planning process.  It's all about designing a log home with the amenities and elements that fit your vision, but also that fits your budget.  

Do you have some cost saving strategies you'd like to share?  Post them here.

The Leelanau Log Home Company LLC

Copyright 2012 Under the Influence of Wood Blog