Log-home revival

by Nancy Gardiner and Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 17/97) - Despite new Nunavut housing starts, a Fort Smith man keeps his building business on the top floor by building for a niche market -- log homes.

John Plowman, through family business Digha Log Homes, builds pre-fabricated log homes across Canada.

Since 1981, the Fort Smith man has built and restored about 18 log homes in the western NWT. On average he now builds three to four log homes per summer.

"Demand for log homes in the NWT has been slow since log-home programs were abolished in the mid-1980s but now with people staying longer and access to private property, there's a lot more people interested," Plowman said.

Under the housing corporation's program 2000, log homes are now CMHC approved, he said.

"Now there's a choice -- log or frame. That's why more people are enquiring about it."

Plowman uses 400 to 500 logs a year acquired from a Fort Smith supplier.

He is also in the business of refurbishing log homes under his other company ReNew Wood Homes.

Often people with older log homes see the wood finish turn black or the wood suffers from mildew build up.

Plowman said he recently restored a log home in Tuktoyaktuk -- the furthest north he has gone to work on a log home.

The method, a three-step sanding technique, removes stains, paints, varnishes, mould, dirt and weather damage. He has had inquiries from around the world on refurbishing log homes.

In the cold Northern climate another area in which he has expertise is sealing log homes with specialized materials.

Plowman could be well-positioned for what is expected to be the next big boom in the real estate market. It is anticipated the baby boomer generation, as they grow older, will seek out cottage property or retirement homes.

"People who chose to build log homes often want them as their final retirement home," he said.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation manager John Soderberg said, "Log homes may not be popular in terms of moisture and heat-loss control, but they do have a positive impact on cost -- they are a less expensive housing form and can be built close to the form of supply."

Specialized housing technology requires a large log to meet thermal resistance standards. For an R-28 factor, logs must have a 35-centimetre diametre.

Plowman's homes are rated R30 to R40, depending on the tree species, log diametre and method of construction.

Log-home buyers face issues like "will it meet national building code requirements?" Soderberg said.

Thermal resistance and structural integrity are other considerations, he added.

CMHC recently approved a log home outside Fort Smith with a preserved wood foundation.

Demand for Plowman's homes in the West goes against the overall new private home-construction numbers across the North. The majority of the North's new private home construction is in Nunavut.

In the last year, there were 65 private home construction approvals made by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. About 80 per cent of the private market homes are being built in Nunavut, Soderberg said.

The federal government is also in the process of transferring social housing projects over to the GNWT, a move that should be completed by the beginning of next month, he said.

"It's happening all across Canada, with a $2-billion social envelope for the country."