Required Maintenance for Log Cabins


My family has owned a cabin in the woods of Idaho for a while now, and it requires quite a bit of maintenance. Since I’ve had some experience, I thought I should share what I learned with you.

So, what kind of maintenance is required on a log cabin? To make sure your cabin is well maintained, you will have to consistently watch out for bugs, mold or mildew, and gaps between caulking. One thing that will have to be done at least once every two years is restaining the logs. 

This sounds like a daunting task, but it really is no harder than a regular house; it just is a different type of maintenance. Logs require attention to make sure they last a long time and keep mold out. 

Types of Maintenance

When we are talking about log cabin maintenance, it means we are talking about the outside and the structure; it’s the kind of upkeep that keeps you shielded from bugs, cold weather, mold and water damage. It also has to do with the overall appearance of the cabin as well. 

In order to ensure that your cabin is as protected and as beautiful as the first day that you moved in, you will have to:

  • Clean out spots on the logs that are moldy
  • Stain the logs
  • Caulk any openings
  • Seal big openings or re-insulate
  • Spray for bugs – termites of Carpenter’s Bees
  • Some form a rodent control (this could just be a mouse trap to using a pest control agency)
  • Cleaning guttars

Keep in mind, not all of these things will be needed all the time. Caulking should be done when their are drafts coming through, mouse traps can be laid if an animal is present in the cabin. 

Staining the logs should be done on a fairly consistent basis. This is one of the most important things to preform upkeep on. Staining logs can extend the lifeline of the cabin itself. It also helps the cabin maintain a youthful glow. 

Keeping Logs Free of Mold

There are other things that might need to be done once in a while as maintenance. Re-roofing may become necessary after a while, or maybe after a bad storm. Maintaining a nice area around the cabin can also help. For example, trees that are growing too close to the cabin might need to be trimmed or cut down. Mulch should also keep its distance away from the cabin to ensure that the logs aren’t absorbing any extra moisture.There are some little things too, including just being clean inside will help. With cabins, a lot of the time is about the small things that make a big difference. 

Something you need to do at least 2 times a year, is to take a walk around the cabin to inspect the logs. Logs are, obviously from nature, and all wood will eventually rot. Our job here is to make sure those logs do not rot for a very, very long time. 

As you take this walk around the cabin make note of where these holes, or rotting spots are. You are looking for dark spots on the wood. These are spots where moisture has crept in and stayed. These spots are probably going to be from rain (another reason to make sure your gutters are clear).

The north side of the house will usually be in the worst shape. The north side is most often shaded and this could cause the moisture to linger longer here. 

Once you find and mark these spots, grab a mixture of water and bleach (a 50:50 ratio) and scrub these spots with a soft brush. This should help get the “infection” out of the logs. Rinse this with water and give it a few days to dry.

This is something that can be done even more regularly. 

There is another option. Some people choose to power wash the entire outside structure of the cabin. This gets rid of all the debris that might be clinging to the outside, and maybe some unwanted bug friends as well. 

There is a solution of power wash that you can use specifically for cleaning the outside of the cabin. There’s a really great product on Amazon.com specifically for cleaning and can be used in a power washer. If you are in search, this is a great option: click here.

Cleaning the surface is the best way to keep contaminants away, see any failed caulking, and to prepare the surface to be stained.

I do have to say, using a power washer is one of the most popular methods to clean. Spot cleaning can be done more frequently but is not the most efficient way, especially if you are staining the wood. 

Staining the Logs

Staining the logs is something that should be done at least bi-yearly if not every year. Staining your log cabin is the best way to protect your cabin from moisture and the sun.

Staining logs can extend the lifetime of the cabin itself. It also helps the cabin maintain a youthful glow. 

Stain is like sunscreen for your cabin. It keeps the UV lights from ruining the wood. This may seem silly, but UV lights can really damage logs, especially because some sides of your cabin seem to be sitting in the sun all day. 

To make sure that you actually need a stain, spray a section of the logs with water to see if there is any beading. If the water drips down, the stain should be doing its job. Spot staining is okay, too.

Now to stain logs, you will need to choose one. There are stains out there that are oil-based and ones that are water-based. Oil-based stains tend to be thicker and more colorful. There are oil-based stains that are clear as well.

You need to know: you must stick with what you already have. If your cabin is already stained with an oil-based stain. The same goes for water. Water and oil don’t mix.

If you would like to switch, the existing type of stain needs to be thoroughly removed by a professional. 

This means that you need to know what type of stain is already on your cabin before you buy anything. Both types work well, just make sure you get the right stain for your environment. If you live in a humid place, look for a stain that gives more protection against moisture. 

Stains Available

There are a lot of stains that are on the market. Look for a stain that has a good review. Buying an expensive log stain at the local hardware store may not be the right choice, especially if it is for the whole cabin. Look for your stain in specialty stores or online.

Here are some viable options:

  • Cascade Clear Top-Coat: adds some shine, a clear stain that helps protect your logs: click here
  • Capture Log Stain: Promises to help with the peeling: click here to learn more
  • Transformation Stain Log and Timber: Semi-transparent gloss that brings out the natural grain of the wood: click here
  • Sikkens Cetol Log and Siding: This works on siding as well as logs and has a glossy finish, to learn more click here
  • Ready Seal: Beautiful color for an exterior and has great ratings. To learn more click here

Remember when you are looking for a stain to keep in mind if you want a color or a clear coat. Some stains are glossy and some aren’t. These things really come down to the preference.

