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Proven Products & Proven Solutions
Proven Products & Proven Solutions

Top Priority of Log Home Owners:  Understanding

Log home owners need a basic understanding of log home care. With knowledge of the basics of log home care, a log home owner will understand (1) how to recognize when a need exists, (2) the cause of the need, (3) the possible solutions, and (4) how to choose the right solution.

1. Understanding the basics of log home maintenance.

All homes require maintenance from time to time. Since log homes have unique features that make living in them so special, it is not surprising that maintenance of log homes differs from that of stick-built homes. When you understand the normal maintenance issues of log homes, how to recognize when maintenance is needed, and the basics of log home maintenance products and procedures, you will be able to keep your log home in great condition at minimal cost.

2. Understanding the importance of log surface preparation.

A. Improved log products. Protecting and caring for log homes today is much easier than in the “good old days”. The quality log home products developed in recent years provide dramatically improved protection that lasts much longer. Modern synthetic chink and caulk provide superior adhesion and flexibility that will last for many years. Modern stains are also greatly improved, offering (a) elasticity to stretch with log movement without cracking or peeling, (b) breathability that is achieved by allowing the smaller moisture vapor molecules to escape from the logs while preventing the larger water molecules from penetrating the stain, and (c) protection from damaging ultraviolet rays.

B. Importance of log surface preparation. However, regardless of the amazing properties of modern log home products, it is critical that logs have sound wood, and are properly cleaned and prepared so that log products will adhere properly and provide the superior protection for which they are designed.

Logs and other wood must be sound with no soft areas, which would indicate rot. Since log products will not adhere properly to wood that is not sound, any softness must be removed from the logs, or, if necessary, the log needs to be replaced. Logs and other wood must also be properly cleaned and prepped for log products to properly adhere. In areas where log products do not adhere properly to the logs, log products will fail, causing the need to remove stain and other log products down to bare wood, and start over with the clean, prep, and log product application process to protect the logs. Always follow the log product manufacturer’s recommendations for wood surface preparation.

C. Log surface roughness and furring. Another surface preparation issue that is often overlooked results from pressure washing or stain removal using media blasting or chemical stain removers. After any of these procedures, the wood surface will have some roughness and/or furring. At this point, log home owners need to understand that an important decision must be made—whether to live with the rough and/or furred surface or smooth the surface with sanding or buffing brushes. If you choose to stain over the rough surface, you need to understand that rough, porous surfaces will absorb more stain, causing the stain to be darker than normal, as well as blotchy and not uniform in color. Whenever you have a question about the choice between rough vs. smooth log surfaces, or the color choice of stain, chinking or caulk, it is always wise to test the options in a small area of the logs of your home to determine which option you prefer.

3. Understanding the key products used to protect log homes.

In order to include most log home products, the following list includes the main products used when starting with bare logs, either for new log homes or restoration of log homes.

A. Finish Removers. When restoration is required, normally due to log rot and/or failure of log products, the first step is removing the products on the logs down to bare wood. The normal options for removing old stain are (1) blasting, typically using corncob or glass media, (2) chemical stain removers, and (3) sanding. If either blasting or chemical stain removal is chosen, the resulting porous or furred wood surfaces are often smoothed with light sanding or buffing brushes.

Historic cabin before applying chemical stain remover.

Historic cabin after applying chemical stain remover.

Historic cabin after removing chemical stain remover.

Stain being removed by blasting with corncob media.

Stain on the entire log wall was removed by media blasting. The lower logs were also sanded.

B. Log Cleaners. The most important step in the log product application process is cleaning and prepping the exterior log surfaces. Cleaning of the exterior log surfaces should be done with a chemical log cleaner that will remove dirt, dust, pollen, loose wood fibers, and insects, as well as kill mold, mildew, and algae, which are not always visible. The chemical cleaner should be thoroughly removed from the logs with a pressure washer at a low pressure setting. Always follow the procedures recommended by the log cleaner manufacturer.

