Evaluating and repairing an old log home

By: Shannon Lee , Contributing Writer
In: Old House Construction, Old House Inspection

You've probably heard about the rules of thumb when buying an old house: Hire an inspector with experience in old houses, set aside an ample budget for repairs and maintenance, and always plan for the unexpected. When you purchase an older log home, there are many other factors to consider -- especially the state of the logs that make up the exterior of the house.

But that doesn't mean that log home restoration has to be any more expensive or time-consuming than the restoration of any other old house. It just means that you will have to be much more diligent about inspections during the early days, and make certain that all maintenance or repair issues are dealt with immediately, so as to ensure a safe, comfortable home for years to come.

Can that log home be restored?

When it comes to log home restoration, making sure the house is sound and straight is key. Log homes always have some settling involved, and reputable builders are well aware of this. That's why they will build very carefully, allowing the logs just enough room to "breathe" while they settle into their new space. But the older the log home, the more likely there will be settlement problems.

Start by looking at the roof of the house -- if serious settling has occurred, the roof will often tell the tale. Is the roof straight and true, or does it have a bit of a lean, or sag? Do the walls go straight up, with no logs pushed out over the others, especially near the roofline?

Next, look at the doors and windows. As settling occurs, the doors and windows can be knocked off-kilter, and they can become very hard to open. Signs of settling problems might also be evident in corners and where the logs meet any fireplaces or other masonry work. You might notice a significant draft, or even light shining through in some areas. That's a sign that serious repair work is necessary.

The structure is sound, but what about the outside?

Just because your log home has a sound structure doesn't mean the deal is ready to be signed. Take a look at the state of the logs that make up the home. Look for mold, rot, mildew and moss growing on the logs, as these are signs of water infiltration and neglect. Pay special attention to areas that might have insect damage, as this kind of damage is usually not limited to one small area. For instance, if you spot termites in one corner of the house, chances are they have been feasting all over the house for a long time.

Make sure you have a chance to look at the logs after they have been thoroughly cleaned before you make an offer on the home, as all that dirt and grime buildup over the years can sometimes hide serious issues. Discoloration and UV damage can be dealt with, but if the logs have serious cracks or other damage, that's a sign they might need to be replaced. Keep in mind that finding matching logs for a home of advanced age is probably going to be tricky, and it takes an excellent contractor to find such gems and install them properly.

Finally, remember that while log homes are breathtakingly beautiful, they can also be expensive to repair. So before you jump in, make sure you have a very good idea of what your real financial bottom line will look like. Once the house gets a clean bill of health from a reputable inspector, start repair and maintenance the day of the closing -- if you handle it fast, you will soon have a strong, sturdy log home that will stand for hundreds of years.