EcoLog home kits mainly use Eastern Hemlock from the Haliburton Forest, an 80,000 acre sustainable forest. We harvest about 2,000 acres of forest annually in a very careful, selective way, meaning the Haliburton Forest will grow in perpetuity. We also have our own mills and we are the single largest employer in Haliburton County, meaning that when you buy an EcoLog home, you are buying local wood, from a local supplier and supporting local jobs. Wood has proven itself over thousands of years as a durable and comfortable structural building material, and our log homes demonstrate these features to this day.
It started with an unhappy incident at the Haliburton Forest – but one that we turned into an interesting proposition for our Forest staff and an exciting possibility for our clients... In July 1995 a tornado ripped through our Forest and knocked down 5000 acres of trees in two minutes. It was an awful mess and we were left with a lot of wood to use up in a hurry. We had an existing market for our hardwoods, but there was no one at that time in the market for our hemlock... so we decided to experiment. We took the best of the Hemlock logs, turned them into square log timbers and used them to build utility buildings. We soon had visitors to the Forest asking where they could get the square logs – and if they could use them to build their future dream home. Of course, we said yes, and we got to work creating our signature look that makes EcoLog unique amongst Canadian log home companies. We knew that hemlock had been used throughout the 19th century to build barns and we knew that many of the barns still standing had hemlock beams. We also know that hemlock is still the Mennonite building material of choice – and that the Ministry of Natural Resources uses hemlock to build underwater structures and docks. We also know that hemlock – unlike spruce or pine – is the hardest of the softwoods and that it has a high tannin content, meaning it is naturally insect and rot resistant.
So we have continued with our unique hemlock home tradition at EcoLog and we stand by our product and our wood of choice, and one measure of our success is the consistently high resale value of EcoLog homes and cottages.
Wood has natural insulating properties, with softwood like hemlock being superior to hardwood in this respect. Trees are made up of cells that contain air and moisture, which gives the wood its insulating and soundproofing qualities, and its breatheability to adjust to humidity. Wood is twelve times more insulating than concrete, and it is much less heat conductive than any metal and many synthetic materials as well. Traditionally, pot handles and fireplace tool handles were wood. In the days when cash was kept in iron safes, those safes were often wood-lined to block the heat in case of fire.
Wood responds to its surrounding environment. Wood absorbs moisture when the ambient humidity is high and loses moisture in dry conditions. Wood provides a measure of natural air conditioning, helping to keep room temperature constant. With a log house, humidity tends to be maintained at a comfortable level.
The effect known as “Thermal Mass”, which describes how the solid walls of structures like log homes have the characteristic of being able to store heat and then release it later also greatly helps to even out the daily fluctuations in temperature and contributes significantly to a measurably lower heating cost. Log homes stay cool in the summer heat and cozy in winter due not just to the insulating qualities of the logs but also the Thermal Mass effect.
Properly designed and constructed log homes will outlive many types of structure – there are many examples around the world of such buildings exceeding 200 years old. Our customers have found that EcoLog homes are very popular on the real estate market, holding their value extremely well and often out-performing conventional cottages and homes in local resale markets. Factors which contribute to a long-lasting log home include the features of an EcoLog – quality logs, a design that shelters the walls with a large overhang, and a recommended clearance above grade.
Logs are strong – while reinforced concrete contains embedded iron rods to give it strength and flexibility, weight-for-weight, coniferous wood like Eastern Hemlock is four times stronger. Equally-strong wooden structures are therefore much lighter, and this is important for EcoLog customers wishing to build in an earthquake zone such as parts of British Columbia, as energy of an earthquake is proportional to the weight of a building. The heavier the building, the more it is affected by the earthquake. For those customers we can advise on the extra earthquake reinforcement required by local codes.
The logs do not “off-gas” organic solvents or formaldehyde as man-made materials tend to do, sometimes for years after initial installation, and at EcoLog, we strive to include as little non-natural material as we can. The chinking we supply with each kit is water-based, and we use natural hardwood dowels to pin each wall log together.
In terms of fire safety, we know that wood can burn. But from naturally-occurring forest fires we also know that big trees in their natural state do not burn easily. An outer layer of charcoal forms, and it becomes difficult for the fire to reach the inside, as there is a lack of oxygen. So the structure will maintain integrity for a long time, and at EcoLog our logs, at a full 8” thick, are larger and heavier than those of most other production log homes.
As mentioned earlier, when wood is kept dry, it will last for centuries. This a major reason for our iconic flared roof edges, extending a full four feet beyond the walls. The overhang keeps rain off the walls and prevents snow from piling up against the logs in the winter. It also provides shade from the hot summer sun while still allowing winter sunshine in for effective passive solar heating. At the gable ends, many EcoLog owners use the overhang as the roof for a small balcony off of the loft area, a feature included at no extra cost for the structural components in our kit.
It’s especially important for log homeowners to understand the natural phenomenon of the decomposition of wood, and to be able to deal with it. For wood-rotting bacteria to grow, it requires three conditions simultaneously: moisture, wood, and oxygen. In other words, if just one of these conditions isn’t present, the wood will not rot. EcoLog owners may wish to apply a coloured stain to the outside of their logs, and there are very effective anti-rot protective wood coatings on the market, but with adequate ventilation in the home, rot and mildew issues will be avoided. The same considerations apply to any home, log or frame, and 99 per cent of all houses built use structural wood in some capacity.
Wood is formed in the tree by the action of sunlight (photosynthesis) reacting with the chlorophyll in the leaves or needles, and using carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and moisture from the soil, through the roots.
One of the biggest issues ever faced by life on this planet is global warming, which is caused by burning fossil fuels and thus releasing too much carbon dioxide too quickly into our atmosphere. It is the forests of the world that counteract this problem by absorbing the carbon dioxide and “locking it up” in the wood.
When wood is burned or left to naturally decompose, that carbon dioxide is returned to the atmosphere. But when that tree is used for a log home, and another oxygen-producing tree grows to replace it, more carbon dioxide stays locked-up than before the house was built. There is only one truly abundant element on this planet, carbon, and only one truly renewable resource and that is carbon-based biomass, of which trees are a large part, and using wood efficiently is key to protecting the environment for generations to come.
EcoLog clients not only enjoy living in a spiritually-soothing, naturally-sourced home that was once a living organism, but also live with the knowledge that they are contributing in a positive way by “banking” carbon within their walls.