Building a Cabin


(Editor’s Note:  Maybe some of these methods could be applied in a New Earth context, as long as the use of logs is sustainable and efficient!)

Written by Earl Hardy

The image and appeal of a log cabin are eternal.
. . . . . . . . .

The image and appeal are eternal. A log cabin not only represents the beauty of the wild and the value of independence and thrift, but also the spirit that founded our nation.

Beautiful by any standard, energy-efficient and environmentally sound, log structures are the yardstick by which lasting value is measured. Like all too many skills once handed down from parents to children, however, the art of home-built structures like these has atrophied in the age of affluence and cookie-cutter developments.

The simple, liberating fact is that you can build your own home–this home–for about $30,000, even if you end up having to buy the logs. No mortgages, no lifelong servitude to the “variable interest rate,” just a simple home that you will be proud to take food and rest in.

The plans on the following pages are real blueprints for Mother’s Hardy Cabin, just waiting for an enterprising builder to transform them into the dream of a lifetime.

Notes on Construction

Start by taking your plans around and getting bids from at least three suppliers for foundation, logs, plumbing, etc. The idea is to make sure you have enough money to cover all the bases, plus 10% more for unforeseen expenses. The Hardy cabin can be built in as little as one to two weeks if you gather all the materials to the site and have the foundation installed in advance, so that you’re ready to build when all the materials arrive.

Plans and Blueprints
It is wise to secure the location where you will be storing the materials to prevent them from “walking off the job.” Materials are not cheap and you don’t want to lose anything to theft. It might also be wise to camp out at the site during construction.

Unless you have experience with foundations and are familiar with site preparation and concrete, sub this part out to local contractors, who can get you started on the right footing. If you can build on high, well-drained ground, or even solid rock, your foundation will remain firm forever.

Of course, you must start off with a level surface. After clearing the site and excavating the places where the piers (or footers) will go, form and pour the column (pier) bases, inserting the required reinforcing bars (called “rebars”) per your plans. Be certain to pour the bases at least 18″ below the frost line (check with your area building department for local depth requirements). Allow at least four days curing time.

Once cured, the blocks can be laid to form the piers. Fill the empty cells with rebar, anchor bolts or straps, and concrete as called for on the plans. Allow four more days for curing.

Now you’re ready to build the floor. Using the plans as a guide, install the plates that go on top of each pier as shown on “Concrete Block Pier Detail” (page 40). Next, lay out the perimeter and center beams and secure them together with metal connectors and screws recommended by the manufacturer.

Secure them to the pier plates with locally approved metal connectors, or straps with matching fasteners. Once you have the center and perimeter beams in place, install the metal joist hangers 16″ on center and hang the floor joists on them. Secure with recommended fasteners. Now that you have the floor framing completed, install the tongue and groove sub floor sheathing at right angles to the joists. To prevent floor squeaks, run a bead of construction adhesive down each board before applying the sheathing. Make sure all tongues fit tightly into matching grooves. If you have access to electricity, an air compressor with a nail gun can pop the sheathing on in no time.

Be careful to purchase your logs from a manufacturer recommended by local building authorities or your local lumber yard. Make sure the logs are aged two years or more, or kiln- dried to local requirements for log moisture content. Note that some settling will occur over time and you may need to compensate for this when building partitions or hanging cabinets.

This usually can be done by chain-sawing a kerf in the logs for cabinet parts or paneling to slide along (for round inside logs only). Some builders hang a threaded rod from rafters or trusses to secure cabinets or partitions from above. Consider carefully how you want to seal (or “chink”) the spaces between the logs. Some folks use to seal any imperfections in rougher cut logs and to prevent infiltration of the elements. Many log manufacturers discourage the use of chinking, due to yearly maintenance or replacement requirements. These manufacturers machine the logs with rabbets and grooves to eliminate the need for chinking.

Choose a log style you can best enjoy living with. Some prefer square logs (or “D” logs), which feature a flat inner surface, making them easy to finish or stain. Erect the log walls as recommended by your supplier, making sure not to skip any lagging or jointing that needs to be done to hold the logs in place and keep them straight.

Have the manufacturer pre-cut the window and door areas for you. Stain or finish the logs as required or desired. Once the log walls are in place, it’s time to “set” the trusses. This is another phase best left to the experts.

Most truss manufacturers have erection crews, who come out with a boom or crane to set them upon delivery. Secure them in place using recommended metal straps and fasteners. It is recommended that a stringer (usually a 2 x 4) be nailed near the top inside of each truss to hold each one in place until the roof sheathing can be applied. (The wind has been known to blow over an entire set of trusses before the plywood is applied.)

When the trusses are braced and fastened securely, apply the sheathing, tar paper, and roofing. Install metal flashing around all roof penetrations, such as plumbing vents, chimneys, or skylights. Now you can install fascia boards, metal fascia strips, and drip edge. Apply gable-end siding of your choice or per plan. Stain or paint.

Next, install the decking, posts, railings, and bracing, using metal brackets made for that purpose and available at your local hardware store, lumber yard, or building center. Paint or stain per taste.

Now you’re ready to install your windows and doors. Make sure all openings are plumb and sills and header logs level. If they are not, you can shim the windows or doors to make them so. Your rough openings should already be cut to allow for this.

Unpack and install each one as needed, using cedar shim-shingles to shim as needed. Trim will cover the shims later. Caulk or insulate around each window or door frame to prevent whistling, energy waste, and unwanted air and moisture infiltration.

Your pre-hung doors should go in easily, as they are designed and built to do so. Simply knock out the support sticks that hold the jambs in place once the doors are secured. With this done, all windows and doors have been installed and can be trimmed or painted. Install knobs, locks, and dead bolts as needed.

Next, build your partitions, using 2 x 4s, 16″ on center with double top plates and single bottom plates as required. Any carpenter should be able to help you if you run into trouble. It’s usually surprisingly simple to finish the inside, now that the heavier work has been done.

Install the plumbing fixtures once all partitions are in place. Most plans have a 2 x 6 plumbing wall to allow the extra room needed for plumbing fittings like “tees and elbows.” It also is handy for built-ins like medicine cabinets. Have a local plumber help you with this, though it is relatively easy to do it yourself with plastic piping.

Running the wiring to electrify your cabin can be tricky, depending on your log type. You may want to run your wiring in the floor or inside of partitioning rather than in or on a log wall. Today’s wiring is very simple and can usually be done by any handy homeowner.

Have a licensed electrician build your weatherhead and service entrance, or at least get him to show you how to build yours and what parts to get. All circuits run the same game plan all the way back to the main breaker box and connect with a single screw supplied in the box.

Install the outlet boxes first, then run the wires to the boxes through holes drilled in the center of partition studs. Finish the rough wiring before installing wall coverings.

Once wall coverings and ceiling coverings are in place, install the light fixtures, ceiling fans, outlets, and cover plates to complete the job. Make sure your power company is the one to “turn on the juice” for the first time, after your work has been inspected, approved, and given the Green Sticker.

If you are going with solar or some other alternative electrical power source, consult with your supplier on installation procedures.

Insulate your cabin attic (and floor cavity) with at least R-30, though most local codes only require R-19. The more you have, the less energy you will waste and the more money you’ll save in the long run. To complete your cabin, install the cabinets, finish flooring, and add interior finishes like paneling or drywall. Trim and finish any way you like. It’s your cabin. You’re building it–and you can have it your way.

Originally posted @ Sharing Sustainable Solutions


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