Ecolog Home Construction Cost and Timeline


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, EcoLog | Posted on 11-09-2018

One of the most asked questions I get is: “How much does it cost in total to build an Ecolog home?”.  And the next common question is “How long does construction of an Ecolog home take?”.

Construction Cost

Both of these questions are not easy to answer in a general way, as they depend on may factors specific to a building site and particular home to build. But I like to give our readers a few “rule-of-thumb” figures, and some background information on what factors contribute to lower or higher cost.

Ecolog Construction Site

Ecolog Construction Site

A general estimate for construction cost is based on the size of the building, in North America typically based on “square footage”: Calculate the total amount of “above ground” living space in square feet. Add the basement if you are planning to cully finish the basement. If the loft is only “partially” usable space (like the steep roof lofts in an Ecolog home), take the usable amount of space.

The cost for a turn key home, including allowances for simple, basic excavation, simple utility connection, and all labour and material to build the home, is in most areas between $250 and $300 per sqft. This is for a

Building Code conform 4 season home with “typical” (not high end) finishing choices.

Example: If you want to build a 24’x40′ Ecolog home with an unfinished 8′ high basement, and a fully finished loft, calculate your cost as follows: 960 sqft on the main floor, appr. 700 sqft space in the log, gives 1660 sqft finished living space. Total building cost for this home should be budgeted between $415,000 and $498,000.

The following factors can increase the building cost:

  • Smaller buildings (less then 700 sqft footprint) have a higher per-sqft-cost, where bigger buildings (>1500 sqft footprint) have a lower per-sqft-cost
  • Finished basement adds to cost, but by far not as much as the cost for the main floor. Using space in a well finished basement is a great way to create more living space for less money
  • Building on remote islands or in other remote areas increases cost. Transportation and expenses will be higher.
  • Finishing choices: Obviously “the sky is the limit” when it’s about finishing choices. You can spend as much money as you want to expensive light fixtures, flooring, tiles, etc.

So how can you reduce your total building cost? Here are a few ideas:

  • Sweat equity: One of the biggest cost elements in building a home is labour. If you or your family can help during construction, you can save a lot of money. Even unskilled workers can be of great value for many tasks like sanding, staining, painting, cleanup, moving material and much much more.
  • Reduce footprint, use space more efficiently: If you keep the design as simple as possible and use the space on each level to its maximum, you can save a lot of money. In practical terms this means:
    • Finish your basement, use it for bedrooms, office, etc. Using ICF walls maybe even in combination with in-floor hydronic heating, and big windows or patio doors can create wonderful comfortable and bright living spaces in a basement
    • Reduce number of bathrooms: Every bathroom adds a lot of cost to your home – not only for the fixtures, but also for plumbing runs, size of your hot water system, required space, etc.
    • No or minimum amount of dormers in the roof: While dormers look really appealing in an Ecolog home, they also increase construction cost due to the required framing, more complex roof insulation and more complex roof finishing with lots of valleys. If you design the loft to have 2 big rooms with stairs in the middle, the gable walls can provide enough light for each of these rooms. And even in a 24’x32′ Ecolog home, this will result in 2 fairly big rooms.

Construction Timeline

And now to the 2nd question I want to address in this post: How long does it take?

I normally start “counting” that time after a contract has been signed between Vanisle Ecolog Homes and the customers. At that time we can start working on the detailed design with our drafts person and engineer. The process to create these detailed building plans with various feedback-rounds with the customer typically takes between 6-8 weeks.

Once the plans are done, the customer can apply for the building permit. Depending on the municipality, this takes between 2 and 4 weeks.

Ecolog home with covered porch

Ecolog home with covered porch

Now construction can start. The contractor can now building the footings, basement and subfloor. During this time we will work on assembling the Ecolog kit. In most cases the Ecolog kit gets delivered to the building site at the time when the subfloor is finished.

