10 Things to Look Out for When Buying an Old Log Cabin
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10 Things to Look Out for When Buying an Old Log Cabin

Buying, restoring and preserving an old cabin can be incredibly rewarding. But it's not without its pitfalls. Here's what to consider the next time you get your heart set on a cabin in need of some TLC.

Written by David Woods
 Photo by Steven Cordes / Unsplash
There's an undeniable charm to old log cabins. So when a fixer-upper pops up online for what seems to be a steal, it's easy to get swept up in the idea of taking it on. But it’s important that you know exactly what you’re looking for and getting into–financially, emotionally and time-wise.
With professional help, restoration is generally completely achievable. However, the worse the damage, the higher the cost of the repair and maintenance for you, so use this list to consider much work you really want to take on.

1. Is the staining patchy, or is there any exposed wood?

Pay attention to the south and west walls of the log cabin; is the color the same all the way up the wall, or is it more faded at the bottom? Splash water on the logs, is the water absorbed? This is a great way to test the staining. If the staining is effective, the water should bead and run off. A cabin can be re-stained quite easily, so don’t worry if it does need a new coat of stain.

2. Are there any checks or splits in the logs?

Cracks or splits under ¼ inch in size are fine, but look out for cracks on the upper side of logs as water can infiltrate the logs easily.

3. Do any of the logs touch the floor?

Logs that are placed directly on the ground soak up moisture which causes rot. The logs should be raised on a foundation. If you spot any black marks on the exterior of the log, this indicates that the logs have rotted from the inside out.

4. Are any of the logs rotten?

You can use the black mark test mentioned in #3 to find out how much the logs have deteriorated. Another test: tap the logs with a hammer and listen. A rotting log will produce a hollow sound.

5. Is there any water damage caused from a lack of roof overhang?

Does the cabin have a large enough overhang to protect the cabin from rain and other elements? There should be a minimum overhang of 24 inches for a single-story cabin and 36 inches for a two-story cabin.

6. Are the gutters in disrepair?

Check them over to ensure they’re in good condition and without a buildup of debris. Ensure that the downspouts drain the water away from the cabin and its foundations. You can test this by pouring a jug of water into the gutter and watching how it drains.

7. Are there any signs of insect infestation?

Look out for bore holes surrounded by a chalky residue or sawdust. Carpenter bees, ants and powder post beetles are a few common pests to keep an eye out for. Learn more here.

8. Are there any cracks of over ¼ inch in the caulking?

The caulking is the sealant between the logs, check that there are no chunks missing, or large cracks. This can be easily replaced though, so don’t be worried if there are cracks – just get a quote to have this corrected.

9. Are there any dips or humps in the roof?

This could be a sign that the cabin didn’t settle properly. Settling is a natural process where the home shrinks slightly in the first few years as the logs adjust to the climate.

10. Are any of the doors or windows difficult to open?

Again, this could indicate that the cabin hasn’t settled properly, or even worse, that the foundations are not adequate. Always get a second opinion from a expert, and shop for quotes to find out how much the work will cost to fix the problem.

Plus! A few other things to know...

  • When was the cabin built?
  • Who built the cabin?
  • How many owners has the cabin had?
  • When was the cabin last stained and caulked?
  • Is the cabin currently insured, and who with?
  • Are there any disclosures that need to be made, including but not limited to rot, insects and damage?
Learn more about log cabin restoration and see examples here!

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