Okay, we admit that there is such a thing as log home settling. The catch is that it only occurs in log homes that were built the wrong way, in our opinion. If you build a log home using the butt-and-pass method, and you build it correctly, there is no settling to be concerned with.
The Truth about settling
The problem is that kit log cabin builders need some reason to exist. If everyone knew about the butt-and-pass method of log home construction, there would be no more log home kit dealers. Why? Because you can’t make a “kit” out of a butt-and-pass log home. It simply is not possible — a butt-and-pass log home is so strong (when built correctly) that you can’t build it in a factory then take it apart and ship it somewhere else to reassemble it. It can’t be done.
So the kit builders choose the next best thing: building a type of log home that does come apart in their factory, and then they ship it to John and Martha’s property and reassemble it.
What’s so bad about that? Settling occurs in any type of log structure that has the ability to come apart, such as Scandinavian Chinkless, Canadian Chinkless and Saddle-notch log homes.
So after the kit builder reassembles John and Martha’s new kit home, everything is wonderful. And about a year later when the logs have finished drying, the settling is noticeable. Maybe the stairs are out of alignment. Maybe there is a gap between the log wall and the roof. Maybe a window has shattered from the weight of the logs above it.
These are some of the reasons that “kit” log home builders cut keyways and “settling space” above each window and door. So when the logs shrink and settle, they won’t crush the window or door. We’ve even seen log home kits assembled with a giant screw jack in the basement that allows the homeowner to “lower the roof” over time as the house settles.
The good news is that you can avoid this nightmare and the extra expenses associated with it. All you have to do is build a log home that doesn’t come apart and doesn’t settle like a bag of potato chips that someone has sat on. In other words, consider building a butt-and-pass log home, and consider building it correctly.
Air-drying logs, the traditional way
Seasoning your logs is important when you are building a kit home, because of the settling issue. The more moisture that is in your logs when you build the house, the more settling will occur when the moisture finally gets out.
However, seasoning logs the right way costs a lot of money, especially for a large kit home manufacturer. To properly season logs you can’t have them exposed to direct sunlight. You’ll need to rotate them on a regular basis — which means they can’t be in a pile instead they should be spread out evenly on seasoning racks. The seasoning process takes a minimum of 1 year and up to 5 or more. The process is over when your logs moisture content (throughout) matches your ambient moisture level.
Kit manufacturers really can’t properly season logs using tried and true traditional methods. They would practically have to build an airplane hangar to store their timber (We don’t know about you, but we’ve never driven past a kit manufacturer on the highway and saw an airplane hangar filled with logs). They’d also have to wait many years between cutting and using their logs, which ties up a lot of resources.
Kiln drying: cheating nature with mixed results
The various kit manufacturers have to sort of cheat by coming up with faster methods of seasoning the their milled logs. Most methods involve drying the logs in a giant kiln or blowing them with hot air in some fashion to accelerate the process. The goal is to get the moisture content of the milled product to a set amount (i.e. 18%)
This sounds like an exciting, ‘scientific’ solution to the ‘problem.’ In reality most consumers don’t fully understand what the ‘problem’ is that’s being solved, so they have no idea of kiln drying is the best solution. The truth is, it yields some mixed results.
Problem can develop when you artificially accelerate the process of drying logs. They tend to lose moisture on the outer layers of the log but retain it on the inside of the log. If you are using real logs, which might be 12-14″ in diameter, kilns often leave the logs partially ‘dried’ (the outer 1/3). Build with those and you can get gaps developing between logs and excessive settling as the heart wood continues to lose moisture.
Here’s the million-dollar question: if kiln drying logs is so great, why do they still put keyways and “settling space” over the windows? The answer is because the logs still shrink and settle. Even if you properly air dry the logs until they properly seasoned you will still need to expect some settling when building a notched log home or milling a kit (partly because the home will be heated and this will reduce the moisture content of the logs further).
A log home that won’t settle. No keyways or screwjacks!
Now for the good news: with a properly-constructed butt-and-pass home, you don’t need to season the logs. You don’t need to bake them in an oven or kiln. You don’t need to stack them on a seasoning rack for even a day.
Because a correctly built butt-and-pass log home doesn’t settle the way kit-style homes do, you don’t need to worry about the shrinkage of the logs or their moisture content. You don’t need to jump through all sorts of hoops (such as keyways, settling space, screw jacks, etc) to build a beautiful, exceptionally strong, exceptionally inexpensive log home.