Assembly of the Ecolog shell typically takes about 3-4 weeks. This means erecting the log walls and adding the roof trusses. Now the roof has to be sheathed, insulated, dormers and gables to be built… typically another 4-6 weeks.

After adding the roof finish (metal or asphalt shingles) and installing windows and doors the house is at the “lock-up” stage. The minimum timeframe from signing a contract to get to this stage is probably about 4 months.

Finishing the house can take another 3-4 months.

All these timelines depend on how many people are working at each step, how many changes are encountered, unplanned difficulties like hitting water during excavation, and much much more.

Hopefully the numbers in this article will help you to plan for your own project.

Legalities Of Tiny Home Ownership In Canada


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building Code | Posted on 07-08-2018

The following post is a guest post from the Tiny House Society:

Many people are trying to reduce their environmental footprint these days, and one place to start is by going from huge expensive and resource hungry homes to smaller homes – in the most minimalistic way called a “tiny house”.

Building ToolsOne of the more popular tiny house questions people ask is: where can I build/park my tiny house? The answer isn’t as simple as one might think. There are all kinds of tiny home laws and conflicting answers that can leave a tiny house hopeful in the dust. Having to find a home for your home is very much a reality when it comes to this process, and it’s a good idea to do your research beforehand. Let’s take a look at the breakdown of legalities when building and locating a spot to put your tiny house. Keep in mind–these rules and regulations can change and vary from one area to the next, so it’s always best to check with your local municipality!

But first…

What is a Tiny House?

A tiny house, either on wheels or built on a foundation, is often a maximum of 500 square feet and focuses on a simple, minimalistic way of living without sacrificing quality. Highly popular amongst the eco-conscious, these tiny homes boast purposeful designs and stay far from wastefulness.

How to Build

Tiny houses need to be built according to local building codes. If you are planning on living somewhere remote or off grid, then it could be possible to build outside of these codes–emphasis on could be. The best way to go about this is to consult with a planner or to purchase an already built home to ensure the building is up to code. For example, parts of Canada do not allow lofts to be used for sleeping if the tiny house is built on site. This can be tricky, because many tiny house enthusiasts love the loft design, as it creates more ground floor space. Purchasing a tiny home that is pre-manufactured or comes from a certified company that specialize in tiny houses can eliminate a lot of hassle!Tiny homes on beach

In some parts of Canada, a tiny house on wheels is considered to be “a dwelling unit on wheeled chassis, greater than 12 square meters and less than 29 square metres, designed to be used as a full-time residence in this climate.” Additionally, some tiny houses that are built on foundations like standard houses can be qualified as an ADU or accessory dwelling unit. Both of these types of tiny houses can have strict building codes and regulations, so be sure to investigate thoroughly!

Where to Build

Finding a place to build your tiny house can be tricky. Owning a tiny house that isn’t on wheels means you won’t be able to just up and leave at the drop of a hat. This is why it’s even more important to consider your options and find out your local regulations. A few options on where to build your tiny house include:

  • In your backyard – You will need some land first. If you already own a house on the land, then it may be easier to live in because it still isn’t a “primary dwelling.”
  • In your friend’s backyard – Again, it will likely be easier because there is already a primary dwelling.
  • On a piece of land you bought – Lots of grey area here. If it’s out of the way of prying eyes then you might get by. Still, this is a risky choice because of the financial investment involved!
  • In a tiny house community – As the tiny house movement spreads, legal tiny house communities are popping up all over the country. Take a look at this community in the Ontario area.

Where to Park

If you are interested in a tiny house on wheels, then your options are fairly similar to the above. A different option available to the tiny house on wheels is the RV park. This could be a good choice because they often come standard with all of the hook ups such as water and electricity. Be sure to contact the owner of the park first! Technically, permanently residing in an RV (recreational vehicle) isn’t allowed, but many have found this is only an issue if there is a complaint.

Ask the right questions and search for great answers!

