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 www.finishes1st.com send me an email at F1st@telus.net, I’d love to help.

Ron Cameron



Log Home Finishing


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Log Home Finishing | Posted on 27-06-2012

Guest post by Ron Cameron from Finishes 1st:

The finishing of a log home can be a daunting task at best. So if you are doing it for the first time on your new home, or having to refinish it, there are a few things you should do at the start, that will keep your house looking good.

Today we will discuss mildew and its affect on your home. Mildew is something that floats in the atmosphere and lands on everything. Let’s be clear, we are not talking about the same mildew that has become a health issue for your family. This type will not cause harm to your health! But it will cause you to have to refinish your home much sooner, if it is not dealt with at the start. It is a simple step, and unfortunately isn’t something you can count on your home finisher to know about. It is best to ask him if he understands mildew and the effect it will have if not dealt with at the start.

To understand mildew better, we need to understand its life cycles and how they work. Mildew is blown about by the wind and lands on the wood. This is not a problem when the wood is a standing tree because it lands on the bark and stopped there. When the bark has been removed it lands and is invisible. Mildew requires wet weather and warmth to come to life and reproduce. That is why you don’t see it happen as much in the winter because it is too cold, or in the summer because it is too hot. The wetter spring and fall is where it shows up most.

As I have said, when it is dormant it is invisible, when it is active it is invisible, but when a life cycle ends the originators die off, and that is the black you see in the wood. It is good to know that they reproduce at a rate of approximately 100 times per life cycle (or bloom). They cannot get much deeper than about 3 rings so removal in the beginning is easy with a sander.

If you have sanded out the black (dead) mildew, you have not removed them, because the new generation is now sanded out and simply moved to other areas. That is why a mildew cleanse is required at this step. It is simple to do and only requires washing the house down and keeping it moist with a mildecide cleanser like ‘PrepIt’ then, after about an hour washing it off.

This will kill all existing mildew and will pH balance the home readying it for stain. If you are using a waterborne stain, then application can happen the following day, weather permitting.

Following these steps will ensure that your home will look beautiful for the full life of the stain you chose, and assuming you follow a maintenance schedule, that should be a very long time.

For more information on this and other things, look at my website www.finishes1st.com send me an email at F1st@telus.net, I’d love to help.

Ron Cameron



Log Homes for the Eco-Conscious


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EcoLog | Posted on 24-01-2012

Brian Hartz wrote a nice article about Hermann Thoene and his new Vanisle Ecolog Homes business for Douglas Magazine. The article was published in their Nov/Dec 2011 issue.

Brian did a great job in summarizing the background and current status of our business.

Thanks for Douglas Magazine to allow us to allow us to make a copy of the article available for interested people.

Building A Log Home – Part 3, Log Walls and Roof


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home | Posted on 06-01-2012

2 months after we started with the construction, the ICF basement was finished and the subfloor was in place. We were all really excited when the log home kit arrived. A 60′ truck brought all pre-cut timbers for the log walls, posts, beams and roof structure.

The delivery truck had a built-in crane and unloaded the timber packages onto the subfloor.

Now we could start building the outside log walls. Even though the 8″x8″ Hemlock timbers were everything but light, they could be handled by hand. We worked with a 3 man crew, and for the first 7-8 rows we lifted all timbers up manually.

Ecolog homes are built fairly simplistic: The square timbers come with a pre-cut “box joint”. Wooden spacer blocks are use to support the timbers. The space between the spacer blocks is filled with foam sheets. Later on the spacer blocks and foam sheets will be sealed with chinking on the inside and outside. These wide chinking seams make up the actual “Ecolog look”, which people find very attractive.

After a row of timbers has been put on the wall, lots of holes need to be drilled for the hardwood dowels, which hold the timbers together and prevent them from twisting or moving around.

This was the first log home my builders built, and after a couple of days they got into a pretty good routine. Round after round the timbers were put in place.

For the last 2-3 rows of logs we used a hand cranked Genie lift to get the timbers up on the walls. Another really useful tool during construction were the “bakers” – portable scaffolds on wheels, which can be moved around very easily.

It took about 2 weeks to erect the log walls. It was hard manual labor, but the result was very rewarding. Every day after work we walked around the construction site and admired the new house taking shape.

After 10 rows of logs (or timbers), the walls were complete. During construction the door and window openings were only very “rough” openings, and now we could cut the exact opening using a standard chainsaw.

The next step was to assemble the roof trusses. Each truss is made out of 3 pieces of 4″x10″. They were precut to length and had the “birdmouth” connections already cut. But we had to drill holes and bolt them together. This was done inside of the new home, so that we had a nice level surface to assemble the trusses.

Our 24’x40′ home required 13 roof trusses, one every 4 feet.

After all trusses were assembled we ordered a crane to move the trusses onto the log walls. This was another exciting step, and after all trusses were up, the new home really looked like a home for the first time.

