Creating the ideal cabin exterior can be as simple as installing new log siding on the exterior of your home. However, the choice of log cabin siding should not be taken lightly, as different materials can produce different results. Variations in longevity, cost, upkeep, flammability, color consistency, and potential damage can lead modern homeowners to develop natural preferences for modern log siding materials over traditional timber.
Whether you’re keen on installing traditional wood logs or opting for a more durable alternative like steel, setting the right expectations is essential when deciding which log siding material and style is right for your home. Before you skip ahead and order timber or log-style cladding, use this guide to determine which style and material fits your goals and expectations best.
The Legacy of Classic Log Siding
Log cabins have an obvious charm to them that’s undeniable. Ever wonder why? It comes down to history, tradition, and an emotional connection with what log cabins stand for. When you consider log cabin siding simply at the surface level, it evokes a powerful connection and closeness with nature. The striking wood grain patterns, warm colors, and the careful craftsmanship needed to turn timber into shelter – these are elements that create a strong link with the wooded surroundings.
There’s also the history of cabin life that comes with the iconic look. Cabins have been used as dwellings for thousands of years, with evidence of log homes in Scandinavia dating back to 3500 BC. When European settlers migrated to the Americas, they brought these traditional, time-tested building techniques with them, relying on local timber choices, like cedar and pine, to craft sturdy log homes.
As homebuilding techniques in the Americas changed and transformed over the years, the idea of log cabin siding shifted from being a practical and rudimentary building method to one of luxury, expense, craftsmanship, and tradition. Careful attention to timber choice, responsible logging, and more complex, stylized designs caused log cabin siding to reach an elevated status of grandeur – one that still carried rich symbolism and legacy, but was somewhat more difficult to obtain in the modern era.
Today, log cabins are still considered a luxury. Rich with tradition and deep in their symbolism of having a close link with nature, log cabin siding continues to hold powerful footing in the market. Now, with modern materials making it more accessible – not to mention much easier to maintain – log siding is a unique choice that can add practical beauty and character to the home.
Biggest Challenges and Drawbacks to Traditional Wood Cabins
Though milled timber is the traditional choice for log siding, it is no longer considered the most practical choice. Wood presents many challenges, including excessive upkeep and maintenance, like re-caulking, staining, pest management, and replacing weakened logs. Homeowners don’t always realize the amount of ongoing work that’s required to keep wood log siding in pristine condition. For those who weren’t planning on the extra work and expenses, this isn’t a pleasant surprise.
Beyond maintenance, there are plenty of points of concern with wood. Moisture damage is by far one of the biggest threats to traditional log siding. Since wood absorbs moisture naturally, it’s common for log siding to accrue significant damage because of humidity, rain, or snowfall. Warping, rotting, and mold growth are common issues seen with real log siding – especially when the seams haven’t been sealed properly, which allows moisture to seep in through the gaps.
Flammability is another concern – especially in rural areas where fire rescue stations may be far away or inaccessible. With wildfires becoming more and more prevalent each year, the more fire-resistant you can make a cabin, the better. Even with surface treatments, log siding made from real wood remains more flammable than modern alternatives, like steel.
Adapting the Approach to Log Siding Techniques
Other materials have been developed to offer enhanced security and durability without giving up the charming character of classic log cabin siding. Steel and concrete provide stronger alternatives to log siding with lower maintenance. These modern materials generally offer better insulation and tighter seams, meaning moisture maintenance is easier and deterioration is less likely.
Before you rule out these log siding materials because they aren’t traditional, it’s important to note that they deliver top-notch aesthetics. There are many steel log options that recreate the alluring colors and wood grain patterns of natural timber. In many cases, these options are nearly indistinguishable from wood log siding.
Common Log Siding Materials
Here is a rundown of the most common log siding materials on the market today.
Wood Log Siding
Pine, spruce, and cedar are the most common types of wood used for log cabin siding. These options offer beautiful wood grain and gorgeous colors, but they also come with a lot of the same concerns posed by traditional log cabin structures.
Wood log siding requires an immense amount of upkeep, which includes re-staining or re-painting every 2-3 years, as well as consistent pressure washing to keep grime and deterioration from setting in. Exposure to the elements can cause wood log siding to warp and swell, which loosens the seams and opens the home up to bigger threats, like moisture damage and insulation problems. Wood is known to be a poor insulator, so sheathing is recommended, though it doesn’t always produce the results homeowners are looking for.
Vinyl Log Siding
Vinyl is a plastic-based siding option that is commonly used for all sorts of residential siding styles. Homeowners are usually very familiar with vinyl, so they feel confident in purchasing it. When it comes to log cabin siding, though, vinyl is not always the first choice, as it offers limited advantages over traditional wood.