It’s important to keep in mind that each area of Canada may have different rules, so it’s a good idea to find out building codes and other regulations from your local municipality. A great way to ensure your peace of mind when building a tiny home is by contracting a tiny house specialist, or purchasing one of the many beautiful prefabricated options available. Luckily for us, Canada is a beautiful country for a tiny home if you are up to the challenge!

Buying versus Building Your Own Home


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home | Posted on 29-07-2014


Guest post by Luke Peters:

Owning a home is a dream that most people have as it is considered the mark of an established life to own your personal dream home. Most people who want to own a home of their own have to first go through the tough choice between buying and building the house. Both have their own fair share of advantages and disadvantages and the choice purely depends on the prospect’s preference. While building a house from scratch can provide the owner with a personal touch, this may not be practical. Buying a house can be a much more affordable option whilst making your dreams of owning a house a reality. To make the situation clearer, we shall discuss the pros and cons of building and buying a house.

Pros and Cons of Building a New Home


Building a new log home

Building a new log home, Image Credits @

  • While building from the ground up can provide you with the desired customization options and adds that sense of personal touch to your home, it often requires a long waiting time while the construction takes place. It adds a sentimental value like no other and can be built according to the individual specifications of your family members.
  • It can be a hassle to deal with quality control and several other negotiations with construction workers and general contractors, and to deal with the government inspectors who can be a major hurdle to the successful construction of your dream home. One can, however, easily take care of this problem by hiring the service of construction management companies. These can take care of all of your house building requirements, from safety inspections to getting the work done on time.
  • A newly built home offers that level of comfort and convenience, which most people seek from their sweet abode. One can add his own artistic touch while designing the house to make it even more personal. When building a house you can go for the look and the architectural style that you want and not the one that is available.
  • Building your own home lets you keep a close check on the quality and the safety measures. It is considered as an advantage of building over buying a house. This is because you can never be sure of the quality of the materials used and the safety measures taken when buying an existing house.

Pros and Cons of Buying a New or an Existing Home


Buying a home

Buying a home, Image Credits @ attorneyrobertflavell

  • If your ability to own a house is greatly influenced by your budget, then the best solution is to buy an existing house. With the rise in real estate prices and population, it is sometimes hard to buy an area of ideal land. Buying an existing home not only provides you with an easy way of owning a house, but also takes a shorted amount of time than building a house from scratch.
  • Buying an older house and remodeling it according to your taste and preferences is another option to building a house from scratch. An existing house saves you from the trouble of dealing with the construction workers, contactor or the housing inspectors. Most estate agencies, such as the estate agents in Perivale, make sure that a house has passed all the necessary inspections and safety standards before making it available for sale.
  • However, the major con of buying an existing house lies in its monotony. While building a house or remodeling an older house adds that sense of personal touch to your living space, buying a house built by an estate agency can feature monotonous designs which may not be what you had in mind. Since the house has already been built it may or may not suit your desired specifications.

Buying a house or building it from scratch, each choice comes with its fair share or advantages and disadvantages. Real estate prices, availability of the ideal house or location and the cost of construction services and materials will all play a huge part in your decision. Having said this, we hope that the points mentioned above will make most of the pros and cons of buying or building a house clear, and will help you to make an informed decision.


Author Bio:

Luke Peters has written several articles and blogs on architecture, home improvement, real estate, law, finance etc. He likes to explore the various topics in utmost detail and like to keep up to date with the latest happenings and developments in the respective fields.


Wood Buildings Make a Happy Planet


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EcoLog, Energy Efficiency, EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 23-04-2014

A recent article in the renown GBA (Green Building Advisor) summarized the benefits of wood buildings over steel, concrete or any other “high energy” materials. Log buildings and cabins not only feel better then any other buildings, but they are also a great benefit for our planet.

Read the full article here on the GBA website.


Guest Cottages, Granny Suites, Garden Suites, Accessory Buildings


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building Code, EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 01-02-2014

There are many names for these secondary buildings, which people erect in their backyard to create more living space for themselves or their relatives and visiting friends.

