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James' log cabin build  RSS feed

 
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Posts: 1187
Location: Middle Tennessee
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I've been building a little log cabin this year so come along with me as I post about this project from start to finish. I briefly mentioned what I was doing over in the log cabin day thread here: https://permies.com/t/87923/Log-Cabin-Day-Jun#722683 and I was asked to keep the folks here at permies updated, and I'm home today so I thought I would start this thread. I'm not felling trees, debarking and hewing and stacking logs. Not that sort of log cabin, but I do fantasize about doing that. That's the kind of thing I would enjoy doing. My wife and I purchased some farmland last summer to go pursue our homesteading dreams, and we've both wanted a log cabin, and since the farmland had no livable dwelling on it (there are two old cabins on it with roofs and walls caving in) we met with a few log cabin companies, and settled on an Honest Abe log cabin. We met with a sales rep almost a year ago now, and drew on a scrap piece of paper what we were looking for, and they came back with a rendering, which we liked and after 6 or 7 renditions they proceeded to manufacture the home. It's a CAD drawn, machine cut house. Everything fits together with little guesswork.

I figured I'll start from the beginning, with groundbreaking. When I went back to pick the photos I'd share here, I got a chuckle out of this first one. It's so typical of construction: one guy doing the work and three watching. We excavated for a full basement in the second pic, and the third is digging the footer. There's a 24 inch bucket on that excavator, and the footing is about 18-20 inches deep. I then put three courses of #5 (5/8 inch) rebar in the footer set on three inch chairs.

Feel free to ask questions. I'm happy to answer them if I can.
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James Freyr
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Posts: 1187
Location: Middle Tennessee
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The next step in the process is pouring a footer. Due to the location of the homesite and the topography of the land, this meant a pumping truck. I thought that was one of the coolest things I've seen in a long time. I still think it's super cool that they figured out a way to pump rocks. Anyway, close to thirty yards of a 5000psi mix went in that footer. While the mud was workable, vertical pieces of #4 (1/2 inch) rebar were set every 16 inches where the block will be stacked. The block was delivered, and it being springtime, it rained. A lot. I had to pump the water off the footer, pressure wash the silt off so the block layers could start. I actually did that twice. Once in anticipation of the block laying start date, and again after they called to say they were running behind on their current job and it would be a couple more days. So it rained again in those couple days. Like another 2 inch downpour.

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James Freyr
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With the footer cleaned, the block layers got to work. I have a lot of admiration and respect for these guys. They've been stacking block and laying brick for 30 years, and they made this look real easy. They stacked almost 1400 block in two and a half days. Not only is it plumb and level, what I find truly amazing is it's square. I mean it's perfectly square. That wall is exactly 51'2" corner to corner, not even off 1/16th. So about the block and the foundation walls, I chose to have every other course be knock-out blocks, which has little rectangular 2 inch deep pieces on the end and middle that are knocked out so rebar can be horizontally laid in the wall, which will be filled with concrete at a later date. I have #4 rebar again horizontally through every course of knock out block. I then inserted sticks of #4 rebar vertically in every other hollow block cell, thus giving me a 16" square grid of rebar throughout the walls. The pumping truck came back and we filled the entire block foundation walls with another 5000psi mix. The reason I'm going through such lengths for this foundation is partly because I only get to do this once and I can't go back and do this later, and mostly because of the type of soil the cabin is being built on. Using the USGS free web soil survey, I learned that the type of soil I'm building on, which is called Shubuta by the way, is expansive, meaning it expands and contracts and requires measures to be taken into account to build on. One of my neighbors stopped by and hemmed and hawed about me building a basement and said I can't do it because the soil will bust the walls. He cited his cracked foundation, stair-stepping cracks in his brick house, and cracked sheetrock inside his house. I felt his pain for the problems he has with his home but I just smiled and explained what I was doing to prevent such events. He had his doubts my efforts will work. More on dealing with this expansive soil in another post.
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Posts: 20
Location: Utah
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I love the look of log homes too.  But the expense and maintenance of a conventional log home is pretty prohibitive to a lot of people.  I found this site a long time ago that advocates owner-built, butt and pass method cabins.  If nothing else I hope it gives people wanting to go the log cabin route some ideas.

https://www.buildloghomes.org
 
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Love this! It looks like you're doing a good bit of work yourself, did you hire out an engineer to draw up plans for you? Or is your day job something related to construction? I grew up helping my dad with construction, but mostly decks / repairs / internal wall type stuff, so I've always been intimidated by pouring footers and other big work like that. Ironically, I went to college to civil engineering, and while I can describe in great detail how a complex concrete beam will fail, it doesn't help me much with keeping up to codes & current construction practices.
 
