Country's Best Log Homes - September 2003
It's funny how sometimes a chance encounter can change the course of our lives, for better or worse. Fortunately, for Steve and Jodi Gruentzel, it was for the better.
Several years ago Steve, who owns his own cabinet-making shop, installed some of this custom-made cabinetry in a log home. Steve really liked the feel and look of the logs, and mentioned it to Jodi. Although neither of them had any previous experience with log homes, Steve says, "We both always took a liking to log homes."
Shortly after finishing that job, Steve told an acquaintance, Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox Construction, about this particular log home - how much he liked it and how he and Jodi might want to build one someday.
Mike was ecstatic. He just happened to be looking for someone willing to build a fairly high-end log home and then enter it in the area's local Parade of Homes. (Parades of Homes are held in many communities nationwide. The Parade is a tour of several custom-built homes over the course of a weekend. The purpose is to highlight the work of a particular builder, contractor, or craftsman.) Having a home in the Parade would enable Mike to showcase his log home construction skills.
When Mike told Steve about his idea, Steve agreed to the plan; Mike would benefit from the exhibition, while Steve would benefit from Mike's expertise and custom designs. Steve could install his own cabinetry in the home's kitchen and bathroom, and even show off some of his furniture-making skills by furnishing the home with some of his creations. It would be a win-win situation all around. And the cherry on top of the cake would be that Steve and Jodi would end up with a log home to call their own.
What was also working in their favor was the fact that the couple was sitting on 26 acres of undeveloped land in New London, Wisc. They had searched for property for a long time. "We actually looked at this particular piece of property and dreamed about it 20 years ago," Steve says. "But it was never available and we could never have afforded it back then," Now it belonged to them.
A year or two after Steve and Mike agreed to build a log home together, Jodi and Mike started working on the design for a unique log home that would qualify as a Parade of Homes creation. They went back and forth with the design for the next three years.
As the design neared completion, the couple began looking for a log home company that offered insulated wall systems. "We looked a bunch of log home companies," Steve says. "But we only found two insulted log home companies that offered the full-round corners that we liked."
Expedition Log Homes in Oostburg, Wisc., was the one company that really impressed the couple. "They were a new company," Steve says,'" and they were the company that was the most interested and excited about having our home in the Parade of Homes.
After making the decision to go with Expedition, Jodi and Mike submitted their floor plan to Craig Seider, the company's director for design services. Craig reviewed the plan to make sure that it would be compatible with log home construction. It passed with flying colors. "I don't think there was anything that had to be changed" Steve says. "And now it is one of Expedition's stock plans."
After being in the design phase for nearly three years, things progressed pretty quickly after the plans were drawn up into blueprints. "It was only four months from when we broke ground to when we moved in." Steve says. "We broke ground in April and the Parade of Homes was the end of August. Was everything finished on time? It had to be."
Those were some tough months," Jodi says, "We had a deadline, and we had to have everything done. We had no choice." Working day and night, Steve, Jodi, and Mike focused on the job at hand, taking one day at a time. To lend a hand, Steve even sprayed a polyurethane finish on all of the home's tongue-and-groove, knotty pine paneling.
Finally the day they had all been working toward came. The Parade of Homes, which would require the couple to leave their home open to the public for nearly three days, got under way on a Friday. Everyone who walked through the home seemed to be impressed with the results. "When they walked in," Jodi says, "They would just say: 'O, wow!'"
Although Steve and Jodi were glad for the acknowledgement of all the hard work they did, the couple couldn't wait until the tour was over on Sunday. Finishing only days before the Parade began, the couple had been unable to move in while getting the house ready. "Before the Parade was done at five o'clock on Sunday." Jodi says, "My mom drove into town to get food and other supplies so that we could move in that night."
Those who went on the tour were glad that the couple opened their home for them. For those who didn't know much about log home construction, it was a learning experience. In fact, when people approached the home, what they saw was deceiving. From every indication on the exterior, the home appears to be constructed from solid full logs. "Our home is, however, a half-log home with a full-log look," Steve says. "But nobody can tell the difference between ours and a full-log home."
Actually, the home is an example of an insulated-wall home with half-logs (you might say "siding") applied over the surface inside and out. This type of log home produces walls rated R-30; the roof is rated R-40. These types of values are crucial to combat the severe temperatures this part of Wisconsin typically experiences each winter.
One reason the log siding so closely resembles a full-log wall is because Expedition typically handcrafts all of the half logs used. "Ninety percent of the homes we delivery," says Greg Grimes, a sales manager for Expedition, "are hand-drawknifed." The extra workmanship on the half-logs gives them a more rustic appearance.
The fact that the log home also has full-round butt-and-pass corners is another reason why it is so enchanting. "We are one of the two or three companies in the industry that offer a full-round butt-and-pass corner system," says Craig. The logs in traditional butt-and-pass corners are flat on the top and bottom. "The logs are cut in half to fit against the insulated walls but expand to full-round at the corners," he explains.
Inside it is a little easier to tell that this is not a full-log home because of the knotty pine tongue-and-groove paneling laid horizontally on the walls in all of the rooms on the second story. Downstairs, however, is a different story. Lining the interior walls are more half-logs. They are two-inch thick, kiln-dried knotty pine logs planed on the front and then drawknifed top and bottom. The log not only has a thicker profile, Greg says, but gives the impression of a D-shaped log.
Steve and Jodi were pleased with how all the log work came out. They especially like the final look of the full-log corners, which is one of the things that attracted them to Expedition in the first place.
When Steve and Jodi were finally able to move into their home after the Parade of Homes they were more than pleased with the results. In fact, Jodi told Greg a few months later a story that illustrated that fact. "Jodi told me that she and Steve usually take an annual trip to somewhere warm," Greg says. "This year, she told me, she didn't want to take the trip because she wasn't ready to leave the log home yet - she has fallen so in love with it."
Considering how severe winters are in Wisconsin - feet-high piles of snow - forgoing a trip to a warm, sandy beach must mean this is definitely true love.
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