When you decide to build a house for yourself, it is essential to choose the type of construction method. With all the options available today, it might be rather challenging to stick with the most suitable one. Besides, there are so many construction trends these days that homeowners often feel frustrated trying to choose something!
One of the most unusual and interesting construction methods is called cordwood construction. Also, this method can be considered eco-friendly, which is why you may find it appealing if you are into green ways of building homes.
Today, we will tell you more about the cordwood building and its specifics. You will learn what makes this construction method unique, as well as what pros and cons it comes with. Besides, you will discover the most important nuances that must be taken into consideration should you choose this construction method for your future home.
Pros And Cons of Cordwood Homes
If you are thinking about using cordwood masonry to build your home, you need to know what pros and cons this method comes with. This way, you will know in advance what to expect and what factors should be taken into consideration before you start building the house. Below, you can read about the benefits and downsides of cordwood houses in detail.
Pros of Cordwood Homes
For sure, cordwood homes have strong sides and beneficial features, thanks to which this construction method is getting more and more popular these days. Let’s look at some of the benefits that the cordwood construction approach offers when it comes to building with it.
- This method is relatively simple. Compared with other methods of building, this one is one of the easiest. Even a DIY builder with modest ability should be able to construct a small building from cordwood.
- Wood is available locally. Typically, builders utilize wood from the exact spot where the house will be built. There is no need to ship the wood from a faraway location!
- Wood is renewable, which is why builders of cordwood homes often replant the trees where they were cut.
These features make cordwood construction a relatively easy method that can be used even by the beginning builders. Besides, it doesn’t require vast expenses of shipping the construction material. So, if you are a bit on a tight budget, consider cordwood as a home construction option! Now, let’s see what downsides this method has.
Cons of Building Homes Using Cordwood
Even though there are essential benefits to building homes with cordwood, there are also some downsides to using this construction method for your building plans. Below, you can check out several most common cons that can make you change your mind about this method of building homes.
- Cordwood requires a lot of wood. In fact, this method uses a lot more wood than an average stick-framed or timber-framed house does!
- Cordwood construction requires a lot of work since all of the wood needs to be felled, bucked, and split.
- You will need a lot of mortar. Usually, the amount of mortar used for the cordwood construction method is between 30-40% of the surface of the wall. This is a lot more than you use for a concrete block wall with thin mortar joints.
- It is a time-consuming method. In particular, cordwood requires more time than stick framing.
- Cordwood construction requires a lot of planning. You need to plan in advance to get everything ready. E.g., you need to cut down the trees, cut them up, and then split the wood. All of this must be done a year before you plan to start building with the cordwood!
As you can see now, even such a seemingly easy construction method comes with its unique pros and cons, as well as other features that you must consider. This is why we recommend you thoroughly think it over and figure out whether this method fits your budget, timing, and abilities. Perhaps, you might want to think about using another method of building homes, even though it might be more expensive or use other materials.
What Is Cordwood Masonry?
Now, let’s get back a bit and see what this cordwood construction method is. Now that you know about its pros and cons, it is time to figure out what this approach is about. But first, in case you are new to the term “cordwood” (and most likely you are new to it), here is a brief explanation. Cordwood it is the name of wood that has been cut to length and then split for use in a fire.
As you probably know, split wood is usually put into stacks to store it. When this stack of split wood measures 4’ x 4’ x 8’, then you have what is called a cord of wood. This measurement is most commonly used when selling firewood as fuel to keep houses warm. Also, if you have friends or relatives who live in the countryside and heat their homes with wood, you know that people often express the amount of wood required for a year to heat their houses in cords.
Now, what do these logs have in common 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 homes. Instead of using full timbers, cordwood homes are made from shorter pieces of wood, similar to firewood. This is where this name comes from.
Since this building technique resembles the way we keep firewood in cords, builders inherited this method of piling the logs to build the walls. However, piles of firewood are very unstable! If you push such a pile, it will fall apart. To avoid such instability in a stack of wood, builders started using mortar. It locks the individual pieces of cordwood into a single monolithic unit.
What cordwood builders do is that they surround each piece of wood with mortar, ensuring two pieces of wood never touch each other in the wall. As a result, the mortar forms a sort of structural web that goes from side to side and top to bottom of the wall. Thanks to this network, the wall becomes a single strong entity. And since this technique uses quite a lot of wood, the cordwood construction method is often used in heavily timbered areas.
Things to Consider About Cordwood Wall Construction
Cordwood might seem an ideal construction method for those who live in areas that are heavily timbered, as well as for those who strive for nature-friendly and eco-friendly home construction methods. However, before you begin, you should learn a few essential nuances this method comes with! This way, you will be able to get ready for the upcoming construction process and make sure you have everything prepared and considered.
