- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Visitors pulling up to Beverly Sheingorn’s home in Boyds might marvel at its massive windows or, once inside, its cathedral ceilings.

What they’ll notice on closer inspection is that the home is not made of wood and siding but fragrant logs.

Log houses, and they’re not merely cabins anymore, are becoming more popular for metropolitan-area denizens as their primary or secondary homes. Either way, these structures offer a slew of benefits — for the right price.

“Gone are the days with old log cabins with raccoons in the rafters,” says Mike McCarthy, editor of the Chantilly-based Log Home Living magazine. “Everything you’d expect to put in a regular home you can put in a log home, like granite countertops, hot tubs and plasma TVs.”

Flip through any issue of Log Home Living and see a wide array of homes, some of which barely resemble their wood roots.

Most log homes are precision-milled to fit a chosen floor plan, the most common of which is an open plan.

“The living room, or great room, all sort of blend together,” says Mr. McCarthy, who adds that an October log-home show at the Dulles Expo & Conference Center in Chantilly was the biggest he has ever seen locally.

Many aspiring log-home owners are aging baby boomers tired of cookie-cutter homes, he says. “They want to build something that matches the lifestyle they’ve dreamed of,” he adds.

Log houses can be custom-built to do just that. Potential homeowners can shop around for the floor plan of their dreams, decide whether they want the logs to have a rounded surface inside, outside or both, and then pick the right type of log. They can choose Douglas fir, Western hemlock, white oak or Eastern spruce, among other varieties. Each offers its own pros and cons involving shrinkage, appearance, insect resistance and energy efficiency.

The latter is one of a log home’s best selling points.

“Your house is cooler in the summer, warmer in the winter. It’s the way logs retain energy,” Mr. McCarthy says, a process referred to as “thermal mass.”

If the homeowner is infatuated with the scent of wood, he or she will be in heaven.

“The sense of smell never goes away … you’re surrounded by it,” Mr. McCarthy says.

Scott Rouleau of J. Rouleau & Associates, a Connecticut-based consulting firm that does public relations and marketing for the housing industry, says log-home owners are “looking to get out of the everyday rat race.”

“They have high-stress jobs, like doctors, police officers and firemen,” he says.

The homes themselves haven’t changed much in recent years. Their fastening and structural components are more or less unchanged. Even the types of wood employed are fairly constant, from pine to cedar to cypress.

What Mr. Rouleau often sees is people doing a ton of homework before buying their first log house.

“It’s amazing how long people have been planning to build their log home. They’ll have eight years of magazines at their house,” he says.

Log homes are more expensive than conventional houses, in general costing 10 percent to 20 percent more, but Mr. Rouleau argues that they appraise at higher rates and offer those energy benefits.

Ms. Sheingorn says she and her husband weren’t seeking a log home when they went house hunting in 2003.

“This one was for sale at the right time, and we loved the area,” Ms. Sheingorn says of the six-year- old house.

Since moving in, Ms. Sheingorn says she has been delighted with how energy-efficient the home is as well as its aesthetic beauty.

There are trade-offs, though.

Some log homes must be tightened within the first five years because the wood dries and shrinks over time.

“You’ve got to keep staining it,” Ms. Sheingorn says. Most log homes should be stained every five to seven years.

She isn’t the only one enamored of the house. The log home attracts a fair amount of woodpeckers.

“That’s a pain. They like cedar,” she says.

Her home may attract birds, but some cedar variations are good at keeping bugs at bay.

Marilyn Boyd DeReggi, a Lindal Cedar Homes commercial dealer in Boyds, says Western red cedar logs not only have a natural insecticide, but their cellular makeup also provides superior insulation properties.

No matter the kind of log or home plan, Ms. Boyd DeReggi says interest in log homes is on the upswing, particularly on the East Coast.

“A lot of people I get are people who want to build a second home, a vacation home in a more rural setting,” she says. “A lot of Washingtonians will build in Western Maryland or West Virginia or near a ski resort. They want something very different from where they live.”

Both she and her clients understand that log homes sometimes fall into the “dream home” realm. “It isn’t usually for a practical reason, because they’re quite expensive.”

Cortney Klein, communication manager for the District-based Log Homes Council, says that according to the Log Home Living Institute’s 2004 report, roughly 26,000 log homes were built by U.S. and Canadian companies in 2003, with the bulk of those homes erected in the United States. That’s a nearly 6 percent increase over the previous survey, taken in 2001.

The number of log-home producers jumped by 22.8 percent to 630 during that same time.

The survey, which also ranked consumer interest in log homes by state, lists Virginia as ranking 13th in consumer interest and Maryland ranking 22nd.

“The log-home industry is growing as a whole,” Ms. Klein says. “They’ve evolved into primary residences.”

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