How to Design Your Log and Timber Frame Home for Longevity

As you contemplate your log or timber luxury residence, perhaps you find yourself thinking about what your entry will look like or what view will greet you from your master suite windows. Or, maybe your thoughts first turn to the friends and loved ones who will gather around the fireplace on a snowy evening. What you probably do not dream about, however, is the maintenance of your new log or timber home. In this, you are not alone.

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Exterior maintenance is rarely a client’s top-of-mind thought during the planning of a PrecisionCraft residence. However, a certain amount of pragmatism is a benefit in any situation. Your custom cabin or home is no exception. Knowing your new home will stand and protect those you care about for generations to come is important. Because of this, there are practical choices to be made during the planning stage of your home, and each choice you make will help protect your residence. This article provides an overview of maintenance factors you should consider before and during the design of your new residence.



Stain Choice


Stain choice is an item of consideration when weighing factors to protect and preserve your home. Quality over cost is paramount when protecting the logs or timbers. This is because stain is the first (and primary) defense against the elements. Make sure to choose a stain that allows your logs to breathe while still being protected.

You will also want to have your home lightly power washed every two to five years, depending on your stain selection and application of clear coat. The process of washing your residence assists to preserve the stain’s effectiveness and quality.



Since it is a combination of water and sun (UV rays) that does the most damage to finishing products, it is wise to incorporate long eave overhangs, and, when possible, porches into your home design. Another design element that will extend the life of stain is a good gutter system. This system will keep water from sheeting down the logs and direct the water away from your home. And, do not forget the log ends; make certain that log corners and purlins are well under the eaves. By incorporating these design elements into your plans, you will positively influence the longevity of the stain on your home.



This home’s square log walls and deep overhangs enhance and extend the stain’s protection.

Another factor to consider is the style of log that you choose. If you prefer the look of rounded logs, be prepared for more maintenance. The upper curvature of rounded logs takes the full force of the sun, whereas the lower curvature has less exposure to damaging UV rays. This type of log requires that a coat of stain be applied to the upper curvature of the log periodically. This will keep an equal appearance between the upper and lower curvature of the logs. This step may be necessary only on portions of walls that are receiving extreme and constant sun.

Stain Preparation


Prior to staining, the single most critical factor in preventing premature stain maintenance is proper prep work of the logs. There are five words that sum up the best in proper wood surface prep: clean, sound, warm, dry, and textured.

Clean wood is free from mill glaze, dirt, pollen, wax, mold, bird droppings, etc. A buildup of these elements prevents stains from penetrating and bonding to the wood surface. The cleaner the logs, the better the stain can anchor into the wood.

Sound wood is wood that has not suffered surface damage from UV exposure. Surface damage is apparent when the natural color of the logs starts to turn a progressively deepening yellow color that then turns to gray. Depending on the location of your home, this process can happen in a matter of weeks. As the UV degradation continues, the wood fibers loosen and detach from the bulk of the wood substrate. If you stain over this fragile and damaged surface, the stain can lose adhesion along with the deteriorating wood fibers. Therefore, you should sand, media blast, or aggressively power wash any wood left unprotected for an extended period of time. This will remove the damaged surface wood fibers prior to applying any coating.

Warm wood is ideal for stain application. If the wood surface is too hot, the coating may start to dry before proper wetting, penetration, and adhesion can occur. If the wood surface is too cold, the wood cells in their contracted state can prevent penetration and anchoring of oil-based stains. Water-based stains can start to freeze before they adhere to the wood. The perfect warm wood surface temperature is between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (4-32 degrees Celsius). Remember, we are talking surface temperature of the logs, not ambient air temperature.

Dry wood, as defined by the USDA Forest Products Laboratory, contains 19% or less moisture. Coatings can blister and peel if applied to logs with a 20%+ moisture content. Before applying any coating, you should rent or borrow a moisture meter to check the moisture content of your logs. If the reading is 20% or greater, do not stain. It is better to wait than to have to repair blistering, peeling stain.

