Log Homes vs. Timber Frame Homes: Which Is Right for You?


Log Homes vs. Timber Frame Homes:  Which Is Right for You?

It’s a question we’re frequently asked: what’s the difference between a timber frame home and a log home? And it’s usually followed with: what are the benefits of each? Or, which one is right for me?

This article attempts to answer that question as completely as possible by introducing some common considerations of each building style.

First some basic definitions:

A timber frame, or post-and-beam, home is built with a construction method in which a frame is constructed out of solid wood, laminated, and then secured to composite timbers via well-crafted wooden joinery like dovetails, mortis and tenons, or scarfs with wooden pegs. That frame is then enclosed in a manner that suits the homeowner’s tastes, those usually the interior timbers are left exposed.

A log home is a house constructed from logs that have not been milled into conventional lumber, though logs used in the construction of log homes are commonly processed in mills to ensure desirable shape and seasoning. What’s the difference between log homes and log cabins? Structurally, nothing! However, builders prefer to avoid the term “log cabin” since it evokes an idea of a small, unsophisticated dwelling that limits the perceived potential of the building method. Log homes can be as large and grand as the homeowner chooses.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Timber Frame or Log Home

If you’re dreaming of building a log or timber frame home, here are some questions to ask yourself that will help guide you toward the option that may be best for you.

1. What kind of interior environment makes you most comfortable?

The interior differences are probably the most important stylistic distinction between a timber frame home and a log home.

A timber frame design allows you to include as many windows as you’d like to enjoy the views that surround your property. It also allows for a far wider variety of décor options.

2.  Is your heart set on the all-log, completely wood exterior?

To put it simply, log homes are for a very specific audience while timber frames provide something for everyone. If you desire that classic log cabin look, a log home is definitely the option for you.

If that’s not the style you’re going for or you’d like to explore various options, timber framing provides greater flexibility when it comes to siding and window placement and, therefore, lends itself well to a wide variety of styles. From conventional to rustic to colonial to something more eclectic – pretty much any style you desire is possible to achieve with a timber frame.

3. What are your long-term plans for the home?

How long does your family realistically plan to own the home? While a properly built and well-maintained log home can last for a very long time, timber frame homes are the better choice if you are looking for long-term stability as there will be less wood expansion and shrinking with this style of home.

Plus, a correctly built timber frame is an amazingly strong structure. According to Hendricks Architecture, some timber frame homes built in medieval times are still standing. This is a great testament to the longevity and durability of this building method.

In fact, timber framing is such a strong construction method that the department of Civil Engineering at Texas A & M University is researching the benefits of timber frames under pressure, particularly to determine the types of buildings that are best suited for areas prone to natural disasters. They traveled to Japan’s Hyogo Earthquake Engineering Research Center and tested a 7-story timber frame against earthquakes up to 7.5 on the Richter scale.

Dr. Rosowsky of Texas A & M stated: “Not only did the building stay together, but it met all of the performance requirements – it met all of the drift expectations. This confirms that we can design and build mid-rise wood frame structures in high seismic regions and that these structures will perform satisfactorily.”

The gist: timber frames are incredibly strong! If you want to build a home that will last for generations, go with a timber frame.

4. What is your level of willingness to perform regular maintenance on the home?

Before you commit to either a log home or timber frame, you should consider the types of maintenance that will be necessary, who will perform those maintenance tasks, and your feelings regarding the expense of maintenance costs and time.

Log homes require frequent maintenance to preserve the appearance of the home and ensure it is protected from water damage, air infiltration, UV radiation, rodents, and insects. According to Intensified Wood Restoration, the average cost of log home maintenance is about $2,500 to $3,000 bi-annually.

Timber frames require little to no maintenance work because of the variety of available siding options and because the majority of the timbers are internally located, not exposed to the elements.

5. How important to you is energy efficiency?

The R-value of a material describes its insulating power. The higher the R-value the better.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a 6-inch log wall like one would find in a log home has an R-value of just over 8, while a conventional wood stud wall (with insulation, sheathing, and wallboard) has an R-value of about R-14.

When it comes down to it, wood is just not a great insulator and log homes are very difficult to insulate well. Dried logs consist of about 15-20% water when the typical log home is constructed. Over the next few years, these logs will dry and shrink, creating gaps between the logs and air leaks.

On the other hand, Timber Frames Magazine reports that levels of R-24 for timber frame walls and R-40 for timber frame roofs are now considered easy to achieve because this style of home is usually constructed with insulated panels and energy recovery ventilation systems.

If energy efficiency is a top priority, a timber frame is probably the choice for you. If you still have your heart set on a log home, your best bet is to ensure your logs are seasoned for at least 6 months before construction. Choose logs from trees that are less prone to shrinking and expansion like cedar, pine, spruce, fir, and larch. Be sure to waterproof logs and install generous gutters and roof overhangs to avoid moisture.

6. What’s your definition of rustic?

If you’ve been thinking you want a “rustic” style home, take a second to consider exactly what that means to you. This is both an aesthetic question and a tolerance-of-elemental-intrusion question.

In both types of design, timberwork is a primary visual element. For some, a log cabin with internal walls constructed purely of exposed logs is necessary to achieve the rustic feel they desire. Other prefer a more hybrid appearance and the exposed post-and-beam timber frame look provides a sufficient inclusion of rustic elements.

Perhaps more important is your tolerance to exposure to the elements and intrusions of rodents and insects. Log homes shrink, expand, and shift, creating gaps between the logs that allow air and pests to enter. Regular appropriate maintenance can help prevent this. Timber frame home owners will not experience these problems.

7. What’s your construction timeframe?

Are you eager to get into your new home as soon as possible, or are you prepared to enjoy a longer journey as you erect your dream home?

While the length of building time completely depends on the details of the design (size, complexity, terrain, finishes, etc.), timber frame homes tend to provide shorter and easier construction because many of the components are pre-manufactured and engineered to be easy to put together on site. Log homes require months of log work before building can begin and natural logs need to be individually fit together during construction.

That being said, many people enjoy the anticipation and process involved in getting their new home “just right,” so if you believe a log home is right for you, don’t let the potential for a longer build turn you off – the extra time will be worth it when you move into your new home!
We hope this article has provided you with some good insight and information that illuminates your consideration of home types! Interested in learning more about a particular home style? Contact a builder by submitting an inquiry.

Still not sure whether a log home or timber frame is right for you? Get in touch! There are so many more details to consider about these building styles and we would love to walk you through them.

We wish you the best of luck in building your dream home!