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Amid housing boom, log cabins sales grow

November 4, 2005

By Laura Zuckerman

HAMILTON, Montana (Reuters) – When Dick Neville proposed
building log homes for a living in Montana in the mid-1960s,
his banker advised him against it.

“He said, ‘Dick, get out of it before you hurt yourself,”‘
recalls Neville, the 72-year-old founder of Neville Log Homes,
which produces 150 log homes a year in western Montana’s
Bitterroot Valley.

He did well to ignore that advice. Neville and other log
home makers are filling a housing niche whose national sales
volume has doubled in the past decade, making up about 7
percent of the custom-home market, according to the Log Home
Living Institute.

Today’s log homes bear little resemblance to the snug
cabins of yesteryear. The average size is about 2,500 square
feet but the nation’s 640 log-home producers also offer
multi-level models that range upwards of 7,000 square feet and
feature six or more bedrooms, vaulted ceilings and towering
windows.

Montana leads the nation in log-home manufacturers, with
some of its most successful log-home companies along the
highway that cuts through the western part of the state.

On any given day, trucks loaded with logs barrel down U.S.
93, either delivering white pine and spruce from British
Columbia’s forests or transporting log-home packages to
far-flung destinations.

Prices for packages — which include everything from log
walls to roof systems – range from roughly $45,000 for a modest
1,200 square-foot (110-square-metre) model with 7-inch-diameter
(18-cm-diameter) logs to $350,000 for a 6,500 square-foot
(604-square-metre) house with 12-inch-diameter (30-cm-diameter)
logs.

Those numbers do not take into account construction costs,
which represent the bulk of the cost of a log home and can
drive the overall expenditure to four times the package price.

“I’ve done everything from cute cabins to log mansions;
whatever the size, they have an old-world, rustic feeling to
them,” says Don Stamp, a licensed architect who has designed
log homes in the West’s exclusive mountain communities of
Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Ketchum, Idaho.

EVOKING THE PAST

Jon Sellers, sales manager with Rocky Mountain Log Homes in
Hamilton, says log structures embody the pioneering Western
spirit, evoking a simpler time and slower pace.

“Log houses go back into everybody’s culture, but they’re
identified with the West because we’ve marketed cowboys for so
long,” he said.

Designing a cabin has evolved and involves more than just
improvising with an ax. Software allows designers to image a
log home even before the logs are milled and then cut into
shape with chain saws.

Chris Lane, sales executive with Neville Log Homes, said
building a log house is a labor of love and patience. Projects
can stretch over several years, including research by the
buyer, design work by the manufacturer and construction by
company-approved contractors.

Hand-crafted log homes, in which no two logs are alike, are
built on site at the company. The logs are marked for
reassembly, then dismantled and shipped to their final
destination.

Eric Fulton, spokesman for the Log Homes Council, an arm of
the National Association of Home Builders, said while the
overall housing market has been subject to booms and busts over
the past 25 years, the log-home market has experienced slow but
steady growth. The industry in the United States and Canada
produced 26,000 houses in 2003, rising to 27,000 last year.

Industry representatives say East Coast states such as
Pennsylvania and New York top the list for log home sales and
construction but Neville, Rocky Mountain and other Montana
companies have made sales to Europe, Japan and other countries
in Asia and South America.




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