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Are log homes the next big thing in Kenya?

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When the concept of log homes was introduced in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe over 200 years ago, it was initially viewed as a stale idea of building dwellings with rustic back woods.

Over the years, however, and following the transformation of the logs from the traditional back woods to fine and sufficiently polished logs, these houses have risen in popularity and moved them from the sidelines to centre stage.

Log houses are simply houses built from logs. Log construction has been popular in the United States, Canada and in the Scandinavian countries, where straight tall tree trunks (pine and spruce) are readily available.

Cheryl Carpenter, an associated content writer for Yahoo, says that log homes outperform standard built homes in energy efficiency by up to more than 15 per cent. Today, Finland is the leading producer and importer of logs used in construction of log homes which have now gained wide acceptance across the globe.

The logs are delivered in different lengths, with personal choice of shape, thickness, and double or single tongue and groove. Each log is finished to a clean, exact size. All necessary cutting to length is done on the production site. Not only does this method guarantee tight-fitting joints and precise cuts, but it also allows maximum control of log placement and appearance once the logs are imported and assembled into the final house.

One of the reasons log homes technology has gained so much acceptance in these nations is the generous availability of tree trunks, especially in Finland where by 2013, the percentage of forested area was 72.9, according to the World Bank. In Kenya, however, we are not yet privileged to have as much forested area with such quality timber products. This means most of our logs will have to be imported, a very achievable process, especially if developers were to pool their resources and venture into this lucrative and unique construction concept.

Challenges of log homes in Kenya

Log homes are relatively a new concept in Kenya and in Africa at large. Kenyans would have a number of questions around the idea of building using the logs concept. We have tried to provide response to the frequently asked questions for the benefit of those keen to know more about log homes.

1. Cost: This is probably the biggest challenge and we will not lie by telling you they are cheap. Cost of the logs, cost of importing, transporting them to site and assembling them into the final home is indeed high. So, no one should imagine that log homes will be cheaper than standard stone houses.

2. Durability: Many would wonder about the lifespan of log homes and their permanency in a tropical country like ours. Log homes have survived up to 150 years in European countries and are known to be durable for many years to come. Like all "normal" homes, one must take care of them and maintenance is always essential in keeping your home to an acceptable standard.

3. Fire hazard: This is a very common concern to us. When you start a fire in the fireplace or build a campfire, you start with small pieces of wood, not large solid logs. Did you know that many stone houses that burn down are largely due to the heat that ignites flammable materials even before they come into contact with the actual fire? A solid log wall is resistant to heat due to its mass. Logs have the advantage of resisting heat, ensuring minimal heat transfer to other rooms in case of a fire. It was observed in Australia during a fire outbreak that all the homes the fire came into contact with were razed down, except for log homes.

4. Cost of insurance: Insuring a log home is just like insuring any other ordinary house. By installing sprinklers, fire sensors and alarms, fire extinguishers and all other measures safeguarding a house against perils that can befall any other property, you substantially reduce the premiums to be paid in insuring a log home.

5. Pest attack: Many people, even outside Kenya, express their disinterest in the log homes technology because they think termites and other wood boring insects will be attracted to the logs and evour them. Most people are, however, not aware that wood boring insects are not attracted to large quantities of wood. If the logs are constructed of green, unseasoned logs with the bark still on the logs, then some wood boring insects can become established under the bark during the hot seasons and live there for several years. Once the wood is dry as is usually the case when they are imported, these insects are not attracted to the logs.

6. Rotting: Yes, wood does rot, but only between the moisture content of 30 per cent to 60 per cent. There is no such thing as dry rot as wood must be moist to rot. So a properly designed log home with adequate roof overhangs, rain gutters, down spouts and periodic maintenance, which includes wood treatment, will see log homes last for generations.

7. Construction completion period: There are those that think log homes take months to complete because of the complicated nature of assembling the logs. The log walls go up quickly by those who are knowledgeable about log construction. A professional designer or architect will send all the correct measurements of the logs to the supplying company who will in turn cut the logs into different lengths, shapes and thickness, then have them exported to the client with each log marked where it will fit during assembling. Then with a team on the ground who have learnt how to assemble the logs, it will take them almost half the time it takes to complete a standard stone house.

8. Lack of skills and experience: Yes, we do acknowledge that the log homes technology is a specialized area in construction. We are, however, aware of one developer here in Kenya who has done an immense and incredible work in developing log structures and has brought log specialists from Finland to assemble the structures with the help of local construction workers. With training and sufficient induction, he has succeeded in training the workers to carry out the job independently and with utmost effectiveness.

Local examples

There are success stories of log structures right here in Kenya. They include log office in Lower Kabete. It was constructed two years ago and still stands as good as new. Lower Kabete also has a five-bedroom log home constructed almost two years ago.

Plans are also underway to put up 70 log homes in Tigoni, just four kilometres after Nazareth Hospital. The log homes will be within a tea farm and also have spa resort. A business centre and a restaurant will also be within the development. Construction of this development is expected to kick off in August this year.

 

Sample log homes have been built in Lower Kabete in line with the Tigoni project. They comprise one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom show houses. There will also be four- and five-bedroom homes but fewer in number.

Down North Coast in Vipingo is this amazing development of five log homes built right on the beachfront. The development is almost complete and has attracted many.

Nairobi has hosted the first log school in Kenya. The Brook House School recently did an extension of the facility and came up with the amazing idea of infusing the logs technology into the new structure. The development is already complete and I recommend it to anybody interested in seeing the brilliant and unique feel it gives to the already astounding castle school.

Apartments have not been sidelined in the concept of log homes. Coming up on Riverside Drive in Nairobi is an incredible development of duplex log apartments. The idea is to have a concrete floor in all rooms and have a slab delineating between successive apartments upwards.

Plans are also in the pipeline to put up a boutique log style hotel in Nairobi. The five acre land with a lovely man-made lake surrounding has already been acquired.

Log homes are already here in Kenya and have the potential to become the next innovative development. Kenya with its beautiful natural settings and greenery becomes an ideal location for log homes, whether down at the Coast as holiday homes or in the city as offices or even as country homes.

The writer is the CEO of Financial and Property Consultants Ltd.

Photos: Courtesy

 

 

 

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