Textured wood has had its surface roughened up by sanding, a light cob blasting, or any other, similar abrasive methods. This roughening will greatly enhance stain penetration, improve adhesion, and provide more stain durability than application to a highly smooth surface. This is particularly true on the upper curvature of logs.

The first year after the initial stain application, you want to carefully inspect the overall appearance of the stain. Check if there are areas that did not receive an initially adequate amount of stain. This can happen in localized areas when the stain is first applied. If you locate such areas, simply clean the surfaces with damp rags or bristle brushes to remove dirt, pollen, etc. Then apply a light coat of stain, feathering it into adjoining areas.

Continual Maintenance


Once you have inspected your home and addressed any areas that may have needed another light coat of stain, you should consider applying a compatible clear topcoat on the entire structure. Clear topcoats are extremely easy to apply and can extend the life of the pigmented coats of stain underneath. The clear topcoats are sacrificial coats that take the brunt of weathering, protecting, and thus, extend the life of the pigmented coats. They are very easy to apply, and because they are clear, the color of your logs does not darken as it would if you applied repeated coats of pigmented stain. Eventually, however, you will need to decide when to apply more pigmented stain for the best overall appearance and protection.

While you are inspecting the stain, also look for any checks that may have opened up on the upper curvature of the logs. Checks on the upper curvature can take in water from rain and snow. Therefore, it is important to pay close attention to these openings, and prep and seal them properly.

Finally, walk around and inspect your home every fall and spring. Look for the obvious:

  • bushes that have overgrown and are scraping the home,
  • trees that have matured and the canopy is now dripping water down the logs,
  • gutters that need repair,
  • sprinklers that need adjusting because they are spraying water on the logs,
  • and “stuff” that is being stacked against the logs.

These are simple things to correct, but doing them can prolong the life of your stain, allowing you time to enjoy your home instead of working on maintaining it.

The Role of Eves & Orientation to the Sun


Knowing the angle of your home’s main view corridor in correlation to the sun, assists all parties in determining how to protect your view– and your home. Long before you have to start worrying about maintaining the quality treatment on your exterior logs or timbers, you and your designer (or our design team) should discuss ways to protect the logs or timbers from direct sunlight. [i]

M-T-N Design’s talent allows views from this Sun Valley, Idaho residence to be maximized while still affording protection to the timbers.

As lovely as they are, the eaves of a log or timber home are much more than a decorative element of the architectural design. Eaves provide crucial coverage for your log or timber walls. Because snow, rain, and even the sun can have an adverse effect on wood, the depth of your home’s eaves and the pitch of the roof offer your home year-round protection from Mother Nature’s mercurial moments. The easiest way to protect your home’s timbers is to keep them well-covered with roof overhangs. Read how eaves contribute to your home’s energy efficiency here.

In addition, eaves, and the shade they provide, also play a huge role in protecting the interior of your home. Just as logs and timbers are vulnerable to the sun’s rays, draperies, carpets, and other furnishings are inclined to fading when situated in spaces that receive a lot of direct sunlight.

Building Codes


Depending on where your home is located, carpenter ants, termites, wood peckers, and other pests may be a legitimate maintenance consideration. One of the easiest ways in which to combat ants and termites? Simply follow building codes that require log or timber supports be located a safe distance from the ground. This code requirement is why you see exterior timber posts setting atop concrete pillars, like the residence below.

Other Considerations


Sometimes particular styles of Mountain home design or certain accent areas have exposed logs or timbers. In these cases, you may wish to consider a roofing cover or metal capping for the exposed section. Either will serve as additional protection and both are stunning contributors to your home’s exterior appeal.

It is important to remember that landscaping can also be a factor in maintenance. If you build in a valley or on a slope, creating a landscape design and grading plan that directs water away from your home is of paramount importance. In addition, shrubs and trees should be planted in locations that keep them from actually touching your home (and they should be trimmed annually to maintain this distance.) This keeps the condensation that gathers on the leaves from damaging the wood, and (perhaps more importantly), it maintains the defensible space around your home in case of wildfire.

Your home is more than a testament to architectural design or an inspirational story in a home building magazine; it is an investment. Preserve and protect your home today so that it endures for a lifetime and beyond.

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