"How Much Does a Log Home Cost?" is the single most asked question in the industry, and also the most difficult one to answer. The customers aren't the only ones who are frustrated; dealers and manufacturers are fully aware that not giving an easy answer could lose a sale. However, in reality the answer is "That Depends", and the sooner the homeowners accept this statement the sooner they can start looking in the right place.
WHAT DO I MEAN BY THE RIGHT PLACE? Like everyone else, my husband and I started our search by oohing and aahing at the majestic, multi-faceted homes with numerous peaks in the roof, giant trusses, huge windows, and big logs. What we didn't realize right away is that every one of our favorite log homes were hand-crafted, and so far out of our price range that we might as well have been shopping for a castle.
The first thing you need to do is distinguish between a handcrafted log home and a milled log home. Handcrafted log homes will cost anywhere from 2-4 times as much per square foot as a milled log home, when you take into consideration the size of the logs and the intense labor required from the first day the logs are selected. If the logs are not evenly sized, you know right away you are looking at a handcrafted home.
MILLED LOG HOMES: If you select a handcrafted log home, you don't need to be reading this article! For the rest of us, there are other basic factors to consider if you are looking at price: log diameter, log species, and log corners. The first two factors speak for themselves. The corner system, however, can make a big difference. For instance, think about how the logs are stacked. If you remember your Lincoln Log toy, you had to find the half-log to start the first course. This is the way a Saddle-Notched corner system is constructed. The courses are staggered and logs are notched to fit snugly together, and when you look at the corner you will see each log end lying on top of the one below it, creating a continuous unbroken stretch from top to bottom. The notches require another run through the mill, and will add to the eventual cost.
When you look at a Butt-and-Pass log home you will see a gap between each log past the corner. This is because all the logs are laid on the same plane; the first course is started with a full log and it butts up against the other wall log which runs past it. The next course reverses the process. There is no notch to hold them together, hence a less time in the mill. If you compare a butt-and-pass house to a saddle-notched house, dollar for dollar the butt-and-pass house should be less expensive. This is where aesthetics kicks in.
A home with logs that are flat inside-and-out will probably be joined with a dovetail system, where the logs are notched at an angle and snugly fit together. Think of the corner of your kitchen drawer. These also require more precision equipment and are a little more expensive to build.
There are other corner systems, but these three are the most common. Just bear in mind that the corner creates one of the big differences between one milled manufacturer's product and another's.
LOG PACKAGES. After you have decided on the corner system, you'll find that every company quotes their logs differently. To get a real apples-to-apples comparison, you must ask for a quote on the logs ONLY. And remember that the logs constitute 1/4 to 1/5 the cost of the eventual house. I think you're going to find that within the same size, species and corner system, the basic costs will not vary all that much from one manufacturer to another... not including shipping, of course.
Many companies quote on a Weathered-in Shell, which means all the components for a weather tight house: logs, windows, roof sheathing, doors. It's tempting to get this kind of quote, but remember that you may be paying thousands of extra dollars to ship generic lumber across the country. And when the extra stuff is delivered, it's up to you to store it all safe and dry on site. If your contractor buys the lumber locally, you can get it delivered when you need it, rather than months ahead of time.
IT'S A CUSTOM HOME. Once you get past erection of the log walls, you're going to discover that your log home is not a whole lot different from any other custom home. The roof materials are the same, the heating systems are the same, the windows are basically the same. Most of your decisions are on the inside of the house: stock kitchen vs. custom cabinets, granite vs. Formica, wood floors vs. carpeting, tongue-and-groove vs. sheetrock, antler chandelier vs. wagon wheel... here's where the wild differences in price can add up. It's a custom home, remember, and the choices are up to you. In the mid-Atlantic states, the square foot price of a custom framed house and a custom log home will be pretty equivalent. When looked at from that point of view, the whole pricing equation starts to make more sense.
BOTTOM LINE: This is where we all get into trouble. There's no agreement as to a budgeting price, because local costs vary so much. Four years ago, when I started designing my home, the magazines said to budget $150 per square foot. I thought this was outrageous, but in the end, we spent about $157 per square foot for a saddle-notched home with 8" pine logs and some upgrades, so I'm glad I paid attention. If you start there, you'll at least be in the ballpark.