Use the Right Type of Mortar For Cordwood Walls
There is still significant debate about the best type of mortar to use for cordwood construction. Most people use a lime-enhanced cement mortar. Others add things like sawdust to the mortar to enhance its R-value. There are also people who say that a good cob is sufficient.
What we recommend is that you make several mixes of mortar and put a couple of pieces of wood in it. This will help you to see how much shrinkage occurs and how strong it feels. After you conduct such mortar tests, it will be easier for you to choose the best type of cordwood mortar for your specific project.
Stick With Seasoned Cordwood
Why should you prefer seasoned cordwood? See, greenwood will shrink as it dries. Depending on the type of wood, some wood will shrink just a bit, and other types of wood can shrink significantly more!
For example, you might be surprised to learn that the volume of western red cedar shrinks by about 7%, while the volume of some types of hickories can shrink by about 17%!
If you try to build a house using green wood, it will pull away from the mortar as the wood dries out. This will result in gaps around the cordwood, and gaps must be avoided by all means in any structure as they serve as entryways for water to ruin the wall!
Consider Bigger Roof Overhangs
When building a cordwood house, make sure to provide it with generous roof overhangs. Ideally, the eaves of your roof should come out quite a bit from the wall. This way, they will better protect the exposed wood from the elements like snow, rain, wind, dust, etc.
Since in cordwood construction, the ends of the logs are sticking out, they are more predisposed to being damaged. And if the wood is constantly exposed to rain, snow, and other external factors throughout the year, that will affect its long-term durability quite a lot. This is why you must remember that overhangs of the proper size are mandatory to protect your cordwood walls and make them serve longer.
Make Sure You Use the Right Type of Wood
If you think that you can use any type of wood for this construction technique, you are wrong. Not all woods are equal. They all have different traits that can be useful in certain situations and be completely useless in other cases.
Speaking of cordwood construction, there are a couple of wood traits that are important. One of them is an insulative value, which is crucially important for the house walls.
This is why you must always select the right type of timber for a cordwood home. Some people say that most types of wood can be used, but experts in cordwood construction recommend using pines and softwoods rather than hardwoods, which come with different expansion properties.
Except for expansion properties, softwoods have much better insulating properties than hardwoods like maple, oak, and elm. And in addition, hardwoods tend to shrink and expand significantly more compared to softwoods, especially when temperature and humidity levels vary.
Since softwoods are less dense, they typically have a higher R-value than hardwoods. Finally, there is rot resistance that you must think about. Speaking of this category, hardwoods are often the better choice. However, if you build with wide roof overhangs, rot should not be an issue.
Ensure Your Cordwood House Has Proper Foundation
Compared to an average stick-framed wall, a cordwood wall is much heavier. As a result, it requires a stronger foundation to remain straight and stable. This is why having a strong foundation is a must when you are building a cordwood home.
In addition to the strength of the foundation, it is also essential to make sure that the foundation raises the first layer of cordwood so that it is up off the ground. See, the lower down the wall it is, the wetter it will be during rainstorms. Respectively, if the first layer of wood is in constant contact with the ground, it will rot far faster than the wood that has been raised.
Well, these are the basics about the cordwood house construction technique you should know about. As a homeowner, you should know what kind of method this is and what makes it unique. Now that you have read this article, you know more about the cordwood construction approach and its specific features.
Also, we explained what pros and cons this method comes with. As a result, you will be able to evaluate it critically and decide whether it suits your needs, budget, and resources or not. Also, now you can tell how efficient this construction method can be in your area.
You know what timber it is best to use for cordwood homes, what nuances to consider to make the whole construction stable and long-lasting, and what nuances must never be skipped during the cordwood construction process!
- Cordwood construction : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cordwood_construction
- Using Cordwood – 1 Building Technique but with Many Names : https://theownerbuildernetwork.co/house-hunting/sustainable-and-green-homes/cordwood/
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Cordwood Construction?
Cordwood construction is a building method where short, debarked logs are laid crosswise with masonry or cob mixtures to build a wall.
What Are The Pros Of Cordwood Construction?
Cordwood construction has several benefits, including eco-friendliness, cost-effectiveness, thermal efficiency, and a unique aesthetic appeal.
What Are The Cons Of Cordwood Construction?
Some disadvantages include potential issues with moisture, building code restrictions, and the need for specialized knowledge and skills.
Is A Cordwood House Expensive To Build?
The cost can vary, but cordwood construction is often more cost-effective than traditional building methods because it uses fewer and less expensive materials.
Is Cordwood Construction Time-Consuming?
The process can be labor-intensive and time-consuming, especially for beginners or those working alone.
Can Cordwood Houses Be Insulated?
Yes, properly constructed cordwood walls have good natural insulation due to the thermal mass of the logs and the insulating properties of the mortar.