James Freyr
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Hey thanks Kyle. I'm trying to do as much as I can that I'm comfortable with but also get this home done in a timely manner so my wife and I can move in hopefully October. I'm doing simple things like foundation waterproofing, plumbing, paint & stain, the floors & tile and interior finishes. I'm also putting a standing seam metal roof on it next week, with some help of course. They're pretty straight-forward to install, and the guy from the roofing company will be on site with the machine that rolls the panels to the right length for us (my brother, myself and a couple other hired hands) to install. I'm not an engineer, but my day job used to be remodeling houses, which evolved into just doing hardwood floors and tile now, which my heart is no longer in as I desire to do agriculture and animal husbandry. Honest Abe Log Home company has engineers on staff and one of them drew the plans. I have hired a contractor who does log homes to guide me through this process and coordinate bringing all the different tradesmen to the table to do their jobs. While also not an engineer, he has been building for close to four decades and is familiar with Tennessee codes and such. For example, if memory serves me correct, a 16-inch footer 12 inches deep with two courses of #4 rebar is code for a residential footer. The only reason this footer is 24 inches wide is because that happened to be the size of the bucket on the track-hoe belonging to the guy we hired to dig the basement. It was my choice to put three courses of #5 rebar in the footer. I've learned that just because something is "codes" doesn't necessarily mean it's sufficient or right (that's my opinion, and my contractor has a story of trusses that were engineered and built to codes that failed and sent some people to the hospital), but I tend to over-engineer things that I get my hands on. Another example is the psi of the concrete. Codes requires 3000psi I believe, for footers. I thought "if 3000psi is sufficient, 5000psi is better" so I paid the extra like $18 per yard for the harder concrete. Same thing with the concrete going in the block wall. So far a cost difference of less than $100 for the larger rebar in the footer, and about $500 for the concrete for the footer, it to me seemed to be money well spent to beef things up. For things like footers and foundations, I really only get one chance to do this right, so I was happy with the extra expense for a foundation that I know is overkill but also won't give me trouble decades down the road.
 
James Freyr
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So my basement has a concrete floor. There are also five posts going down the middle that hold up a joist beam that runs down the middle of the subfloor. Those posts need their own footer to bear the point load, but I also have interest in having a dry basement, and it's one of the promises I made to my wife since she grew up in a house with a basement that got wet or flooded every time it rained. She wanted me to assure her that no water will come in the basement. I decided to put a drain pipe down the middle under the gravel, so if water does enter under the pad, it has a way to get out. More on this later with foundation waterproofing, but these 5 footers for the posts also come into play here. So in the third image of the 2nd post above, you'll notice a footer going down the middle with five spots of four sticks of rebar sticking up through the concrete. I made simple wooden square forms to set on those sections of rebar and mixed sacks of concrete in a bucket and poured these little footers (see second picture). The top of these footers will be level with the bed of gravel that the concrete pad will be poured over, which allows the vapor barrier which goes over the gravel and footers to be continuous and unbroken. (Oh yeah, after my 5 footers were done, and before I brought the gravel in, it rained. again. It was a swimming pool.) This allows me to pour a single monolithic pad that once the five steel posts are set on, their load is transferred through the pad onto the 5 square footers going down the middle. The 4 inch basement pad was poured over a 15-mil vapor barrier that has panels of 6-gauge wire mesh set on 2-inch chairs. There is also an expansion joint going around the perimeter so the pad is independent from and does not connect to or attach to the block wall. This will allow the foundation wall to settle without taking the pad with it and crack it. The pad was poured the same day we filled the walls.
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James Freyr
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My wife, having grown up in a house that had a damp basement that also had standing water on the floor after rains asked me "will our basement be dry?" and I said yes, and then she asked "you promise?", and I said yes again without really thinking this through. Not having ever done this before, and I myself also wanting a dry basement, I decided to err on the side of caution and go maybe just a little overboard on waterproofing. In my online research, I learned that there is damp-proofing and there is water-proofing, and they are very different. Damp proofing is intended to just block moisture, water proofing is just that, zero water entry and holding back standing water, or what they call hydrostatic pressure. Since my basement walls are made of concrete block, which is basically a rigid sponge, I brushed on two coats of a cement based water proofing, designed to fill the pores of the block and bond to the block since it's also cement, and it has a water permeability rate of 0% and resists hydrostatic pressure to a height of 8 feet. Over that, I rolled on a water-based waterproofing sealer, which dries to what's basically a single rubber membrane, and also resists hydrostatic pressure to a height of 8 feet. This was a little tricky for me, as there are a lot of terribly toxic solvent based asphalt goos made for this purpose, but I found a water-based polymer which was my least offensive option. I chose to do this after thinking that the cement waterproofer has no flex, and if a hairline crack develops, the rubber membrane will flex and span any tiny cracks that may develop from foundation settling. Over those two I hung a dimpled pvc membrane, which allows for an air-gap against the rubber membrane on one side allowing any water entry a one-way trip to the bottom where there is also a drain tile around the perimeter of the foundation to allow rain water that collects at the bottom of the foundation a way to get out. The entire foundation is backfilled with gravel which greatly helps with drainage, but the real reason for it is to act as relief for soil expansion to prevent cracked foundation walls.
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James Freyr
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After about 9 weeks of foundation work, the cabin started to go up. The first picture shows those red steel posts sitting on the concrete pad holding up the subfloor, with that load transferred through the pad onto those little square footers I made earlier. A 4 inch thick concrete pad is not designed to hold that kind of point load on such a small footprint from those steel posts, and without those footers beneath the pad to transfer that weight, the pad would eventually crack and start pushing through into the gravel below. Hopefully I did everything correct and the pad doesn't crack around those posts.