EuropaMany people would also like to use granny or garden suites as rentals to supplement their income. A recent article in Victoria News reports that the rules have just been changed in North Saanich – the northern tip of the Saanich Peninsula. In 2011 North Saanich passed a bylaw to allow guest or caretaker cottages on any cottage bigger then 1 1/4 acre. In January 2014 the size of lots to allow for external suites was reduced to 1 acre, which will significantly increase the number of properties eligible for external rental buildings. Before 2010 the use of these guest cottages was very restricted, and only a caretaker or family member could live in them. But the municipality saw the need for more affordable rental places and therefore allowed garden suites and caretaker / guest cottages to be rented out.

Mari A 100 sqft cottageMany other municipalities in the Greater Victoria area and on the Gulf Islands allow for such secondary buildings often referred to by many different names: Carriage home, garden suite, guest house or guest cottage… No matter what you call them, such buildings are great for everybody: Owners can use them for visiting friends or family or increase their income (or pension) through rent.

Vanisle Ecolog homes offers many different solutions to build such buildings, from square timber custom log homes to very affordable ready-to-assemble EZLog cabin kits. The most affordable building types for external suites are EZLog cottage and cabin kits: They can be built on any type of foundation, from slab-on-ground over wood foundations to crawlspaces. Many people like them for their charming looks and their all-natural wooden interior.

One challenge many people see is to overcome the hurdles of permits and building these structures in accordance with municipal bylaws and the building code. They can be built as summer cabins if people want to use them as a studio or as extended living space mostly in the summer. In this case not much insulation is needed. But Vanisle Ecolog homes can also design these buildings to be very energy efficient to provide comfortable easy to heat all year living spaces.

Vanisle Ecolog homes offers customers complete service packages to take care of everything, and to guide them through the whole process, from early planning until they are proud owners of a nice guest cottage.


Energy Efficient Log Homes & Cabins


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Energy Efficiency, EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 09-05-2013

I just came across this blog post from GBA (Green Building Advisors). It’s a not only a good  summary of the most important technical terms used in the building industry, but it prioritizes the areas where you should look first if you consider to build a new home “greener” and more energy efficient.

I’m an avid reader of the GBA newsletter and blog posts. This team is really on top of things when it comes to green building.

Our focus as Vanisle Ecolog Homes is to build well performing log homes, cabins and cottages. Of course you cannot use all the same techniques in a log home as you do at a “regular” frame home. But many concepts do apply, and some need to  be adopted to work with log homes and log cabins.

We use the Canadian “standard” software Hot2000 (from National Resource Canada) to model and check the energy performance for each home we design for customers.

I just created some new energy models for our new EZLog cabin and cottage kits. We developed a method to insulate these homes nearly without any thermal breaks, which leads to an excellent energy performance. And the construction technique we use is fairly easy to install and can be adopted to suite any climate – from the mild winters on Vancouver Island to “real winter” in Whistler.


Building a Summer Cottage or All Season Home?


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, EcoLog | Posted on 07-05-2013

Are you planning to build a cabin or cottage for quite some time now?

Are you overwhelmed by the huge amounts of products you find during your online search?

Don’t you wish you could just snap a maEZLog Cottage Constructiongic wand, and swoooosh, your new cottage is done – ready to use at your building site?

Ok, you don’t need a magic wand, but Vanisle Ecolog Homes can help, as we now offer you a complete we-do-it-all-for-you service. We start by visiting your property, analyzing your requirements and then talk to your municipality to find out if your plans match with their by-laws and regulations. Then we will suggest one or more possible cabins or cottages which you can build. After “zeroing in” on one, we can then create a custom quote for all the material and services you need. If you want, we can do it all – like the magic wand. But if you want to save some money and help with certain parts, we can leave that for you.

