Log cabin maintenance is no more arduous than maintaining a conventional house. But log homes have a couple of issues that need to be addressed differently than a stick-framed house.
It’s best to take a slow walk around the exterior of your cabin a couple of times a year, say in the spring and fall and assess the condition of your dwelling. Look carefully and critically at areas where water may be an issue, such as around doors and windows, dormer connections, roof junctions, chimney corner flashing and the end logs on your log cabin.
Maintenance is best performed regularly so make a note on your calendar. For more details. check out these pages:
Look for dark patches where rain has splattered back on the logs and allowed mold or mildew to grow. This is best handled with a simple bleach/water solution mixed in a 50:50 ratio. Scrub the area gently with a soft brush wetted with the solution, then hose it off and let dry for a couple of days before re-staining.
Logs will tend to crack and check over time. Over the first year or two as they come into equilibrium with the local humidity and variation over the seasons the logs will swell, contract and check.
This is normal and will not affect the strength or integrity of your logs. For the first several years caulking may be a regular part of your log cabin maintenance routine as the logs settle down to a moisture equilibrium.
It’s a good idea to seal up the larger of these checks, anything over about a quarter of an inch to seal out water and bugs. Seal these cracks with log caulk formulated with good stretch and sealant capabilities.
For large checks you should first fill the cavity with backer rod (round foam strips) and then apply the caulk over this. This provides good adhesion for the caulk and the foam allows the normal expansion and contraction of the wood without affecting the caulks bond. Over time this area of log cabin maintenance becomes easier and easier.
For large gaps such as around your window and door bucks we’ve found it best to use expanding insulating foam sealant. If you can feel the cold air coming in around your doors and windows you need to remove the trim boards and check that the bucks have been sealed.
We use a re-usable foam gun that takes large cans of expanding foam. These professional guns cost about $40 but they allow you to carefully control the exact placement and amount of foam with a squeeze of the trigger. When you’re done you can just close the nozzle and still re-use the same can of foam months later as part of your on-going log cabin maintenance.
To check the condition of your stain, spray a bit of water on the logs. If it beads up and runs down then the stain is still doing its job.
To renew the log stain on your cabin you need to prepare the wood first. Hose it off to get loose dirt and cobwebs and scrub gently any stained areas or patches of mold. Once this is thoroughly dried and any cracks and checks are caulked you can begin staining.
We’ve found that the water-based stains don’t seem to last as long or stand up to the direct sunlight and harsh weather conditions as the oil-based stains do. Water-based stains need to be re-applied every 3-5 years and oil-based every 5-7 years. Use a good white China bristle 4" brush.
The water-based stains are also very difficult to apply as they are so thin they run down your brush and along your arm. Use rubber gloves or disposable nitrile gloves (not as irritating as latex) and be sure to wear old clothes.
Remember that stain for logs is like sun block for your skin: the darker the color the higher the SPF.
We’ve been using the TWP (Total Wood Preservative) stains with good results and you can even blend them to get the perfect color if they don’t have exactly what you’re looking for in a stock stain color.
To eliminate staining completely on your deck or outdoor room, consider using composite decking. It's green building at it's best by using recycled plastic and wood and cutting down on your maintenance chores.
Controlling water flow and rain run-off is very important on any house but it’s especially important for log cabin maintenance as the logs can become darkened and damaged with too much exposure to water.
If you don’t have gutters on your log home, put them on. If you already do have gutters, make sure that they stay clean so the rain doesn’t overflow and splash back on your logs. You can get a gutter cleaning tool that doesn't require you to climb onto your roof.
It’s also important to ensure that the downspouts direct the run-off far away from the structure. At least you should be using a downspout splash block that keeps the water from splashing back onto the logs.
Check out our page on cabin roofing for more information about your choices in roofing and what's best for long-term maintenance.
Part of your cabin maintenance must include checking for termites. Termites love wood, but with a log home it’s easier to spot them since they’re not hidden in a wall cavity. Telltale signs include a small bore hole and a little pile of droppings. Because any termite infestation in a log home is easy to spot, they can be controlled by spot treatments from an exterminator.
Some signs of termites:
If you suspect an area of your logs has termites, you can tap on the spot with a hard object and listen for a hollow sound. Compare the sound by tapping other areas. Good wood won’t sound hollow.
If you have exposed, unfinished wood that you want to protect from termites, you can spray it with an insecticide like Tim-Bor. Subterranean termites must be addressed with a termiticide like Termidor.
Log cabin maintenance is a chore that most people don’t enjoy but it’s a necessary part of your log home ownership. If you are careful and consistent you can stay on top of it with not too much work, and you’ll prevent a small maintenance issue from becoming a costly replacement problem later on.