As I mentioned earlier, this home comes as a kit. All the logs are precut and milled, and all the necessary materials for a dried in structure are provided.

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Posts: 556
Location: Bendigo , Australia
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Do you have anything between the logs?
 
James Freyr
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Hey John, not yet but the gaps in between each log will be chinked both inside and out.
 
John C Daley
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Chincked?
 
James Freyr
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Yes, chinked. It's any material used to fill the gaps between logs. 200 years ago, it was often moss, then people started using mortar. Nowadays they have a chinking kinda similar to a caulk; it has some elasticity to it and won't crack. It will look something very similar to the picture below. It's the white stuff going in between the logs:

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Posts: 34
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What about electricity? Plumbing? Sewage pipes? Insulation?
 
James Freyr
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Tatiana Trunilina wrote:What about electricity? Plumbing? Sewage pipes? Insulation?



Hey Tatiana! Stay tuned, those posts are coming soon. The electricians finished the rough-in on Thursday and I've been doing all the plumbing, and hope to finish that this Tuesday. My plumbing got put on hold because I've been putting a metal roof on the house.

As far as insulation goes, the exterior log walls are the "insulation". While it's hard to establish an R-value (industry standard for a materials ability to transfer heat) for logs, logs have something that most traditional home walls don't and it's referred to as thermal mass. They sort of "hold their cold" or "hold their heat". Overall, it costs less to heat and cool a log home than a traditional stick framed house. The attic will be insulated like a traditional home, and I'm looking for the most ethical way to do that and I'm leaning towards cellulose, or recycled blue-jeans, as opposed to the pink fiberglass that is so commonly used. I haven't fully researched my options on that yet as I'm not near that stage of the build.

For sewage, a traditional septic system was installed early on while excavation was underway.
 
James Freyr
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During this process, not hardly two days after the build crew left the scene with all their activity and noise making, did a breeding pair of barn swallows build a nest in my basement. Because of my nesting friends, I've been unable to install my basement door, which is really no big deal. There's a little roof overhang over the doorway so no rain is coming in. So as the weeks have gone by, I've spent a lot of time in the basement working and have watched the pair of swallows enter and leave. Then the eggs hatched and I could hear the tiny babies make a racket everytime one of the parents flew in with a meal, but otherwise they were silent during their mom & dads absence. As the weeks went by the sound and loudness of their cheeps changed and then I could hear them periodically flutter their little wings. On this past Monday the 16th of July, I was working on plumbing in the basement, and half the day passed before I realized the swallows hadn't flown in nor had I heard cheeps from the fledglings. I got the step ladder and carefully inspected the nest and the little swallows had grown up and flew away to go live their little birdie lives. There was one unhatched egg in the nest. I removed the nest now that its inhabitants have vacated the premises, and I can now finally install my basement door.

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James Freyr
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I did the plumbing in the cabin and decided to hire electricians. It took me about 10 days working alone to plumb the drain/waste/vent and sweat the copper water lines, and two electricians spent about 4 days doing the rough-in. I watched what they did and figured if I did what they did, it would've taken me like two or three weeks. I understand plumbing and electrical, but it's not something I do all day every day, so I'm slow. I'm happy with the work the electricians did and hiring them helped save time and keep things on track for hopefully moving in october. The electricians will come back for the final and install all the outlets, switches, lights & ceiling fans after I have all the walls closed up and ceiling in. Pulling the wire for the interior partition walls is essentially the same as a stick framed house, but the log walls are a little different. Wire has to be run in a round-about way to get to the boxes.