The next task was to install the roof sheathing. We used 2″x6″ tonge & grove Douglas Fir boards for sheathing, as the sheathing as well as the roof trusses are exposed on the inside and make up part of the special “look and feel” of the loft rooms.

The roof is made up of multiple layers to provide proper insulation, ventilation, air tightness and protection against rain, snow and ice:



  • Sheating
  • a black building membrane
  • 6.5″ of insulation (R40)
  • Tyvek
  • horizontal and vertical strapping (rain screen and ventilation)
  • standing seem metal roofing
8′ wide Dormers were built into the roof using standard 2″x6″ framing techniques. Gable walls were also built as 2″x6″ frame walls. For both gables and dormers we installed cedar shingles as siding.
It took about 2 months to construct the roof with 4 dormers and a chimney for the wood stove. This was not only because we were building in winter, but also due to the small building crew (2-3 people) and due to many features of the home:  A very unique covered porch for the main entrance, hidden gudders, extended roof overhangs and more.

Windows and patio doors in the loft were installed in the same way as it’s done for regular frame homes. For the windows and doors on the main level we built square window bucks, which were installed into the walls in a way that the logs could move as they dry out and the house “settles”.


Will log homes be felled by modern building codes?


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building Code | Posted on 05-01-2012

A few days ago I was interviewed by James Bradshaw, who was doing some research about log homes and the National Building Code. I provided him with some of the information based on my Energy Advisor training and based on the research I did for my recent article about Building Codes for Cottage Magazine.

James researched the topic from many different angles, and came up with a great story, which was published in the Globe and Mail on the front page across Canada:


I really enjoyed the reader discussion (click the “Comments” link at the bottom of the article) about this topic. Quite controversial, but most readers seem to be in favor of log homes.


Understanding Building Codes in Canada


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home, Building Code | Posted on 28-10-2011

Eliminate construction problems and save money by knowing how building codes work

Construction of new homes in Canada is governed by province specific building codes. Each province can either create their own building code or adopt the National Building Code of Canada, which is a model code. The BC and Alberta building codes, for example are based on the national model code, with additions such as seismic requirements to suit each province. The main purpose of the building code is to provide detailed requirements resulting in safe buildings. Many recent building code amendments also address reduction of water and energy usage of new homes.

The building code is enforced by local governments and in most cases by a building inspection department of a municipality or regional district. It is important to know that the current enforcement system is discretionary: a municipality or district may choose not to have an inspection process but in the majority of cases, local governments regulate the building process and enforce compliance with the building code and other local by-laws. Most urban regions have thorough processes in place to ensure high building standards and compliance with all codes and regulations. But some rural communities often lack the resources for building inspections and are unable to enforce building code compliance. Some people look intentionally for such communities when they plan to build recreational cottages. Building a seasonal cottage without the need to fully comply with all building code requirements can make a big difference on costs.

One example of a “building permit free region” is the Powell River Regional District in BC, which includes Savary Island. As a result of the lack of building permits, Savary Island hosts a variety of fantasy structures, from rustic shacks over fort with palisades to multi million dollar mansions. Denman and Hornby Islands are also permit free regions.

The building code doesn’t distinguish between cottages, regular residences or seasonal buildings. If a building department enforces the building code for cottages in their area, even a seasonal cottage must meet the same standards as a permanent residence. The only exception is for very small structures: Some municipalities allow buildings of up to 100 sq. ft. to be built without a building permit, but may need a siting permit. In some areas, seasonal-use-only cottages may be exempt from some code requirements, but may require the owner to enter into a covenant with the local building department specifying that it will only be used seasonally. Converting from a seasonal residence to a legal full-time residence can be very costly.

The majority of residential construction in Canada is done as wood frame construction, where walls are built with 2” x 6” wood studs, and the cavities are filled with insulation. The requirements for this type of construction are described in very much detail in Part 9 of the building code, and therefore wood frame buildings are sometimes called “Part 9 buildings.”

Most experienced builders have memorized all key requirements of the building code, and know what the height and width of stairs must be, how much steel to put into foundations and how to frame and insulate walls and ceilings. At different stages of the construction process a building inspector will visit the building site to ensure all building code requirements are met. He or she can request changes from the builders if they didn’t build according to the code. Depending on the type of change, this can result in extensive costs for the homeowner. If the homeowner or builder refuses to comply with the requirements of the building inspector, the inspector can refuse to provide an occupancy permit at the end of construction, or add a note about potential construction deficits to the title of the property. It is important to note that building codes are a minimum standard and not necessarily the best.

When selecting a builder for a new home, make sure the outfit has a good knowledge of the building code to minimize the chance of change requests from your building inspections.

Log homes are a popular choice for cottages and cabins. While log homes also need to comply with the building code, there are no detailed descriptions how to achieve this compliance. That’s why engineers need to be involved in the design of log homes, and—depending on the building inspector—sometimes also into the inspection process.

