Cordwood Cabins and Why You Might Want to Get One

Learn what cordwood construction is and why it’s beneficial for cabins

Author: Charles J Zank Category: life
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Having a cabin of your own is a dream of many people! Imagine how lovely it is to have a place where you can come to any time you want and spend a few days there. Cabins are typically located in the mountains, at the seaside, or in other recreational areas, which makes them an ideal place for rest and relaxation.

However, if you want to build your own cabin from scratch, you might need to decide on the construction method required. And today, we want to tell you more about one of them called cordwood construction. You will learn what kind of technique it is and what makes it different from other construction methods. Also, we will explain why cordwood homes are beneficial and what pros you might get if you choose this construction technique for your future cabin.

What Is Cordwood Construction?

There are many types of home construction methods out there, and people often get puzzled and a bit frustrated when they have to select the optimal approach when building their own home or cabin. And since cordwood material is not yet much popular (at least not as widespread as brick or wood), you might wonder what this technique is about.

small corwood house

So, for those who hear the term “cordwood” for the first time in their lives, here is a brief introduction to this approach. Cordwood is originally the name of wood that has been cut to length and then split for use in a fireplace or stove to heat the house.

Split firewood is usually kept in stacks to store it. When this stack of split wood has measurements of 4’ x 4’ x 8’, then you have a cord of wood. This measurement is also widely used when selling firewood to define how many logs you need for your home. 

Now, how come these logs are connected with the cordwood construction method, you may be wondering. See, the cordwood construction method is the technique that uses cut wood and mortar for building home walls. Instead of using full timbers, cordwood homes utilize shorter pieces of wood, similar to firewood. And since this technique resembles the way we store firewood, this method of piling the logs was used for building the walls. 

The difference is that cordwood construction uses mortar to make the walls stable. To compare, piles of firewood are very unstable since the logs are placid randomly and are not held together firmly. If you push such a pile, it will fall apart! But for a house, such instability is dangerous. This is why builders use mortar that locks the pieces of cordwood into a single unit. 

What Benefits And Downsides Cordwood Homes Have

Before you choose the construction method to build your cabin, you must investigate its features and nuances, as well as figure out what strong and weak points it has. This way, you can be sure the technique you choose will provide you with a long-lasting and safe dwelling. Speaking of the cordwood construction method, it also comes with specific pros and cons. Let’s look at some of the benefits that the cordwood construction approach offers, as well as its weak points, in order to help you get a better idea of it.

Benefits of cordwood homes:

  • Building a cordwood cabin is relatively simple. Compared with other construction methods, this one is one of the easiest.
  • Wood can be available locally. To build a cordwood cabin, you can utilize wood from the exact spot where the house will be located.
  • The method is relatively cheap since there is no need to ship the wood from a faraway location.
  • Wood is a renewable resource.

However, there are also downsides to this construction technique that you must be aware of in advance! Please check out the most common cons that can make you change your mind should you think about using this method for building a cabin. 

  • The cordwood construction method requires a lot of wood.
  • The cordwood construction requires a lot of work, too, since all of the wood needs to be felled, bucked, and split.
  • You will need a lot of mortar for your cabin since the amount of mortar used for the cordwood home is typically between 30-40% of the surface of the wall.
  • It is a time-consuming construction method since all preparations must be done a year before you plan to start building with the cordwood!
  • Cordwood construction comes with a lot of planning. It includes cutting down the trees, cut them up, and then splitting the wood.

Now that you know its pros and cons, it will be easier for you to decide whether this construction method is suitable for your future cabin or not. If you are going to build it in a highly timbered area, it could make sense to stick with the cordwood construction approach. However, if your cabin is going to be located in a place with little to no trees around, you might want to consider another construction technique. Otherwise, delivering the timber to the construction spot could be way too pricey!

Why You Should Consider a Cordwood Cabin

Ok, so why does it make sense to consider a cordwood cabin instead of another one? Well, the very first reason that comes to mind is the aesthetics of the cordwood construction! Cordwood homes have a very noticeable and unique look, with white mortar walls decorated with logs sticking out of them. The overall impression is like a fairy tale house! So, if you want a unique and catchy cabin that will stand out among the others, cordwood is definitely your option! Besides, this construction method results in a lovely style that will look great both in the foresty mountain area and at the seaside!

However, an attractive and unusual look is not the only benefit that cordwood cabins and homes come with. This construction method has a few more positive features that can make you want to use it for your cabin.

  • Economy. Cordwood masonry walls are low in cost, particularly when there is a local source of appropriate wood. Sand and sawdust used as insulation and/or cement retarder can also be bought relatively inexpensively.
  • Energy efficiency. When built correctly and with a wall thickness appropriate to the local climate, cordwood cabins are easy to heat in the winter and keep cool during the summer.
  • The cordwood home is easy to build, so you might not even have to hire professional builders.
  • Cordwood construction is efficient. The logs can be laid up quickly without specialized equipment.
  • Cordwood is environmentally friendly since it makes use of wood which might otherwise go to waste.
  • Durability. Cordwood buildings are incredibly durable! Besides, they can withstand various weather conditions, especially if you pre-treat the logs with a natural preservative, such as borax. This will help to protect them from rot and decay.

So, if you are looking for an eco-friendly home to spend your vacations in, a cordwood cabin might be your best choice! It’s easily built, relatively cheap, and doesn’t require years of construction experience!

What Should Be Considered Before You Begin

To build a durable cordwood cabin, you must prepare everything in advance, and it’s not only about the materials, tools, and all the necessary measurements. There are a few essential nuances that must be checked before you proceed.

Make Sure You Use the Right Type of Mortar 

For cordwood construction, most people use a lime-enhanced cement mortar. However, you can also add sawdust to the mortar to enhance its R-value or opt for a good cob. What we recommend is to make several mixes of mortar and test them. This will help you to see how much shrinkage occurs and how strong it feels. This way, it will be easier for you to choose the best type of mortar for your project. 

Remember to Use Seasoned Cordwood

use seasoned wood since greenwood will shrink as it dries. Depending on the type of wood, it may shrink just a bit, while other types of wood can shrink significantly more.

Remember that shrinkage is dangerous! It will result in gaps around the cordwood, which will serve as entryways for water.

Use the Right Type of Wood for Your Cabin

When you build a cordwood construction, you must consider an insulative value, which is crucially important for the house walls. This is why you must always select the right type of timber for your cordwood cabin. 

Cordwood construction experts recommend using pines and softwoods rather than hardwoods. Softwoods have much better-insulating properties than hardwoods like maple, oak, and elm. Moreover, hardwoods tend to shrink and expand significantly more compared to softwoods.

Make Sure Your Cordwood Cabin Has Proper Foundation

Since cordwood walls are much heavier, your cabin requires a stronger foundation to remain stable. This is why having a strong foundation is a must. It is also essential to make sure that the foundation raises the first layer of cordwood, keeping it up off the ground. It will prevent your cabin walls from rotting faster.

Now you know more about such an unusual yet traditional way of building homes as cordwood! This is not a brand new approach since cordwood buildings used to exist a long time ago. However, today cordwood gets its second life! People choose this construction method due to its affordability and easiness. Also, it is a nature-friendly technique that causes much less damage to the environment compared to modern construction methods. 

With enough timber, you can build a cordwood cabin relatively easily without even hiring professionals! Besides, your cabin will be aesthetically pleasing and unique. In the mountains or at the seaside, such a building will not only look very appropriate but also draw people’s eyes to it thanks to its attractive and fairytale-like look!

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