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James Freyr
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With the cabin dried in, we finally got a roof on. It was difficult to find roofing companies that were a) available with only a few weeks lead time and not booked through the fall and b) weren't charging an arm & a leg to install a roof. We never found a roofing company complying with the latter. So, we put the roof on ourselves. We found the metal companies that the roofers buy their material from and just went straight to the source. They brought the rolling machine out on site and rolled all the panels for the roof. For labor, my wife was there, my brother came to help and my contractor pulled 4 guys off of other jobs. The day before we started the roof, I was under the impression that it's simply starting at one end and going across the roof to the other side. I mean, shit it can't be that difficult, right? I'm thinking with 7 people we'll knock this out and we'll be standing back with our hands on our hips admiring a job well done by 5 o'clock. Yeah right. Well, it is simple, but I didn't know every single panel get's trimmed and special cuts & bends on the bottom edge where they hook onto the drip edge on the facia. There's special trimming and special pieces where the 3:12 pitch porch roofs meet the 8:12 pitch roof over the attic. Oh and the guy that rolled all the panels made them a little too long, so they all had to be trimmed to length. ugh. Being a circus crew that had never done this before it took us three and a half days, but I saved $10,000 in labor. I now have an accurate understanding of why roofers charge so much to install a roof. Dang it's a ton of work, on precarious slopes, and if you drop something like a tape measure, it's no longer at your feet.
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James Freyr
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Aside from the roof being installed this week, the heat & air guys showed up and installed the HVAC system. Not too much to write about here as I really didn't have any involvement other than agreeing to the equipment. Too bad there's no electricity in the house yet. Some days I could really go for some a/c after working in this southern July heat.
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Perfect!  Looks like you did some quality work.
 
James Freyr
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Scott Foster wrote:Perfect!  Looks like you did some quality work.



Thanks Scott. I've had a lot of help and I try, but I've certainly made some mistakes and an absolute blunder. They're nothing too terribly critical and I can laugh about them now. It seems to be what happens to me when I do things I've never done before and learn as I go. I tell myself it just adds "character" :). I'll share some of my errors with some new upcoming posts when I get some time, which I don't seem to have enough of these days. Been camping at the build site 5 days a week trying to maximize the work I can do during daylight hours and hopefully finish before winter.
 
James Freyr
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Here's a quick pic of some progress for those who are following along. My brother and I got the cabin stained over the last couple weeks.
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James Freyr
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My brother and I just finished staining & chinking the exterior of the cabin over labor day weekend. It took the two of us the month of August working mostly sunup to sundown five days a week to accomplish this with the chinking part being the most time consuming and tedious of the tasks. We're rather pleased with the results if I must say so myself :) I purchased a little airless paint sprayer to apply the stain the clear coat and some back brushing ensured a uniform appearance. The chinking material is very similar to creamy peanut butter in viscosity and spreadability. It's the white stuff in between the logs in the pictures. It came in 5 gallon buckets and we started off applying it with bulk loading caulk guns. We would unscrew the nozzle on the caulk gun, insert into the bucket, pull back the lever to load the caulk gun, screw on the nozzle and apply. That process took some effort to load those guns and slowed us down. About half way through chinking the cabin we tried just using putty knives to scoop from the buckets and apply to the joints in between the logs, and that was easier and saved us a little time too. Now it's time to move indoors to start the same process. We will again be using the sprayer to apply the stain and clear coat before installing the windows and doors so we don't have to mask those off.

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Posts: 113
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Wow! The chinking really adds a stunning effect to the cabin exterior. As I read along yesterday and today I was amazed at how when you put the roof on the scale of the project came to light. I thought to myself when you were first digging the basement, "wow, this is a little cabin?" "It seemed colossal!"
Excellent project, beautifully executed.
P.S. Doh! Now I see why I thought that it was giagantic, lol!
Brian 
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Scott Foster
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She is a beauty!
 
James Freyr
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Hey Brian & Scott, thanks for the compliments! It's been quite an undertaking, sometimes wondering what I've gotten myself into. I've realized that our October move in date is unrealistic and my wife and I have tossed that out the window. It's difficult for me to project how long things will take, so instead of setting a target move in date, we're just going to move in whenever it's done. I hope that's before the end of the year.
 
Brian Rodgers
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It's difficult for me to project how long things will take, so instead of setting a target move in date, we're just going to move in whenever it's done. I hope that's before the end of the year.


Smart move.
This is really the only way to realistically think about this
 
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