Be careful when dealing with log homes

There are several reasons metal roofing is an attractive option for log home or cabin owners. And those reasons are attractive enough that usually, it’s not a difficult up-sell.

• Log homes are generally high-maintenance dwellings. Metal roofing offers durability and low maintenance — attractive to those already spending time maintaining/treating logs on a regular basis.

• Metal roofing sheds snow. In areas that receive a lot of snow, who wants to worry about the roofing to collapse under the weight?

• Metal roofing looks great and with the variety of profiles available, every homeowner can certainly find something appealing. Metal looks natural on log homes.

• The owners of log homes generally have income to invest in quality products like metal roofing.
Once you sell a log home owner on the idea of a metal roof, obviously you have to install it — and a log home presents unique challenges.

The first thing a metal roofing installer has to realize is that logs shrink. Logs that are not kiln dried will shrink more than 6 inches and sometimes as much as 10 or 12 inches. That’s generally not a big deal to the installer until he’s dealing with a sidewall flashing — be it within another part of the log structure itself or a fireplace.

Anyone who has worked with log homes or log cabins has experienced the settling that occurs with the structure. According to James Eubank of Eubank Inspections in Colorado, “settling in log homes is the term used to describe the loss of log wall height over time. During the first two years when the majority of wall log settling takes place, a wall may lose 3/4-inch per foot of wall height. This means that an 8 foot tall wall may lose up to 6 inches in height before it has finished settling.”

“It can also be a problem when they’re mixing and matching building types,” says Wayne Frye of Metal Roof Specialties of Tacoma, Wash. “We had one that had a stick-frame addition on the back, attached to the log home. Obviously, that part of the structure isn’t going to compress.”

Frye says the z-shaped sidewall flashing was installed in such a way that allowed for the log portion of the structure to settle or compress about 6 inches. “At some point, maybe 10 years down the road, someone will have to take a look at that and do something different with that flashing,” he says. “If the logs compress more than 6 inches, there’s going to be a gap.”

Frye says another common challenge is installing metal roofing on a covered porch — a porch that won’t compress as much as the log structure itself. He’s seen porches that were on top of screw jacks, allowing the homeowner to adjust the height of the porch when the need arises. If done properly, it shouldn’t affect the roofing. Porches are popular on log homes because they keep the logs out of the elements —sun, rain, snow, etc. These logs will require less maintenance than those more exposed.

When installing sidewall flashing into a log, it’s important to cut into the log far enough — sometimes at least half way through the log.

Frye believes in the Pacific Northwest, log homes and metal roofing go hand in hand. “We don’t see a lot of comp roofs or tile roofs on log homes,” he says. “People like the maintenance-free longevity metal has to offer. Also, many of these homes are out in the woods where they are susceptible to fires and snow. That makes metal a natural in those areas. We’re prejudiced of course, but metal is the only roofing we can think of.”

Frye says Metal Roof Specialties enjoys the challenge of log homes. “When I see these projects, I see fun,” he says. “If every job were a 4:12 re-roofing job, we’d get lazy. These projects can be challenging, no doubt, but I think it’s good for our guys. It gets them to think, keeps us on edge.”

The challenges are usually endless on a log home, but if you know that going in and think it through, a quality installer can make it work. Frye recalls one project that was two-plus stories with a 14:12 slope and 12 skylights. “It was scary, but we had all the proper safety equipment, including lifts to get us up to the roof,” he says.

Metal Roof Specialties also sells metal roofing material to do-it-yourselfers who purchase log home packages or kits to erect their own home. “We’ll talk them through any challenges they may have,” Frye says. “That’s how they want to do it.”
Chris Bjorkstrand of Bjorkstrand Metal Roofing in New Auburn, Wis., installs metal roofing — either standing seam or stone-coated steel — on a handful of log homes each year. Bjorkstrand says dealing with the settling of log homes can make it tough to get metal shingles to line up on re-roofing jobs.

“Sometimes one side of the house will settle more than the other side,” he says. “So the house is no longer as level as it was on day one. That throws off the roofline a little bit. Sometimes you can disguise it in by overlapping one row of shingles more on one side than the other. If there is a big difference, you may have to cheat along on the way up. We’ve had to go three, four or even five rows.”

Bjorkstrand says he’s installed standing seam roofing and stone-coated shingles on log homes constructed of round logs and flat logs. Round logs are tougher to work with when flashing into a wall because the depth of the cuts into the log varies — you need to cut deeper at the middle of the rounded log and less deep at the top, bottom or the joint where the logs meet. “Depending on the size of the log, you may have to make a more drastic cut, up to 8 inches in some places,” he says. “You have to custom-make the flashing as you move through each log. With flat logs, your cutting depth is consistent and it’s easier to flash.”

Bjorkstrand Roofing started exhibiting at trade shows in northwest Wisconsin a few years ago. Bjorkstrand says he hasn’t seen much business from it yet, but expects it to pick up this year and next. “The people building log homes, when they start looking around for builders, roofing and all the other stuff, it’s a three- or four-year process,” he says. “Those people we talked to at those first shows, they’re going to be building in the next couple years and we’ll get some of those.”

Jim Moran of Tuff Roof in Monument, Colo., says the most difficult installation he ran into was installing standing seam metal roofing on a log home with open trusses. “We had some real safety concerns with that one, but we got it done with no problems,” he says. “Fortunately we’ve only had to deal with one of those. It was a homeowner looking to cut costs, eliminate the deck.”

Moran installs mostly Decra Roof-ing stone-coated shingles on log homes — 2-3 a year — but on occasion will rent a roll former from Berridge Manufacturing and run his own panels, or he purchases panels from Metal Sales or Metal Mart.
Moran says people building log homes or even re-roofing on log homes are looking for a quality product and a company they can trust. “Price is definitely secondary,” he says. “The people building high-end homes want quality and we’re happy to work with them.”

Moran installed a metal roof on a log home that was built on springs — he says, the springs were installed to help account for the settling common in log homes.

Bill Anderson of Diversified Roofing in Elk River, Minn., has installed metal roofing on a handful of log home re-roof jobs. In almost all of those cases, the asphalt shingles or wood shake shingles lasted long enough for the home to settle. What he has noticed is when tearing off dilapidated shingles, some of the decking nails had backed out some — probably caused by settling. “We’ve had to pound down some of those or replace them with new nails,” Anderson says. “With new log homes, a true log home is going to settle 6-7 inches.”

It’s important to let the homeowner know — how the home settles certainly will affect the roofing and other structural elements of the home. Making the homeowner aware of the potential for issues up front could save some aggravation later. Just like the homeowner wants a low-maintenance roof, the low-maintenance customer is always best.

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