Our package deals for prefabricated cabins and cottages make it easy for you to plan your budget, and give you peace-of-mind. Check out the EZLog Europa model to find some sample packages.

It’s challenging to generalize bigger building projects, as each property is different, municipal requirements are different, and of course each customers has different requirements. That’s why we cannot tell you how much YOUR project will cost without seing your property and talking to you. But the following packages give you an idea about the services we provide, and what typical package costs can be for a given situation.

Summer Cottage

Let’s assume you have found a nice property on Vancouver Island, and now you want to build a seasonal 2 bedroom cottage mainly as a summer-getaway for your family.

Mari A 100 sqft cottageA so called seasonal structure does not require a heating system, and there are no minimum insulation requirements. Therefore you can use a prefabricated building kit like the 20’x24′ EZLog Europa with 58 mm thick walls. Apart from purchasing a building kit, what else is required to have a ready-to-use cottage?

  • Planning and permits: If your municipality requires a building permit (check out this blog article to learn more about building code and permits), you will need a whole set of building plans, potentially a lot survey, septic field permit etc. We normally guide our customers through this process – or even get the permit for them – as this can be quite challenging for “regular” (non-trades) people, who don’t speak “building code” and “by-law” lingo.
  • Build a proper foundation: The simplest way is a slab-on-ground, but for very little more money you will have more flexibility by building a crawlspace. Both of these options require proper framing and pouring concrete, and most people will hire trades people for these tasks. A typical 30″ high crawlspace with subfloor costs between $8,000 and $10,000 (that’s without excavation and backfilling, and the price depends much on the price of concrete in your area).
  • Once the foundation is in place the cottage can be erected. A prefab building kit like the Europa can be setup in about 200 “people hours” (maybe a bit longer if you do this type of work for the first time). No crane or other machines are needed for this – muscle power, some good ladders and some basic tools like hammer and drill will do.
  • EZLog kits don’t include the roof finish, as people have different tastes and requirements for a roof. The two most common choices for EZLog cottages are asphalt shingles or metal. Both can be installed pretty quick. If you have no experience in roofing, this should be done by professionals, so that all the right flashing is installed and your roof doesn’t leak.
  • Now the cottage needs to be stained or painted, to protect the wood from moisture and insects. We recommend using water based stains, which are very high quality today and last a long time. Stain or paint on the inside is optional. You can leave the natural wood exposes if you don’t mind some discolouration in areas where the wood gets exposed to the sun.

At this stage the cottage is at what we consider “lockup stage” (the windows and doors have been installed during erection of the walls). If you just use an outhouse and water from a well or river, and don’t require electric, then you seasonal cottage is done.

All Season Cottage

A seasonal log cabin on Vancouver Island could occasionally be used in the winter with no problem. Most areas don’t get so cold that a wood stove or small electric stove can’t heat such a cabin. It might not be the most energy efficient thing to do, but it works for the occasional weekend visit.

Europa CottageTo create a vacation or backyard cottage which can be permanently used all year around requires the building to have a proper heating system and to be fully insulated. Depending on the type of structure you build, the BC building code offers various possibilities to prove “proper insulation” and an “energy efficient building envelope”.  More details on that can be found in my earlier blog post on this topic.

To insulate EZLog cottages in compliance with the BC building code, we suggest (and implement) following solutions to customers:

  • The roof gets insulated with 4″ – 6″ of Polyiso foam, attached with Z-bars on top of the T&G roof decking, which is part of the EZLog kit. The foam comes in 2″ or 3″ thick 4’x8′ panels, and most contractors are familiar with its installation. A Tyvek membrane on top of the foam protects the foam and ensures an airtight roof structure. The metal roof can then be easily attached on top of the foam held by the Z bars as well.
  • The outside walls get insulated in following ways: A Tyvek membrane on the inside of the wall wraps from roof to the floor and into the window and door opening. This forms the air barrier of the home. Now the building attaches 2″-6″ XPS foam panels on top of the tyvek. The panels are installed using vertical 1″x2″ strapping, attached with (countersinking) screws into the log wall. Now a layer of 5/8″ T&G boards it attached on top of the strapping. After installing trim around doors and windows, this “second wall” looks exactly the same as the “thick” outside wall and other interior walls.
  • Insulating a concrete slab is optional and should be done before pouring the concrete. The subfloor above a crawlspace also gets insulated with 2″-4″ XPS foam attached to the bottom of the floor joists.