Though it is considered more affordable, lower maintenance, and less susceptible to moisture damage than wood, log cabin siding made from vinyl has other issues that homeowners will need to deal with. For example, temperature swings can damage vinyl, with hot and cold temps causing it to crack, swell, melt, and warp. This can be a particular problem for cabins located in areas with considerable variation in weather throughout the year. Vinyl is also a poor insulator, which can cause challenges to year-round energy efficiency.
Yet these issues aren’t even the main drawback of vinyl log siding. Perhaps one of the biggest reasons homeowners decide not to get vinyl siding is its sub-par appearance. Since they are plastic-based and mass produced, vinyl sheets tend to have a slick sheen to them that makes the siding look less authentic than other log cabin siding options.
Cement Log Siding
Cement is a unique choice for cabin siding. Engineered concrete can achieve an impressively attractive log-style surface that mimics real wood in terms of color and patterning. The texture also helps cement log siding resemble real timber, and panels are installed with more seams than vinyl sheets, meaning the finished look appears much more authentic.
The drawbacks of cement are its high cost, heavy weight, and porous composition. Not only is concrete log siding difficult to work with – a big drawback for DIY homeowners planning to install their own log siding – but it also has certain limitations because of its porous surface, which causes it to crack, dent, and split in extreme temperatures or with impact, like hail. Though cement log siding is significantly stronger than vinyl, it can still show serious signs of damage that take away from its aesthetic value.
Steel Log Siding
Steel is a great choice for homeowners who want their log cabin siding to flaunt aesthetics and durability, while also being low-maintenance. Steel is molded to look like real wood – similar to cement, but without the deterioration that comes with the freeze/thaw cycle. Unlike vinyl, steel log siding features seams that are positioned to give it a more natural-looking appearance. Both rounded logs and flat planks can be formed with steel.
Durability, longevity, and weather resistance are the most notable advantages of steel over other log siding options. Steel is designed to maintain its form regardless of the elements, which means homeowners don’t have to deal with warping, sagging, or splintering – common with other log cabin materials. Steel is also moisture resistant and fire resistant, making it a smarter choice for dealing with nature. Furthermore, a hollow back, easy insulation compatibility, and high R-value make steel log siding a good investment that can easily transform any structure into a cabin.
Steel log siding also showcases exquisite detail to help it evoke all those emotions that are attached with the look of a traditional log cabin. Wood grain patterns and warm colors offer an authentic appearance that makes the home feel cozy and welcoming. Plus, the color is designed to last – meaning there’s no need to paint or re-stain steel log siding. With no maintenance at all, steel log siding keeps up a classic, pristine appearance that you can be proud of.
Log Cabin Siding Styles
There are many log cabin siding styles to consider when designing a fresh exterior. Not all of these options are available in every material choice, so you’ll want to keep that in mind when comparing styles.
- Full log – As it sounds, this consists of fully rounded logs stacked up. This technique is only suitable when building a new cabin from the ground up.
- Half log – This consists of a split log that installs flat up against the home, for an authentic look with fewer resources and at a lower cost.
- Quarter log – More similar to a veneer than a full log, quarter log siding can be easier to install on some homes.
- D Log – These logs are milled to have a round face and squared edges. This makes butt-edged installation easier, but it still provides an authentic-looking finished product.
- Chink Joint – A chink joint gives the impression of mortar between the logs, which provides a more authentic appearance.
- Tongue and groove – A slight overlap creates a tighter fit and thus increases energy efficiency and moisture resistance.
There are many log cabin siding techniques to consider. Remember that a lot of these styles can be recreated using more modern materials, to give the impression of an authentic technique but with enhanced durability.
Cladding vs. Solid Logs
Solid logs are generally only used for historic restoration projects and very traditional cabin structures being built from the ground up. Wood cladding and veneers are much more popular today, because they provide a way to get the same classic look of a log cabin but without using as much resources – thus, lowering project costs along the way.
Another advantage is that log-style cladding can be installed on the exterior of any home, regardless of architectural style. This makes it a much better choice for homeowners who are looking to create a log cabin look on an existing home without rebuilding from the ground up.
Choosing the Best Log Siding
There are many options for log cabin siding available in today’s market. Choosing a durable, weather resistant log siding material is always recommended, as it often saves time, money, and energy in the long run. If you love the look of natural wood siding but don’t want the deterioration or upkeep that comes with pine or cedar, choosing a log-style cladding made from a superior material is the best option.
Steel log siding from TruLog offers the most reliable performance when it comes to durability, weather resistance, and long-lasting beauty. With a Class A Fire Rating and a Class 4 Impact Rating, steel log siding provides much better protection for the home than traditional wood options. Plus, steel cladding can be installed on any home, giving homeowners easy access to a log cabin aesthetic without a major re-build. Rich colors, detailed wood patterns, and well-placed seams offer an authentic log cabin style that you can count on to look pristine for years to come.
Download our Log Siding Buyers Guide today to discover maintenance-free, metal wood look log siding and what it can bring to your home.