Many people who want to build their own home or cottage know a few key requirements from the building code. As a log home supplier, I often hear the question: “What is the insulation value of your log walls, it must be R20 according to the building code, or?” It is true, that Part 9 of most building codes contains detailed tables prescribing insulation requirements for frame walls, basements, different types of ceilings etc. But these tables cannot be applied to non-frame construction techniques like log homes.

Some building codes have recently been changed to better accommodate non-frame construction: The BC building code has a new Part 10, which offers an alternative way to comply with energy efficiency requirements. The builder or homeowner needs to participate in an EnerGuide Rating System® (ERS) process and achieve a certain rating, which proves the overall energy efficiency of the home. The Ontario building code offers the same alternative, and starting in 2012 the ERS process is mandatory for every new home in Ontario.

Homeowners normally don’t need to know much about the building code. The BC Building Code, for example, is more then 800 pages and is at least as difficult to read as legal documents for non-lawyers. Most building codes are also quite expensive: A paper copy of the BC Building Code costs $320, and online access costs $200 per year.

If you plan to build a new home or cottage, you should be aware of upcoming changes in the building code. The national model code is updated every 5 years, most recently in 2010. The provincial codes normally follow with their respective update 1 or 2 years later. The next version of the BC Building Code, for example, will be published in spring 2012 and become effective in fall 2012. New homes of any type (frame or non-frame construction) will need to be more airtight, better insulated and conform to new ventilation requirements, which should result in a 30 percent or more reduction in energy use. If somebody plans to build a new home or cottage, it can have a big impact on construction costs if the home is built before or after these changes are in effect.

This article was first published in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Cottage Magazine by Hermann Thoene and Niels Anthonsen.

About the Authors:
Hermann Thoene, Certified Energy Advisor and owner of Vanisle Ecolog Homes (ecolog-homes.ca). He also designs and supplies square log homes and cottages.

Niels Anthonsen, P.Eng., owner of Building Energy Engineering, is a Professional Engineer, Certified Energy Advisor and LEED A.P. and specializes in Thermal & Vapour management and Energy Modeling for Single Family and Multi Unit Residential Buildings. (niels@BEengineering.ca)

Building A Log Home – Part 2, Foundation / Basement


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in Building A Log Home | Posted on 01-08-2010

Log homes can be built on top of any common foundation. The most common types of foundation in North America are these:

Slab-on-grade Foundation

A concrete slab is poured into a mold directly into the ground. This slab serves directly as the floor for the main level of the home. This type of foundation is cheap to build, but should not be used in extremely cold climates, where the ground freezes for long periods of time. Slab-on-grade foundations can provide a good economical solution for relatively flat building lots in mild or moderate climates. If used in combination with radiant in floor heating the slab can be a beautiful and comfortable finished floor.

One problem with slab-on-grade and log homes is plumbing and electric: The subfloor of the main level of a house provides easy accessible space to run vents, plumbing pipes and electric cables. When using a slab-on-grade the plumbing and electric installation requires more planning, as everything needs to be laid out in advance, so that the pipes can be placed inside the concrete.

Crawl space

This is a non-insulated basement type where one cannot stand, mostly somewhere around 40 inches high. It keeps the house off the ground to protect it from moisture and insects, and offers convenient access to plumbing and electric installation. The bottom surface of the crawl space can either be soil or poured concrete. It can be used for some storage, but it’s not considered living space. A crawl space can be used to create a level building area on a sloped lot, and it keeps the house higher off the ground to provide better protection from weather and insects.

Full height basement
A basement provides a lot of additional living space, that can be used for storage, a garage, extra bedrooms, a recreation area, or to build a secondary suite. Basements can be partially under ground or above ground. On sloped properties basements can be fully above ground on one side, and mostly under ground on the other side. Basements provide a lot of benefits, but the building costs are significantly higher as the other options described above.

ICF Basement

Depending on your choice and size of basement or foundation, the construction time will vary from a few weeks to several months.

For our show home in Saanich I chose to build a full hight basement with ICF blocks. The Styrofoam blocks look like huge Lego for adults. The walls are built with these blocks, and window and door openings are framed into the walls. The blocks have plastic clips to hold rebar. At the end, concrete is poured into the space between the 2 styrofoam walls.

This method has many advantages:

  • Saves time and labor cost, as no traditional wall framing is required
  • Provides and excellent insulation. The ICF blocks I used resulted in a R28 insulated wall
  • Saves time and labor for finishing the inside walls: Drywall can be drilled directly into the styrofoam, no additional framing required
  • Reduced amount of garbage during basement construction

The material cost of an ICF basement is higher then building a “regular” concrete basement. But the time savings and better insulation will offset that.

Our building team took about 3 weeks with 2 people from building the footings until pouring the concrete for all ICF walls.

Have a Laugh: New videos from EcoLog-Homes.com


Posted by Hermann Thoene | Posted in EcoLog, Fun Stuff | Posted on 05-03-2010

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