My name is Hermann Thoene, and as you can see on my LinkedIn profile, I have spent a significant time of my “professional life” in the computer industry. For various reasons (maybe I’ll write about that some day in a more personal blog) I had to do something new and different – and that turned out to be manufacturing and building log homes. My family and friends were quite stunned, and during the first months nobody really thought that I was serious about this new business.
Why would somebody with no background or experience in construction want to start a new company manufacturing and building log homes??? And all that during the most difficult economic times, where especially the construction industry has been hit hardest!
I was always fascinated by log homes. To me they are very natural buildings, where you can still smell and feel nature. Most of the material in a log home is wood – a very natural and renewable material. When I first told my friends in Germany that I was planning to move to Canada, many thought (in a more or less serious way) that most Canadians live in the woods, trap animals and live in log homes. Of course I was a bit disappointed after moving to British Columbia in 2000, to see that this is not totally true – but my interest and fascination with log homes remained.
In the summer of 2008 I once again visited my friend Peter Schleifenbaum in Haliburton, Ontario. He manages Haliburton Forest & Wildlife Reserve – a company with many diverse business areas. If you live in Ontario or visit Ontario, I strongly recommend that you check out the many interesting attractions available at Haliburton Forest. It’s worth more then one visit for sure…
Peter developed the EcoLog concept about 10 years ago, when he was looking for ways to create high value products based on wood from his certified sustainable forest. Haliburton County is the most famous cottage country with prestine forests and hundreds of lakes, and many people from all over Ontario enjoy cottage life in the Haliburton region. Peter wanted to address the cottage market, and took old pioneer building methods and tweeked them to fit modern building standards and regulations. The result were EcoLog building kits, which were soon loved by many customers. Very much to Peters surprise, most of the customers wanted pretty big building instead of small and cosy cottages. The reason was that many people not only wanted to use their “cottage” for weekends or vacation, but were building it big enough to be used as their retirement residence. Over the last 10 years Peter and his company have sold more then 100 EcoLog homes of various sizes, and the charming “EcoLog look” is so popular in Haliburton county that people even start imitating it by putting “fake EcoLog siding” on their homes.
But now back to my visit to Ontario in 2008: That summer Peter told me about the background of EcoLog, and about the success as a business. I had a chance to look at several homes and was fascinated from the beatiful natural look, and from the simplicity of the building concept. We discussed if these homes could be a similar “hit” on the West Coast, as I had never seen any similar homes in BC. Peter offered me the chance to use his ideas and concepts to build a simlar business in British Columbia.
In October 2008 I started with some market research to find out what BC people think about these homes. I presented EcoLog homes at a home show, talked to many interested people, and built a website where I collected more feedback from interested potential customers. The feedback was very positive. People loved the charming look and atmosphere. That gave me enough confidence to decide that it’s time for EcoLog homes to “go West”. I started looking for suppliers, potential business partners and many different trades people. I visited Peter a few more times to learn all the details about EcoLog homes. I looked at many existing homes in Ontario, talked to builders and spent some time on construction sites to see how these homes are erected.
I’m very conscious about our environment, and I like to build and sell “eco friendly” homes. Therefore I like to “go local” wherever possible. I formed a partnership with a sawmill on Vancouver Island to provide the timber from locally grown trees. I built a network of reliable local trades people to provide the necessary materials, and to help me and my future customers build EcoLog homes. Our production process and facilities are ready now, and soon we will start putting our first “west coast” EcoLog home kit together. This kit will be used to build our future show home in Saanich, BC.
The building process for this home will be documented through a series of blog posts on this site… Stay tuned !
Update January 2011:
I think it’s time for a little summary what happened since I first published this blog post 2 years ago.
End of 2010 we finished our West Coast Ecolog show home, and it turned out great! A summary of the building features and pictures are available here. The home is a true “head-turner”, as every person driving by the house in their car turns the head to look in astonishment. It sticks out in a very positive way in this neighborhood with mostly 70’s and 80’s style homes.
This home is not only the show home for my business, but also my home and home office. I live in the home for about 1 year now, and I love it! During the summer I enjoyed the big open deck, and when it got too hot I could retreat to the cool interior of the home. During the winter I heat the whole main level and the loft with my beloved wood stove in the living room. I barely ever use the electric heat. Even on the lowest setting, the wood stove easily heats the whole house, and when it’s not too cold I only turn it on every second day. There is lots of discussion around the “thermal mass” effect in log homes – if it provides benefits or not, etc… I must say in our climate on Vancouver Island the thermal mass really works: Once the walls are heated up they store a lot of energy, and release the heat very slowly over up to 24 hours. This makes for a very comfortable living climate: When the wood stove burns down in the evening and I come down into the living area in the morning, it’s still nice and warm!
During the construction of this home I learned a lot! I spent nearly every day on the construction site – not only to help, but also to understand all the challenges in building a home. Half way down the road during our construction process I found out about a government program to measure energy efficiency of homes, the Energuide Rating System. I liked the idea to be able to measure how energy efficient a home is, and to be able to compare homes regarding their energy use, and signed up to get an Energuide rating for the new home. Normally this process should be started at the design stage, where the overall design of a home can still be optimized to increase the energy performance. But even with our late start we achieved an Energuide rating for 79, which is excellent, especially for a log home.
As energy performance becomes more and more important for new homes I actually took the training in 2010/2011 to become a Certified Energy Advisor. I can now model homes for our customers at the design stage and help them optimize their homes from an energy performance perspective.
On the business side things are moving along very nice. We have many people visiting our show home, and the feedback we receive from our visitors is extremely positive. In April 2011 we participated in a home show, where more then 800 people visited our home on a single weekend.
In 2011 we sold several Ecolog homes in BC, and even one to a Saskatchewan. We just increased our product portfolio and can now offer Ecolog homes with different wood species: Western Hemlock, Douglas Fir and Red Cedar.
I enjoy working in this industry, and I don’t regret making this move.