In areas where logs are not properly cleaned or the log cleaner is not thoroughly removed from the logs, log home products will not adhere properly to the logs, causing the log products to fail. Failure of log products results in the need to remove stain and other log products down to bare wood, and then go through the clean, prep, and log product application process to protect the logs.

C. Borate-based preservatives. After the bare logs are cleaned and dry, a borate-based preservative should be applied to the bare logs. Borate-based preservatives protect wood against wood-ingesting insects and fungi that cause decay.

D. Primer. A single coat of a clear primer is very beneficial for logs with porous surfaces. The benefits of a using a primer coat on logs with porous surfaces include (1) the stain will have a more uniform color without looking blotchy, and (2) you will save money by using less stain.

E. Stains. Premium log stains should always be used on log homes because of their superior abilities of (1) water repellency, (2) elasticity, allowing them to stretch without cracking or peeling as logs expand and contract, (3) breathability, allowing moisture vapor to escape from logs, and (4) protection from damaging ultraviolet rays from the sun.

F. Clear topcoats. For stains that are meant to be covered with a clear topcoat, the advantages of a clear topcoat system include (1) less buildup of finish thickness, allowing better breathability, (2) clear topcoats maintain the original stain color, as opposed to maintenance coats of colored stain that can darken the color of the logs over time, and (3) clear maintenance topcoats have lower long-term costs compared with maintenance coats of colored stains.

G. Additives for finish coats. In order to provide additional protection for logs, the two most common types of additives for finishes are (1) insecticides, and (2) mildewcides.

H. Sealants.

(1) Chinking. While both chink and caulk are used to seal joints and gaps in log homes, chink is generally used to seal joints one inch wide or wider. Chink is normally used in a color that contrasts with the color of the logs.

Chinking being applied to a new log home.

Chinking being applied during restoration.

(2) Caulk. Caulk is typically used to seal joints and gaps in log homes that are less than one inch in width. Caulk is usually chosen in a color that will blend with the color of the logs.

Caulk being applied during restoration.

Caulk applied in the joints under an eave.

(3) Backer. Backer serves an important function in the sealing of log joints. In order to take full advantage of the superior elasticity properties of premium log chinking and caulk, the chink or caulk must adhere to only two surfaces—the two sides of the joint. Backer, commonly in the shape of backer rod, is placed in the rear of a log joint. Since the backer material acts as a bond breaker, a surface to which neither chinking nor caulk will adhere, the backer ensures the desired two-point adhesion of the sealant to only the sides of the joint. In addition to its main purpose as a bond breaker, backer adds insulation to the joint, and saves money by decreasing the amount of sealant needed.

(4) Log end sealant. Because the end fibers of logs and timbers absorb much more water than other log surfaces, the ends of any logs and timbers that are exposed to the elements should always be protected by a log end sealant in addition to stain.   

4.  Understanding how to recognize when maintenance is needed.

A key responsibility of a log home owner is simply to recognize when maintenance is needed. The best way to do that is to perform a thorough inspection of the exterior of your log home no less often than annually. When the need for maintenance is found, it is important to perform the needed maintenance promptly to protect your log home and keep maintenance costs at a minimum. See Log Home Inspection.

5.  Understanding the importance of the RIGHT SOLUTION.

When log home owners understand the importance of (1) performing thorough annual exterior inspections, and (2) doing the proper maintenance when it is needed, the log home stays protected, and costs are low. However, when we fail to make regular inspections or overlook a problem during an inspection, minor issues can become costly ones. When you realize that your log home has needs, it is important to determine the right solution, whether you know that on your own or need help from an experienced contractor or other log home professional. The right solution honestly addresses the true need. A good understanding of the basics of log home maintenance will allow you to understand when a proposed solution makes sense. If the right solution costs more than you can currently afford, you still need to do the work required by the right solution. There are ways to save money while still doing the proper work. One option may be to do some or all of the work yourself instead of using a contractor. If that is not an option, you can also do the work over time in stages, starting with the most pressing need. The key is choosing the right solution. There is a right solution for whatever issue you encounter with your log home. Even if it has to be done in stages, choosing the right solution will always provide the best protection, and save money in the long run.