Log Homes in the Face of Disaster

Sue | July 11th, 2011 - 12:52 pm

Over the years log homes have been subjected to all sorts of weather and other natural disasters like earthquakes and fire. Over all these building, while lovely, are also very durable. In more than one story a log home or small cabin has been swept off of its foundation and down stream. Then it was captured and returned to its original location. Instead of crumbling when a crashing wind or wave hits, the logs stood tall.

Log homes are strong based on the integrity of the logs themselves. They are structurally stronger than steel. Also logs are heavy (just ask anyone who has helped build a log shell).  Then when coupled with interlocking corners and solid stacked logs for the exterior walls, they are much more likely remain intact. When log homes are over a certain length, we also incorporate solid log interior walls which interlock with the exterior. This makes the walls even stronger.

In the face of hurricanes log homes have performed better than just about any other structure. Like the sides of a wooden box, everything is held together. During Hurricane Hugo beach front village was devastated by the storm. In the end only a log home was left standing. Everything else was washed away. And during Hurricane Andrew many log homes in Florida escaped with only minor repairs being needed.

More than once I have seen a photo of a two story log home sitting in a vacant field after Hurricane Katrina hit. All of the other structures around the home were gone as well as the stairs leading up to the house. But the house itself was still there.

Of all wood species Western Red Cedar has the best properties to deal with rot and mold. The natural cedar oils repel against damage from the elements. Red cedar logs stay sound for over 100 years. Let’s see a stick frame home do that!

Fire is another concern. Logs are combustible, but they also have certain qualities which make them endure for a time under extreme heat. The Log Home Counsel (LHC) has done various tests on log homes and found that a four inch thick log wall can achieve a one hour fire rating while a six inch wall has a hour and a half rating in full scale testing. Our standard milled logs are an 8 inch size but also include 9, 10, and 12 inch diameters. The handcrafted logs are much larger, with a 13 inch mean diameter. The bigger the log the more thermal mass and thickness, and also the longer it takes to burn through. The LHC states, “As years pass, the number of fire survival stories continues to grow”. Fires such as the great fire at the turn of the century burned millions of acres across Idaho and Montana.

smoke from widlfires in montana and wyoming

Smoke from Wildfires Near Yellowstone Park

The LHC further states that, “…wood is combustible. Yet its insulation and charring characteristics produce an astounding response to fire. The charring effects of wood result in a protective coating over the surface of the log material.” This is why a tree is still standing or somewhat intact after a forest fire and the reason a post and beam cathedral survives a fire. The charring protects the inner core of the log.  It should be noted that once burning reaches a certain point the logs no longer can carry the load barring that they did before the disaster.

The significance of the charring properties of logs has attracted the attention of chemical companies. They have in turn used the concept to develop fire retardant chemicals to prevent fire damage.

And within the world of log homes, there are certain features which we build into both our milled and our handcrafted log homes to help insure against natural disaster. In the milled homes we used many oly-log screws or lag bolts to hold the log walls instead of nails or spikes. In the corners the logs are usually either saddle notched or dovetailed. This is stronger than the butt and pass corner system. Instead of standard trusses, often we used solid log ridge poles, Fir rafters, and post and beam trusses.

For handcrafted log homes we use an extensive pinning system on certain intervals to keep the logs all tightly held together. Also the natural shrinkage of the logs is put to good use thorough full scribing. The full scribe makes the logs cleave even more tightly together. This cleavage is very important for states like North Dakota were the wind and snow blows very hard in the winter months.

We want our log homes and cabins to be of the vintage of homes which are still standing years and years from now. Log homes are often not only investments, but also treasured keepsakes of a family. One family I met recently has had their log home for almost 30 years now and it is being passed down to one of the daughters. So if you plan to build something that will hold its value, stand its ground in the face of storms, and also charm you for your whole life, then a Cowboy Log Home is just for you.


Any projected costs, cost estimates, material costs, and estimated construction/ building costs, are only the opinion of Cowboy Log Homes and are drawn from our experience. Every home is custom tailored to meet our individual client's wants and desires. The construction of a log or timber home is based on two primary costs: material provided by the log home company and construction costs contracted with Cowboy Log Homes as the builder or another builder of the customer's choice. Final costs are obtained and contracted with each respectively. Cowboy Log Homes is simply the "glue" that helps bring these two together to provide a final culmination of a customer's project. * Please note photos and elevations may differ some from accompanying floor plans.
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