The Official Online Weekly Newspaper of NAHB
The idea that log and timber homes are eco-friendly can come as a shock to many environmentalists, but trees are a renewable resource. Building with logs and timber effectively takes the carbon from decomposing trees out of circulation for the life of a home — and some log structures in Russia are more than 800 years old.
Like many critics whose understanding of forestry is based on emotion rather than ecology, several first-year students of Ed Burke, a professor of wood and forest science at the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation “think that any cutting of trees is bad.” In truth, however, harvesting is the only controlled alternative available to maintaining a healthy forest.
A large number of log home manufacturers only use standing dead timber that has been killed by insects. Other companies harvest living trees responsibly, either maintaining their own tracts of land or buying from producers who are certified as sustainable.
The NAHB Model Green Home Building Guidelines and the upcoming National Green Building Standard assign points to a variety of sustainable wood certification programs. Additional information on these can be found at www.nahbgreen.org.
“There is a book titled ‘Best Logging Practices’ that most of us in the industry follow,” said Chris Wood of Hearthstone Homes, a log and timber frame manufacturer in Dandridge, Tenn.
“We don't practice clear cutting,” Wood continued. “The general public has little idea how well the U.S. Forest Service manages its land. There are restrictions and guidelines in place to protect this valuable renewable resource.”
Creating Sustainable and Energy-Efficient Homes
Log home manufacturers invariably welcome questions from consumers and environmentalists. It gives them a chance to explain how their companies behave responsibly as environmental stewards of the land.
For example, Kuhns Bros Log Homes of Lewisburg, Pa. manages more than 2,200 acres of private woodlands with a full-time staff of foresters to ensure the company will have an adequate supply of logs short- and long-term.
Also, as a corporate supporter of the Arbor Day Foundation, Kuhns Bros. plants thousands of trees annually in the country’s national forests and gives each of its home buyers a foundation membership.
“I'm very proud of the way we do business. Sound forestry management will always be a vital part of our operation,” said Tom Kuhns.
A visit to any log home milling facility also can convince even the very skeptical that every ounce of wood is utilized to maximum effect.
“For all practical purposes, we don’t have any waste,” said Jay Foster of Real Log Homes, one of the largest log home producers in the country, with log milling facilities in Vermont, Montana and Arkansas.
Shavings from milling are either sold to paper or cardboard producers or to farmers as bedding for animals or to landscapers for use as mulch. “Every byproduct in our operations is recycled,” said Foster.
Other log home producers sell the sawdust and shavings to the producers of pellets used in pellet stoves. Still others may burn the material in kilns that dry their logs or cants.
The recycling doesn’t just generate good PR, it’s vital to their economic survival.
“There is very little waste because it’s a very expensive raw material,” said the University of Montana’s Burke. “Whether it is a chunk of wood, a pile of sawdust or a full log, log home manufacturers can’t afford to waste it because it costs them the same amount per pound to extract it from the forest and truck it to their mill. So it becomes a matter of simple economics and bottom-line survival.”
Michael Gingras, of Seven North Log Homes in New Haven, Vt., said that, because of thermal mass, log homes are a great way to create an energy-efficient home.
“You can also make them extremely tight,” he said. “We use heat recovery ventilators in all our homes to maintain good air quality. The key to creating a tight envelope is to pay attention to the construction details between log courses — where the walls meet the roof, around windows and doors and in the roof system.”
Gingras builds his homes to the stringent requirements set forth by the Vermont Star Homes program, a statewide energy efficiency program that mirrors the federal Energy Star program.
Meeting the Growing Demand for Green Building Practices
Katahdin Cedar Log Homes in Oakfield, Maine has adopted a number of innovative programs to position itself as one of the greenest log home companies in the industry.
This certification enables the log home manufacturer to offer Northern White Cedar from responsibly managed forests. While it is the only log home manufacturer in the U.S. to hold SmartWood certification, many log home companies purchase their logs from third-party certified, sustainably managed forests ― FSC or similar programs like the Sustainable Forestry Initiative and American Tree Farm System.
“We felt that taking this positive step to certify our source forests was an important component to Katahdin’s progressive approach to conserving the environment,” said David Gordon. “This enables us to meet the growing demands for green building practices in a competitive market, and will also enable us to reach green building standards as they are approved for home construction in the near future.”
The company’s certified products include interior and exterior trim, decking, log wall stock, log siding and cedar support posts.
To cut fuel costs in its mill vehicles, Katahdin has installed a commercial ethanol distiller at its milling facility, which ferments culled potatoes from nearby farms into ethanol. The company produces about 100 gallons of ethanol a day as a supplement at a cost of under $1 per gallon.
“We continue to look for new ways to lower our dependence on fossil fuels and keep our costs down,” said Gordon. Earlier this year, Katahdin completed construction on a 14 million BTU biomass boiler to recycle wood waste into steam heat for the mill buildings.
Using Solar Kilns to Dry Logs
Gastineau Log Homes of Bloomfield, Mo. was the first in the industry to develop a solar forced-air kiln to dry its oak logs. The company has been using solar kilns for four years
“In keeping with our desire to be environmentally conscious and our trademark of being a leader and innovator in the log home industry, we designed a drying system that is unique in the log home industry — solar forced-air kilns,” said Lynn Gastineau.
The solar kilns “are environmentally responsible and use virtually no energy except the electricity to run the computers that monitor the system and the air turbines,” Gastineau said. “It is kiln drying for the 21st century. With our process, the logs are in the kiln from four to five months at a lower temperature. This is better for the wood — less damage and checking — better for home buyers, less costly and better for the environment.”