Canada has carved out a special niche as a country with both excellent timber resources and expert log builders. The International Log Builders’ Association (ILBA) represents log builders across the globe, but was founded in 1974 as the Canadian Log Builders’ Association. Its offices remain in Canada as the association works to promote the log building craft while helping to ensure that modern building standards accept all that log building offers.
The ILBA’s global membership numbers 165 and ranges from contractors, engineers, architects, designers and suppliers to instructors, furniture builders and insurance companies.
ILBA president Robert Savignac has been building log homes and teaching the craft for 40 years. Known in industry circles as Log Bob, he’s operated Arbor Vitae Log Craft for more than 40 years, with the business currently located in Hudson, Que.
“Log home building has endured for centuries,” he says. “Log buildings were constructed in the Middle East when there were still forests across the Arabian deserts. The Scandinavian countries took it to another level. When hand crafted log building came to North America, it was known as Scandinavian Full Scribe. When I served as CEO of the ILBA in 2005 I attended a summit meeting and visited an area in Sweden, north of Stockholm, where my associate showed me a house that was built using the ‘Canadian style’ of log construction. It came full circle, with Canada taking it to a whole new level as well.”
The early days of the association saw its founding father, B. Allan Mackie, working to establish log building as a mainstream construction technique. He built the first log home to gain acceptance by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in the mid-1980s.
ILBA continues to work to ensure that modern building standards fully recognize the advantages of log home construction. However, while timber frame construction and cross-laminated timber have recently taken the renewable construction spotlight, log building hasn’t received the same level of attention.
Builders can demonstrate that a log structure can be built air tight, but current building codes overlook the thermal performance and energy efficiency of logs as a building material.
“We know that a well-built log home constructed to ILBA standards is warm and performs well,” Savignac says.
“However, logs have been cheated out of their actual performance value because our building codes don’t recognize the ‘R’ value of logs. They see logs the same way they see a wood stud acting as a thermal bridge that diminishes the effectiveness of a thermal envelope. But logs provide thermal mass that retains heat and radiates it back into the structure. We currently must overbuild the thickness of a wall — or we compensate with more insulation or a thermal heat pump — just to achieve code.”
The association is attempting to rectify that situation by working on research projects to vindicate the thermal performance of logs, along with partners that include the BC Log & Timber Building Industry Association, the Great Lakes Logcrafters Association, the Log Homes Council, and global manufacturers. A series of five model log homes are currently being built for analysis in the National Research Council’s cold testing chamber in Ottawa.
“Part of the effort to gain this recognition is to encourage younger builders to get into the industry,” Savignac says. “They won’t get in if they’re fighting code from day one.”
Like most construction businesses, log building is sensitive to the economy. Many log buildings are constructed as second homes, so the 2008 recession saw customers shelving or delaying what they saw as optional projects. While design magazines once featured extravagant “log mansions,” the scale of log homes also diminished.
“Now some log homes are becoming bigger and on the other end of the scale we’re also meeting the needs of the small house movement,” Savignac says. “Log building is ramping up, and those who have stuck with log building are building again.”