Europe has some pretty old wooden constructions. Barns, churches, living houses, often they survive several hundreds of years. In Switzerland there are some family houses that claim to be from 1176 and 1287 , and in Essex (England) there is a church that has some sections from the 9th and 11th century.
In Lithuania we have this church in Stelmužė, at the border with Latvia and close to Belorussia. The church is from 1650. It was built with only axe, chisel and hammer. No nails except to hang the wooden doors, otherwise just dowels. How cool is that!
One of our offices is based in The Netherlands, and The Netherlands can be really chilly and uncomfortable. Wet and humid. And some Dutch clients think that their climate is not very suitable for a wooden house.
Let’s look at the facts. Below are four graphs, with the relative humidities in Utrecht (Netherlands), Ukmerge (Lithuania), and Moscow (Russia).
We build our wooden houses mostly from laminated wood. Laminated wood is wood that has been cut into long boards, then glued again to form one massive log. It may sound a little strange to first cut wood into pieces and then glue it back again, but this cutting and glueing has distinct advantages.
massive wood by the roadside
Wood dries over time. Immediately after cutting wood has a moisture content of 50%, and within a few months by the roadside the moisture content has already dropped to 30%. But before we can use the wood in house construction, the moisture content should be lower than 20%. And when the house is finished, over time the moisture content will drop to somewhere between 5% and 15%, depending on ambient temperatures and relative humidity of the surrounding air.
cracked wooden disc
And with the drying comes the cracking. A little crack here and there may not be a problem, but big cracks are not good for the insulation properties.
And there is little you can do about it. Except laminate: laminating results in wood with minimal to no cracks. More info here. So that is reason no. 1 why we use laminated wood.
Standard massive wood can have a moisture content from 20% to 30% at assembly time, and the drying not only makes the wood crack, it also makes the wood shrink. And shrinking can give you a few headaches.
Here we go: the height of your house goes down from say 6.00 meters to 5,50 meters. Yes, massive non-dried wood can shrink that much! No problem, you say? So what about the doors and windows? They don’t shrink, so how will they still fit in the walls? And what about the raingutter downpour pipes? They get pushed into the ground, or they rip of the roof. Vertical copper pipes inside your house for hot or cold water, what do you think will happen where they connect to the sink or the crane?
glulam beams for roof
Laminated wood is much drier (below 18% moisture content) when we use it to assemble our houses. It still shrinks about 1% in size, but we can easily deal with 1%, we have standard solution for that.
Stronger, Longer Spans
Massive beams come in standard dimensions, with a maximum length of about 6 meters and diameters of up to 30 centimeters. You need something longer, or thicker? Well ehh… sure you can buy it, but it will cost a fortune. I car terms: more like an Aston Martin or a Bentley. But our houses are more like Volvo.
Laminated wood you can produce in any length or diameter. And that is what we do. Thanks to laminated wood, we can have overlay ceilings that span 12 meters instead of 6 meters, without a column in the middle. And that is: 12 meters in Norway, with a substantial snowload. Serious stuff.
bridge from laminated wood in Sneek, Netherlands
Actually we could go further. With laminated wood you can easily build bridges that carry 30 tonne trucks. But we still need to transport our logs, so 13 meters is about the maximum length that we use or they will not fit in a truck.
How To Laminate
So how do we laminate? We could try to explain, but it is far easier to take a look at this Youtube movie.
Wooden houses come in sizes and shapes, but there is one special breed: the traditional American log cabin. Actually these were first built by Swedish and German settlers, so maybe we could say they are European designs? Whatever, they are iconic, and special, and we love them.
And today, they are not cheap. Here is a website that lists just three of these log cabins for sale, and you can have them for ehh…. US $750.000 US$, US$ 825.000 and US$ 1.375.000. And the cheapest has only four bedrooms and two bathrooms.
We build for less, that’s for sure. More info here:
This post is about wooden houses from Russia. Traditional wooden houses from Russia are a little different from the houses that we build, both from a design point of view as well as technically.
wooden house in Russia. Photo by Maxim Shemetov.
The design and style of the traditional Russian wooden houses obviously is different from what we are used to in West Europe. Generally speaking the materials are a little rougher, while at the same time there is a lot of fine hand-crafted woodwork in the details.
Technically these houses often have little in the way of a foundation. Many are built on permafrost terrain where it is difficult to dig a hole and build a foundation, so the house is built on top of the permafrost. Then once the house is built, the heating makes the permafrost a little less perma, and the house starts moving.
Many of them are built using round logs for which you will have a problem getting a building permit here, unless you are high-up in the Alps and also they use non-dried non-laminated wood. Non-dried non-laminated wood shrinks and cracks, but otherwise it is not that bad, and it certainly has a lot of charm. It’s a matter of preference.
There is no additional insulation on the outside or the inside. Even with the excellent insulation properties of wood (compared to brick or concrete), these houses will never meet today’s West European insulation requirements. Walls have Rc-values around 1.5, no higher than 2, compared to our walls having anything between 6 and 10, and these houses are not airtight: there will be drought in every corner and around every door and window.
With the low cost of energy in the outback (plenty wood) such Rc-values are not really an issue. Mind you, until recently these Rc-values were quite the norm in Europe as well. Also a little drought works like ventilation which is always good against condensation.
The photo on top was taken by Maxim Shemetov, a Russian photographer from Moscow. Maxim’s work with more images of traditional Russian wooden houses can be found here:
Previously we wrote about types of wood (wet, dried, laminated) and the shrinking of log houses and how we deal with the shrinking. In this post we want to show a little more about the actual drying process, and cracks. Because drying and cracks are very much related.
Why Does Wood Crack?
The photo below shows a crack in a wooden disc. Why does wood crack like this? Very simple: drying.
cracked wooden disc
When wood dries, the drying process starts at the outside of the logs. While the humidity goes down from 15% to 12% near the outside of the log, more to the the center of the log the humidity initially remains at 15%. And that is a problem.
Before we assemble a wooden house we make a complete set of assembly drawings. The assembly drawings show the house log-by-log, with each log having a unique number.
On the building site it is a matter of finding the correct log and then assemble the house. Note that the bigger logs can weigh well over 100 kilos. Not something that you just pick up and carry. Continue reading →
Long ago the quality of a wooden house depended on the location of the factory. A factory in the north used wood from the north, which was growing more slowly and was denser and heavier.
But times have changed. First of all there is a very active European wood market, and just like oil, wood is a raw material that is being actively traded all over the world. Also modern wood treatment techniques have improved the quality of wood as a building material in such a way that nowadays more factors come into play. It is not just northern wood that is a good building material. Continue reading →
We have two lines of houses: panel houses, and log houses. We placed a panel house building tutorial here, and now we will do the same for a log house.
As you will see, the main difference between a panel and a log house is in the walls construction. Panel houses basically have hollow boxes as walls, whereas a log house wall is made from solid wood. That is not the full story though. Nowadays a log house made of just solid wood does not meet the European insulation requirements, so we add insulation, usually on the outside, sometimes on the inside.