Builder finding niche with log-style homes

Building a home begins with a dream and a house plan. For those who long to build a log-style home, the best place to start is to browse through some of the log-cabin magazines widely available, according to Ron and Patsy Dirksen of Dirksen Construction Inc. in Goessel.

“I like people coming to me with ideas, with a picture,” Ron said.

Within the past five years, about 75 percent of Ron’s business has involved conventional construction of homes and businesses, and the other 25 percent has involved constructing varieties of log-style home.

Ron has built three types of log-style homes: rustic homes, homes with log siding and true log cabins.

Rustic homes

Rustic homes typically have the appearance of being magically transported from a mountain resort in Colorado to the Kansas plains. The Dirksens’ own home, built about two and one-half years ago on a picturesque piece of land near Goessel, is an example of a rustic-style home.

The Dirksens followed their own advice and began with two magazine photos of log-cabin homes-houses with the exterior blueprint they wanted.

Their interior was designed with ample windows across the back to give them several views of a pond on their property.

They also chose rough-cedar siding, large overhangs and a walk-out basement.

Lodge-pole pine timbers were used in their great room for support, and they also captured the log-cabin look the couple enjoys.

“We got those timbers from a supplier out of New Mexico, and they supply other log-cabin companies with their timber,” he said.

The couple also chose a tongue-and-groove pine ceiling above the timbers.

They didn’t want a true log cabin made of logs but wanted instead to pick and choose the wood treatments to suit their tastes, Patsy said.

Log-siding homes

Homes with log siding built by Dirksen Construction are built like a conventional house. But the exterior has log siding that gives the appearance of a log-cabin home.

They also have a log-cabin feel, Patsy said, but they aren’t built with actual full logs.

These homes can have plaster board or be lined with wood on the inside, and can include regular insulation.

“And it’s easier to run the wiring on them,” Ron said.

Log-cabin homes

In a true log cabin, the exterior is made of stacked logs, and there’s no framing and no insulation-the logs themselves are the insulation.

“The true-log homes come in a kit, or the last one we did, we actually cut our own logs,” Ron said. “We got logs from a mill and sawed our own.”

The thickness of the logs varies. Ron has used 6-inch logs and 10-inch logs on the homes he’s built in the area.

The logs used by Ron have all had beveled edges.

Other characteristics of a true-log home are vaulted ceilings, open staircases and rustic timbers. Customers often choose wood or tile for the floors and opt for fireplaces and wood stoves.

“Everyone we’ve done has a wood ceiling, like tongue-and-groove knotty pine,” Ron said.

“And the availability of more rustic cabinetry is now really interesting with (such choices as) the knotty pine, knotty oak and knotty hickory.”

The last log home Ron built, the owners were able to include such unusual items as refurbished antique claw-foot bath tubs, doors salvaged from an old house, an old kitchen sink and old hardware.

“Usually the ones we’ve done have had big front porches, big overhangs and a real country feel with room for a swing on the front porch,” Ron said.

“They’re very open feeling-not like conventional houses where you have the coffered ceilings and sheet rock. It’s a minimum of sheet rock.”

But they can have a conventional basement, he said.

They’ll also typically have a loft, or they’re built with a story-and-a-half design, which will include one or two bedrooms on the second floor, Patsy added.

The logs can be finished with an oil-based product-for a natural-looking wood-or a product with a stain.

Although some log homes are built with chinking, which is a gritty mortar-like material between the courses of logs, Ron has not used that treatment. Instead, he has opted for a double spline with a sealant product.

“We haven’t done the actual chinking like they used to use in the old days,” Ron said. “It comes now with gaskets and sealers that you use in between the logs.”

Log-cabin homeowner’s have the option of having Dirksen construct their home with a log-cabin kit, or Ron can purchase the logs directly from the mill.

On the last log home Ron built, he bought the logs directly from a mill in Colorado.

“They supplied the materials, we cut all the logs, and we made it ourselves,” Ron said. “With a kit, they come numbered, and they tell you where to put them and assemble them.”

Ron said he recommends looking into buying the logs directly from the mill as opposed to a kit, but it depends on how exotic the home is.

“If it’s a relatively simple house, it can be done. But if you’re looking at a two-story multi-level home, it could get a lot more complicated.

“So there are options of buying all your windows, doors, shingles and everything in the kit or just buying the components needed to erect the log structure,” he said.

Timber-frame homes

One other choice of log-style homes is timber-frame homes.

“The difference between a timber-frame home and a true log cabin is the support structures of the house,” Ron said.

“The support structures are (typically) large timbers that are usually mortised together, preassembled elsewhere, assembled on site and then framed like conventional framing in between the main timbers,” he said.

Ron hasn’t built a timber-frame home and said he doesn’t know of any house in the area built in that style.

Pros and cons

The biggest advantage to a log home is the aesthetic value, Ron said.

“There’s nothing that looks quite as good as a true log home. It’s a real warm feeling inside as well.

“And a second advantage would be resale,” he said. “It holds its value more than a conventional house, I would think.”

But Ron said there are also disadvantages to owning a log home, such as maintaining the exterior wood finish.

“To really do it right, every two to three years, it needs to be sealed with a log oil or stain, which is an added cost and work,” Ron said.

Another maintenance concern with a true log home is the shrinkage of the logs.

“Some are kiln dried where they don’t shrink after you put them up, but a lot of log cabins will settle as they dry out,” he said.

“For the first two years, they will shrink. And you have to build an interior wall that can slide, and your windows have to be able to slide.”

“You have to build all your interior walls short, and you have to put your trim on a certain way.”

A third problem with a log home is the wiring.

“They’re hard to wire because you can’t run wires easily through the walls,” Ron said. “A lot of the kits make provisions-they have holes through the logs, but it’s still a little more expensive to wire than a conventional home.”

And a final concern is it’s hard to get financing on a log home in this area.

“You just can’t do a conventional loan,” Ron said.

Mike Ross, who owns a log home built by Dirksen Construction in rural Goessel, said area banks aren’t accustomed to financing log homes.

“They don’t know how to appraise them,” Ross said.

“Luckily, we went with a bank in Newton that researched a lot of other lending institutions, but most log cabins are financed through the company you buy them from.”

Ron said he was hesitant at first about building log homes until he saw how they were assembled.

“Now, I enjoy it,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed anything that’s a rustic-style home.”

Ron and Patsy said they haven’t met anyone who has been unhappy with their log-style home.

“I think people that want log cabins, they really know what they want,” Ron said. “It’s something they’ve been wanting for years. And most of these people say, ‘This has been a dream we’ve wanted for a long time.'”

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