Owning a log cabin in Indiana requires regular maintenance that may go beyond what the typical, modern home needs.
A weekend getaway, a summer vacation or even an owner’s main home — the rugged nostalgia of a log cabin can serve as the perfect setting to hang your hat. But buying or building one requires more time and money than consumers might expect — and either route presents distinct challenges.
Ninety percent of log homes use pre-milled logs, cut at a lumber mill to fit a standard floor plan, according to the Log Homes Council. This is more cost-effective than custom cutting logs on site.
However, these log home kits prove difficult to compare, since they don’t always come with the same parts, says David Marquart, owner of Custom Woodcraft Builders in Indianapolis.
“It’s better if you find a contractor or architect, someone you can trust, and get them involved before you buy a package, so they can help you compare apples to apples,” he says.
The kit cost covers parts, but not labor, so Marquart’s final price to build one of the Golden Eagle Log Homes kits he sells usually shocks consumers. A log home will cost $150 to $175 per square foot to purchase and build, but that doesn’t include the land, he says.
Cost to build new?
Scott Perkins, owner of Hoosier Log Homes and Repairs in Nashville, Indiana, says when he custom builds an average, 1,200-square-foot log cabin, it will typically cost $150,000 to $250,000. “By having our own mill, we cut out the middle man,” he says.
Both Perkins and Marquart say larger homes with 5,000 square feet or more can easily reach $1 million.
Many log cabins feature the log and chink method, in which the builder notches the logs to fit together at the corners and fills the gaps with chinking. Chinking once comprised sand, lime and clay, but modern builders use an acrylic-elastic product. The logs can be milled round on both sides, D-cut where the inside is flat, or flat on both sides.
The first step in building one requires the purchase of the land, which may take time to acquire in popular wooded areas. Next, determine your budget for size and price of the log home.
Most log cabin manufacturers require a 50 percent down payment to mill the logs and the rest when they deliver. However, most loans for traditional home builds pay in draws as construction progresses. Also, unless comparable properties exist in the area, the appraisal process becomes tricky, because the appraiser can’t value the property.
The difficulty of getting a loan for a cabin makes building one a luxury, Marquart says. Fortunately, some lenders specialize in log home construction and understand the financing quirks, he says.
“If you don’t have your own money, they can be difficult to finance,” he says. “I tell customers, ‘You need to be liquid at least up to a third of your budget.’”
Renovating a log cabin
Updating an old cabin can be costly.
Angie’s List members Sue and Robert McQuiston bought a cabin in Nashville, Indiana, which was built around 1795. The Lawrence, Indiana, residents had married just a year prior to purchasing the vacation cabin in 1975, Sue says.
“Like any young couple, we didn’t know where we would go with all of this,” she says. “But we thought it would be nice to have a place in the woods.”
The McQuistons split the $60,000 cost to buy the cabin and 20 acres of woods with another couple, and later bought their friends’ half and another 77 acres of forest that connected with their property. In 2012, they built a large log addition after consulting architect Wayne Olander, president and design director of Arteffects in Carmel, Indiana.
To build the addition, Perkins felled poplar trees on the McQuistons’ property. He let them dry for more than a month before milling the pieces for the addition. Perkins also patched up some problem spots on the original cabin.
Building the addition took seven months and cost more than $200,000, Perkins says. However, the McQuistons are happy with the end result. “I don’t think we’ll ever sell it,” Sue says. “We’ll pass it on to our kids, because they all love it.”
Maintaining a log home
But the McQuiston’s cabin, like every other, requires work to maintain. While beautiful and rustic, Perkins says maintaining and renovating an older log cabin can prove difficult.
If done properly, a new home only needs sealed every 10 to 15 years, Perkins says. For an older, weathered home, he says it might need sealed every five years. The process can cost $6,000 to $20,000, depending on the cabin’s age and size.
Perkins uses a five-step method for sealing logs, and says this task is best left to professionals. The worst thing you can do to a log home is power wash it, he says, explaining how the water soaks deep into the wood, and owners often seal the outside before the inside is dry, causing the logs to rot.
“I get more business from that than anything,” he says. “I’ve had to replace complete front walls of brand new homes before, from floor to ceiling.”