By Robèrt Savignac
Featured in: ILBA Log Building News #43, May/June 2003
In a recent presentation to an insurance association, it came to no surprise that their general understanding of log homes is shouldered with the insurance industry’s preconceived notions of the combustibility and high risk potential of living in a log home. While wood certainly does burn, the ILBA has no shortage of specific research and data relating to the fire resistance and thermal performance of log homes.
The group of insurers and assessors were able to douse their fears. Examples of numerous homes that have “burnt” and were then restored and re-occupied lent to some of the greater advantages to building with logs, when compared to the insurance fire risk of “conventional” construction using stick and steel components.
By illustration a case history was presented of a log home of 10-12” diameter logs that burnt for 30 hours of flames. After the smoke cleared all the log walls were still intact and in place. The logs were sandblasted, re-coated to remove the lingering smell of smoke, and the building rebuilt anew.
Log home insurance premiums are high not necessarily due to the logs themselves, but more so due to their locations (distant from fire suppression services) and several other factors, including occupancy profile, where log home owners are more prone to burning wood as either a primary or secondary heat source or simply for entertainment in a fireplace. There is a higher occurrence of wood stoves and fireplaces in log homes compared to stick houses.
All things being equal, it was demonstrated that homeowners are safer in log homes compared to the limited “life” of a burning stick house. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “most building fires are started by heat sources and ignitable materials that are brought into the building, not built into it.” In fact, the layer of char that develops on a log surface during its burn helps to protect the wood and maintain its strength and structural integrity.
Currently there is only one reference document for insurers to establish the “value” of a log home. The “Log Home Appraisal Training Guide”, published by Marshall and Swift with the assistance of The Log Homes Council and its members, gives only a very general view of log homes, and is mostly focused on the evaluation of manufactured or machined milled log homes. There is in fact very little information available for full and proper assessments of handcrafted log homes, especially with the wide range of “acceptable” building practices. The ILBA would, therefore, encourage all members to distinguish themselves to local insurance agents and building officials in their area, and spend some time expounding on the attributes of your building systems, and the credibility of our Log Building Standards. The use of research data available through the ILBA office will certainly dispel the “burnt” image of our industry, and with proper information, there will be greater acceptance and understanding of our trade and practices.