The amount of insulation and type of windows (double or triple pane, type of filling and coatings) needs to be carefully chosen based on the location where the cottage gets built. Going “over board” with too much insulation doesn’t hurt, but increases the building costs unnecessarily. Vanisle Ecolog Homes uses the Hot200 software from Natural Resources Canada to calculate energy models, which help customers decide which insulation options are appropriate and most cost effective.

In addition to insulation, all season buildings require plumbing, electric and a heating system. Our sample Europa package includes basic plumbing, which in consists of a small hot water tank installed in the crawlspace, and rough in plumbing for a kitchen and bathroom into the subfloor. The electric installation package included in this packages consists of a 100 amp panel with basic light fixtures and plugs and baseboard heaters as a heating system.

For sustainability minded customers we recommend to install LED lights, a hot water tank with built-in heat pump and a “mini-split” heat pump, which provides a very energy efficient and comfortable heating and cooling system for a reasonable price.


Backyard Buildings in BC – Why do You need one ?


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 16-04-2013

Cottage kit EuropaBackyard cabins and cottages are becoming more and more popular in British Columbia: From 800 sqft all season cottages over enclosed gazebos or pavilions to micro houses or “bunkies”. People build these backyard structures for a variety of reasons:

  • As in-law suite for aging parents
  • Additional space for growing children
  • Guest cottages for friends
  • Rental suite to provide additional income
  • Office or studio for artist or professionals working from home

And I’m sure there are many more reasons.

Backyard buildings are sustainable by using little material and utilizing existing infrastructure. Many municipalities see the advantages of these building and support them with special by-laws.

Most municipalities allow structures of less then 100 square feet in size without a building permit. Such small structures can be setup without a concrete foundation, by using concrete blocks or other simple mechanisms to create a level space.

Inside view of a BunkieVictoria has a special by-law to allow for so called “Garden Suites” if the properties fullfil certain requirements.

Metchosin and many rural municipalities like some of the Gulf Islands allow for detached secondary suites, often up to 750 square feet in size.

Some new residential developments like Westhills in Langford offer Laneway houses as part of their new residences. The city of Vancouver recognizes the benefits and importance of Laneway houses by providing a special program for these type of buildings.

The Vancouver Sun recently published an interesting article called “Backyard Cottages a growing trend” with lots of examples why and how people want to have backyard buildings.

Vanisle Ecolog Homes offers a large selection of do-it-yourself log cabin and cottage kits, which are idea for backyard buildings.



EZLog Cabins & Cottages now available from Ecolog Homes


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EZLog Cabin/Cottage Kits | Posted on 07-03-2013

EZLog LogoVanisle Ecolog Homes is now a dealer for EZLog log building kits in Western Canada. All kits are available FOB Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.

EZLog building kits are one of the best and most complete do-it-yourself kits available. The walls are built using tight fitting tongue & grove boards, resulting in a very air tight and robust structure. Almeria-A

Every log building kit includes all that is required for a lock up structure, from pressure treated foundation beamsfloor, wallswindows,doors to the roof, including all hardware.

The EZLog product portfolio consists of a variety of buildings and wood structures – ranging from backyard bunkies and garden houses to play houses, garages to small cabins, to fully insulated large log cottages suitable for permanent residences.

BunkieEZLog building kits offer exceptional value. The ease of assembly minimizes the high labor costs of conventional construction, and the finished homes offer a very charming natural look with lots of wood on the interior and exterior.