Painting your cabin is not an option. Paint destroys the wood by locking in moisture instead of keeping it out. For more information on why you can’t paint a cabin, please click here. 

How to Stain:

If you want a very specific guide to staining and picking out a stain, click here. It will let you need all you need to know. 

Here are the basics. Prepare the surface you are staining by thoroughly cleaning it, just like it says above. Make sure the logs are very dry before you start to stain. Use a paintbrush to apply the stain or a sprayer (kind of like a power washer). When it comes to actually putting on the stain, don’t be stingy. Apply the stain on thick, assuring that is covering the entire area. 

Remember when I said, this stain is sunscreen for your cabin? You don’t want to skimp out and leave some of the wood unprotected from the sun or water. If you are using a sprayer, use a long-handled brush to go over the stain. This pushes the stain into the wood. 

Repeat this staining process after the first coat is dry. This is not necessary for every time you stain. The more you keep up with maintenance the better shape the log will be in. Logs in rough shape usually need the extra coat.  

Sealing Cracks and Crevices

Chinks in the cabin can create an unwanted draft as well as letting bugs and other pests in. The solution for this is easy, easier than staining at least. 

While you took that walk earlier, you probably noticed some spots. If not there, maybe you saw some failed caulking while you were spraying the outside of the house. The fix for this is to re-caulk the bad spots. 

Remove these spots of bad chinking or caulking with a knife. By doing this, you allow the moisture trapped to dry out. Wait for while for it to dry.

While you are doing this, it is a good idea to open the windows. By creating movement you can see if there is some issues there with gaps or chipping. You lose a lot of heat from windows, don’t make the loss greater by having leaks in the window seal. 

Once the area you cut out is dried, put in a backer rod to the area. This is a piece that looks like foam and helps fill in the gap between the logs. When this rod is squished in there, go ahead and apply caulk or chink.

It is a good idea to put the stain on after you caulk unless the caulk you have is white. 

This will keep your cabin warmer and make you feel more protected too. 

Pest Control

Cabins out in the woods often come with unwanted rodent pests or maybe some bugs. 

Spider traps/ Ant traps are an easy and cheap fix to keeping the little guys off your floor and out of your kitchen. Mouse traps are a good idea too, especially if you leave food up at your place. A pest repellent can be sprayed as a barrier around the cabin. This lasts for 3 months or so.

A big worry for logs cabins is termites. Termites are not quite the problem they used to be. To check your cabin for termites, look for small holes in the wood. Termites have tiny droppings too that help you spot them. 

Insecticides will get rid of these pests. It’s best to not spray this if you don’t have them. Professionals check and get rid of these bugs for you so its an option if you are not sure.

An easy way to keep pests out is to keep the cabin clean. Dirty places make it much more desirable homes for creatures.

Another pest I have discovered in my own cabin is bats. They seem harmless but they make terrible noises and it scares my kids. A cheap solution I happened across is your average mothballs. This kept them far from me and my family. If you have had this same problem, I recommend you give mothballs a try. 

Roofing and Gutters

The top of your structure needs attention too, even if it isn’t made of wood. The best and most common roofing for cabins is metal roofing. This helps keep the moisture off the logs and helps snow slip right off.

Architectural composition asphalt shingles are popular as well and they can be more cost effective than a high-quality metal roof. 

When it comes to maintenance, the biggest thing to watch for is leaks. Leaks lead to extra moisture in the structure which leads to rotting logs. Fix a leak as soon as possible. For information on how to fix a metal roof, click here.

Is your cabin somewhere it snows a lot? This could be a problem. My cabin is in Northern Idaho and in the winter, it can get lots of snow. Something I like to do at least once a winter is travel to my cabin and knock the feet of snow off the roof. 

This helps get some of the intense weight off the roof so the structure does not have hold up hundreds of pounds for months. This tip is not necessary but helpful for those who have a cabin in the colder regions. 

Gutters can get clogged with leaves and pine needles and a mesh cover can help this problem. Regularly check the gutters and push the junk out. By doing this you’ll make the rain collected flow away from the cabin. 

Cleaning your gutters is an easy way to keep moisture away from the logs in your cabin. 

Keeping Trespassers Out

A lot of people worry about the bugs and mice getting in that they forget that a big problem is people. People can break into cabins a lot more readily than bears.

This is a problem especially for those who only go to their cabin on the weekend or on occasion.

An easy fix is lights that have sensors on them. This is a deterrent for those who are wondering around. 

Trail cameras are popular too. These are cameras that take pictures when motion is detected. They can be found for under $250. Although this isn’t a preventive measure, it still can be helpful for those who live in a close community.

If you want to know more about solutions that are underneath $250 click here

Befriend neighbors, they will watch out for your cabin even when you are not there. This is something that has been very useful to me. 

Related Questions

How much does it cost to maintain a log cabin? Depending on the square footage, the cost to maintain a log cabin can be anywhere from $3,000 to $7,000 every 4 years. Little fixes can be cheap but they add up over years.

How long does log chinking last? Log chinking should last 40 years or so. If it is done correctly it can last 50 years. Little parts can fail and be fixed. You may not need to replace all the chinking at once. 

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