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How to maintain a log cabin

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

A well-built log cabin will literally last several lifetimes, surviving even the worst weather the British climate can throw at it. The timber we use is naturally weather resistant and our cabins are built precisely and to an exceptionally high standard to ensure there are no gaps or leaks through which that weather can enter. But as with all buildings, log cabins require a little TLC to ensure they stay in tip-top condition that can genuinely be enjoyed for generations. Most of this comes within the first couple of years of owning a cabin during which the logs settle. After that, it’s just a matter of staying on top of more regular, smaller jobs.

A log cabin seen through trees
Maintaining a log cabin home is part of the enjoyment of owning one

Initial shrinkage

During the first two years of the life of your cabin, the logs are settling into an equilibrium with the moisture content of their surrounding environment. Green wood, such as that we use for our cabins, contains at least 28% water and as such the logs do 50% of their shrinkage in the first 18 months. Total shrinkage of a 500mm log such as those we use can be up to 100mm over its lifetime meaning as much as 50mm change in the first two years. Naturally we factor this into our builds but it needs to be considered by the owner over that initial period; anything that prevents a log moving in its natural way may cause problems such as the formation of gaps or the deformation of the log itself. The advantage of this shrinkage however is that joints and seams become tighter and stronger over time, and then maintain their integrity as the conditions change seasonally.

It is worthwhile considering that the timbers in a true log cabin are constantly ‘moving’ as they expand and contract with changing humidity. This is of course a relatively small amount once the period of initial shrinkage has finished, but worth keeping in mind. This movement is built into any kitchen units, window & door surrounds and structural beams we install, having perfected this science over the years.

In certain situations we may build an adjustable screw-jack into the structure which may need to be manually adjusted from time to time. These are most commonly used to allow a fixed height vertical element such as a beam, stud, steel upright or staircase to be moved with the natural changes in the logwork around it. This is nothing to worry about and any adjustable elements should just be checked every three to four months.

Water ingress All water, including that running off the roof through the guttering and downpipes, as well as any rainwater hitting exposed log surfaces should naturally run well away from the cabin. No timber, logs included, likes to sit in water and it can quickly lead to wet rot and decay if not addressed. Particularly during the autumn months and early winter, it is important to ensure all guttering is clear of leaf litter and is free-flowing. A build-up of debris and sitting water will significantly reduce the lifespan of the fascia timbers and could lead to further ingress problems.

Keep an eye out for discolouration of logs and other signs of ingress such as swelling, black marks, a damp, musty smell and mould as well as pooling water and any build up of mud and dirt on logs. Prevention is better than cure so if you are inspecting your cabin regularly you will start to notice small changes and nuances in the timbers allowing for early treatment and avoidance of further issues.

A cracked log
Cracking is a natural part of the drying out process and not usually a problem

Drying out Logs shrink because they start to dry out and as a natural part of the process they may crack. These cracks are call 'checks' and do not affect the structural integrity of the building in any way and in fact can add a character to your cabin that only comes from using natural materials. However, upward facing checks that are exposed to the elements need to be filled with a suitable product to prevent the pooling of water that can cause problems deeper in the wood. We recommend and supply Checkmate from Perma-Chink for this purpose.

Wood boring insects

Although we treat our timbers with a unique process to protect the new cabin from wood boring insects, you still need to look out for the signs which include small pin-holes appearing in the timber, wood dust below the excavated holes and tunnels in the wood itself. Wood boring insects are generally free-living and bore these holes in order to lay eggs which develop into larvae. As such, they prefer damp, darker areas of your cabin so pay attention to these in particular.

The most common wood-boring pests are:

  • Wood boring weevil - most commonly found in damp joist ends. This insect is particularly fond of wet wood so as always, prevention is better than cure. As with all wood boring insects you need to treat the infestation as well as the cause to avoid repeat problems.

  • Common furniture beetle - most often found in softwoods, this beetle is less of a problem in the wood we use, but allowing your timbers to fall into disrepair will create a potential haven for this creature. Although it is unlikely to cause structural damage, the holes themselves are susceptible to water ingress which leads to further problems.

  • Deathwatch beetle - one of the most commonly found pests, particularly in wood that has a moisture content of over 14%. The Deathwatch beetle is a particular nuisance in that it attacks hardwoods and often destroys the core of the timber. Surprisingly this little creature can live for up to 10 years so can cause extensive damage over its lifetime if left untreated.

  • House Longhorn beetle - Specific to southeast England and Surrey in particular, this little critter can cause extensive damage to house timbers as it destroys the entire core of the wood, leading to significant structural problems.

Happily however, there are many treatments available for all types of wood boring insect and there are specialist companies who can advise and tackle any infestation you may notice. With all these things, prevention is the best course, so check those areas that may be most susceptible to damp and ensure all wood remains as dry as possible.

Wet and dry rot

Wet rot is more common than dry rot but typically causes less damage as it is only found in areas where timber has been consistently damp for some time. It appears as a black fungus and the wood may soon start to feel soft and spongey. If the timber dries out, it will crack and crumble with ease.

Dry rot by contrast occurs less commonly but often causes more significant damage across a wide area of timber, it not being limited to damp wood. It is most commonly seen as cracks running across the grain with pale yellow to white mycelium growth. While the timber itself remains brown, it will crumble easily as it is destroyed by the fungus.

In both cases, we recommend consulting a local specialist to identify the problem, the source of the issue and to recommend the most appropriate treatment.

Moss and fungus In darker, damper parts of the cabin where less sunlight hits the building, moss and fungus can occur and this should be cleaned if any build-up starts to happen to avoid either working their way in to the timber. A pressure washer will do the trick perfectly or failing that soapy water and a brush followed by a good hose down will do just as well. A cabin should be cleaned like this at least once a year and you will soon begin to understand when and where this is most likely to occur.

Green roofs If your cabin has a green roof it will take a little care much like any other garden does. As the green roof establishes itself it will need regular watering and this should be maintained during warmer, drier months. Over time, patches may occur where certain species do not take or where wind damage occurs and these will need replacing. Similarly you may need to weed out self-seeded or other unwanted plants and a slow-release fertiliser will need to be added during growing season. Finally, debris, dead leaves and other organic matter will need clearing before they cause clogging in guttering. You can read more about green roofs and how they can significantly benefit the local wildlife as well as bring a beautiful aesthetic to your cabin here.

A close up of a sedum green roof
A green roof requires a small amount of maintenance just like any other garden

Overall, a cabin requires little but regular maintenance that is straightforward and can become an enjoyable part of owning a true log cabin. All our cabins come with the guidance on how to look after them. Maintained correctly, log cabins have been known to last more than 500 years - that’s over 16 generations. Imagine writing that into your family history...

We are an authorised supplier of Perma-chink products in the UK and Europe. If you need any advice on which products to use or wish to place and order, please see our website or give us a call.

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