Check out the new EZLog section on our website for pricing, specifications and a full catalog of EZLog products.


Wood Stain and Sustainability


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Log Home Finishing | Posted on 12-07-2012

Guest post by Ron Cameron from Finishes 1st:


Environmental Sustainability to the Planet”

Being capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment.

Environmental Sustainability to the Home Owner”

Being capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the home owners pocket book.

So we have two areas to focus on: the environment and people. We need to be able to accommodate both to succeed.

How do we measure sustainability?

The Canadian gov’t measures VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) in products to determine the effect they have on the environment (which includes the atmosphere, people and vegetation). VOCs are vapours or gases emitted by various solids or liquids, many of which have short and long term adverse health effects.

What % of the total pollutants emitted into the atmosphere are singled out to be Solvent use (paint or stain) VOCs?

The gov’t’s website shows that in a recent study 28% of the total emitted pollutants came from Solvent use. The gov’t also says that it will have, by the spring of 2010, a new standard which will reduce the VOCs levels to 250 grams per litre. Currently (in 2009) there is no ceiling in this area.

How many types of stain are there?

There are 3 generally accepted types:

  • Waterborne
  • Water base
  • Solvent base

What are the VOC levels of each stain type?

  • There are 2 varieties of Waterborne stains:
    • Old generation – 250 grams per litre
    • New ‘Nano’ generation – <less than 100 grams per litre
  • Water Base – 270 grams per litre
  • Solvent Base – 350 to over 800 grams per litre

What are the differences between the 3 different types of stain?

  1. Solvent base uses mineral spirits (another name for solvents) to mix with the stain so it can be applied, and it needs to be cleaned up with more “mineral spirits.” Both Water base and Solvent base are what is called “film forming”, meaning they build in layers. They are both based on the belief that covering the wood is the best way to protect it, but Solvent base produces a harder coat than Water base, and with regular maintenance will last 20 to 25 years. This is where the gov’t’s new legislation comes in! After the spring of 2010 this product in its current form will be classified as a hazardous chemical, and thus Solvent base products will not be available for maintenance, reducing the life of the stain to between 7 to 10 years.
  1. Water base, like Waterborne, uses water as a thinner to mix with the resin so that it can be applied, and cleans up with soap and water. This, though, is where the similarities end. Water base is designed to sit on the surface of the wood, the rationale being that, if the surface is coated, fungus and mildew cannot get into the wood. This would be true, except for one thing – wood expands and contracts with the seasons and this continuous stress to the stain breaks it down sooner. Water base stains have shown to have a life span of 17 to 20 years if regular maintenance is done.
  1. Waterborne, as well as being the most environmentally friendly of the 3, gets into the surface of the wood, and is known as a breathable stain. This means that humidity can pass through it and the wood can expand and contract with the elements normally. It also has mild fungicides and mildecides to stop airborne fungus and mildew from entering the wood and grow unchecked. Waterborne uses water as a thinner to mix with the resin so that it can be applied, and cleans up with soap and water. Being able to get into the wood allows the stain to expand and contract so that it doesn’t crack or peel, giving it an expected life of 3 or more decades if regularly maintained.

How come the stains on some homes last longer than others, even when they have been maintained?

The stain itself represents only about 25% of the equation, the other 75% is in the preparation of the wood. Other factors that affect the life of the stain are cracks (or checks), roof size (overhang) and methods of application (sprayed on versus brushed on etc.).

A major example of the importance of the preparation of wood that affects stain performance has more to do with fungus and mildew, especially in humid areas such as the Lower Mainland. It is almost guaranteed that there will be mildew and fungus present in logs even if you can’t see them. They lay dormant until the right conditions happen and then reproduce at a high rate. It is always best to do a mildew cleanse with logs, because if the mildew does show up the only solution is to strip the stain off the house and start again. Not only is this expensive, but it multiplies the amount of VOCs emitted into the atmosphere (and the applicator’s lungs) each time the stain has to be stripped and reapplied. The solution is the use of an eco-friendly product that kills the existing mildew and fungus, regardless of which stain is applied.

