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Building a Cordwood Home
by staff writer

Building with cordwood is a great way to construct a unique and energy efficient green home from locally grown wood and scrap wood found on your property. Cordwood homes are pleasing to the eye and require very little maintenance.

Cordwood building is a natural construction technique where small, debarked logs are stacked to build walls. Cob or concrete is used to bind the logs together and seal the gaps. The remains of early examples of cordwood homes -- dating back thousands of years -- have been found in Siberia and in the eastern side of Greece.  However it is a great option to consider if you wish to build an eco-friendly home!

There are several benefits associated with cordwood construction:
• Cordwood buildings can offer great insulation, depending on the types of wood and mortar that are used and on the thickness of the walls.
• Cordwood construction is a cost-effective means to build your own home. The ease of construction of cordwood homes makes it possible for many owners to build these houses themselves with little professional help.
• Cordwood homes are known for their rustic beauty and unique architectural design.

cordwood masonry wall Cordwood construction is a particularly good choice in areas that are heavily timbered; this makes it easy to find fallen trees and unused log ends. It's also possible to use leftover products from sawmills, rail fence posts, and split firewood for cordwood buildings.

Any type of wood can be used to build a cordwood home; however, some woods work better than others. Pines and softwoods are preferable to hardwoods (like maple, oak, and elm) because they offer better insulation value. Hardwoods also tend to shrink and expand more than softwoods when temperature and humidity varies. For increased stability, it's best to use logs of the same species. This will help to ensure that expansion and contraction in the walls is consistent between individual logs.

Woods like cedar, pacific yew, and juniper offer the additional benefit of being naturally rot-resistant. Some logs -- like cedar and elm -- give off a strong odor that people find unpleasant or irritating. Keep this in mind when selecting a species of wood to use, especially if a member of your household is prone to allergies.

Logs should be trimmed so that the lengths are almost the same; this will result in smooth, even walls inside and out. Before starting construction, all logs must be debarked and allowed to dry thoroughly. Once the logs have been selected, you'll need a suitable mortar mix to bind them together. You can make a simple mortar by mixing nine parts of sand with three parts of sawdust, three parts of builder’s lime and two parts of Portland cement. Sawdust helps to absorb moisture, builders' lime increases the flexibility of the walls, and Portland cement strongly binds the mortar and logs together. Some people prefer using cob, but keep in mind that cob
must be sealed to make the cordwood home weatherproof.

The most common thickness for cordwood home walls is between 16 to 24 inches. Thicknesses of up to 36 inches may be a better choice in regions that experience extreme cold. Walls are made by stacking the logs and filling the hollows with the mortar mixture and some insulation material. There are two different kinds of cordwood walls: load-bearing and post-and-beam framing with cordwood fill.

Using the right technique, it is easy to construct economical and sustainable cordwood homes. However, choosing the right logs is essential to keep water and moisture -- which can cause wood to shrink or expand -- away. A poorly-insulated cordwood building could also lead to higher electricity bills. If you're building a cordwood home in a region with a wet or humid climate, it is especially important that the other walls be properly plastered with mortar to prevent seepage of water into the building. When done properly, however, building with cordwood creates natural, eco-friendly homes that are not only beautiful, but are also easy on your wallet.