While there are many factors that influence the longevity of stain, most of them can easily be dealt with if the architect, builder, general contractor and home owner all know and do their part. The architect needs to know that even though allowing beams and trusses to extend beyond the roof line looks attractive, they will require much more maintenance, and even then will fail before the rest of the house. The builder needs to protect the wood during the build process to eliminate fungus, mildew and sun damage so that the general contractor will not have to spend more money and chemicals to fix the wood during the assembly phase. Lastly, the home owner must understand that they have a responsibility to maintain the stain on a regular basis (usually 3 to 5 years for transparent stain, 4 to 6 for semi-transparent and 6 to 10+ for semi-solid stain).

Maintenance varies for the different types of stain, ranging from a cleaning, light sanding, and stain application for water base and solvent base (sometimes a primer is required for solvent base as well), to a cleaning and an application only of clear stain for waterborne.

Can’t wood be pre-finished at the factory or at a pre-finisher to eliminate most of these problems from occurring?

Yes, and for siding, board & batten, fascia and, in fact, for any wood up to 3” thick and 24” wide this is undoubtedly the best method (logs, of course, cannot be pre-finished). The difficulty is that the general contractor would lose out on the labour and usually convinces the home owner that it would be a waste of good money and would be more expensive. The result is a surface that is compromised by being out in the weather too long, so that the stain cannot bond to the surface as well.

To summarize:

Conditions are going to change as far as the government’s allowable levels of VOCs are concerned. When this happens, those products we currently know as solvent base stains will disappear. Will the manufacturers of solvent base stains come up with something new to meet the new levels? Undoubtedly, but the question is whether it will be compatible with their old stain. If not, the home owner will face more cost pre-maturely and the environment will be adversely affected as well.

The real solution is to do it right in the first place, and not to cut corners. It is a certainty that the adage “you can pay a little now, or you can pay a lot more later” applies here.

Finishes 1st is an independent supplier of products, and, as such, we are not limited by the marketing department of a particular manufacturer. We have done a lot of homework in choosing our line up. Our stain of choice is a new generation waterborne stain. It has the lowest VOCs, permeates into the wood, kills airborne mildew and fungus on contact and lasts the longest. Because it is waterborne it breathes, and this has an added advantage of being able to be applied with moisture contents in wood as high as 25% (freshly cut trees). To compare, the other types of stain need the wood to be in the 16 to 18% range (air dried) before they can be applied. This can take up to 3 to 4 months of drying time before the first coat of Water and Solvent base stains can be applied and up to a year for the completion of the stain process. During this wait time, mold and mildew damage, as well as sun damage, is likely to occur.

Incidentally, when it comes to siding, shakes, board & batten and fascia, etc., mildew and fungus are less of an issue because they usually don’t go deeper than the first 3 rings of a log, and these types of cut wood are cut from deeper in the log. If the wood is pre-stained, there is little chance mold & mildew will get into the wood, and the wood will be well protected while on site waiting to go on the home. On the other hand, if the staining it is to be done on site, mildew and fungus can, and will, get into the wood and the extra step of mildew cleansing will be necessary. The cleaner I prefer is an environmentally friendly, easy to apply type, but even so, it does have some VOCs, a point to consider when it comes to protecting the environment.

In conclusion, Finishes 1st has over 12 years’ of experience in the stain industry, specializing in environmentally favourable products as much as possible. We have learned a lot about protecting the environment and the home owner, and we will continue to learn as this is a never ending process. Our goal is to share our knowledge with anyone involved in the building of a home, because both the environment and the home owner have a lot to lose if the work is not done correctly the first time. In short, both have a vested interest in sustainability, each from a slightly different view.

For more information on this and other things, look at my website send me an email at, I’d love to help.

Ron Cameron