Log homes are the whole foods of housing, an organic alternative to the overprocessed, off-gassing ingredients of modern construction.
But even people who appreciate the romance of log houses may feel that the iconic pioneer aura of these houses looks ironic in modern suburbia. Log homes conjure images of mountains and open forests, not electric lawnmowers and dog parks.
But log homes have health benefits most people don’t know about. That has inspired architect Pavel Denisov to design innovative homes with special logs from the Arctic Circle.
“From the very beginning, I decided to create a completely different product that is distinctly modern but with rustic roots,” he says.
Denisov describes it as a Canadian West Coast style with contemporary design. The lines are clean and modern, but the exposed wood exterior gives his homes a natural, earthy look. The key to his builds are logs imported from Finland that are used for the load-bearing exterior walls.
Created by Finland-based Finnlamelli, these logs are engineered to be square-shaped and fit together in a tongue-and-groove system ideal for home building.
These reworked logs put the heartwood, that central hardened core that’s at the tree’s centre, facing outside, where it can withstand the elements better than a tree’s younger, softer outer layer.
These logs last longer and are easier to work with, but they still preserve that special attribute that makes log homes healthier than the common stick-frame houses.
Log homes breathe.
That simple fact solves one of the most confounding problems of modern construction.
Houses today are carefully engineered and tightly regulated to ensure that moisture-creating humans — with their foggy breath, showers, and dishwashers — don’t create tenacious fungal farms of toxic mould.
It’s harder than it sounds. When warm, moist air inside lands on cool walls, it condenses into water, which feeds bacteria and mould in hidden cracks, under carpets, and behind drywall.
To solve this problem, modern houses are built on a principle of total environmental control.
Layers of protection isolate the inside from the outside environment. Exterior barriers block any moisture from coming in, with multiple vapour barriers installed to keep inside moisture from getting out. But layers of vinyl, wood, fiberglass, plastic, and drywall cannot match the perfectly regulated moisture control and breathability of trees.
Trees have adapted to manage moisture, dramatic temperature change, and structural integrity beautifully. Log homes don’t have to control the interior and exterior climates, they can negotiate the two, managing a breathable connection between inside and out in a way that is better for the people inside.
Denisov’s houses are also warmer in the winter, and cooler in the summer, with 8 inches of solid spruce wood insulating the house.
The spruce he gets from the Finnish Arctic Circle is especially water repellent. It’s the best wood to provide both the health-related and aesthetic benefits of the log home: it manages moisture well and has fewer knots than many other kinds of trees.
While Denisov’s wood houses have all the benefits enjoyed in centuries past by log-home dwellers, modern lamination prevents the cracking and settling that were some of the downfalls of such homes before and increases durability.
“Health is the key issue for this kind of house — no mould, no place for bacteria to hide. You breath healthier, you sleep better, you live longer in this home. I think that’s meaningful,” Denisov says.
There have been relatively few studies on the health impacts of solid wood construction on people, but those that have been done point in a similar direction: wood is good.
In one study by the Human Research Institute, the students of two classrooms in Austria were monitored daily for health indicators, including a measure of activity in the autonomic nervous system related to heart rate and emotional regulation.
One classroom was given a solid wood overhaul, while the other was left as is.
“The scientists proved that pupils who studied in classrooms constructed with solid (massive) wood were healthier than those who studied in standard classrooms. The students in the wood classes were more relaxed and calmer, and they recovered much better during the night as well,” read the study.
The study concluded that wood was better for the regeneration and circulatory regulation of the students.
Denisov uses Finnlamelli logs for the exterior walls, where they can hold up the house up and face the elements, but he uses conventional stick-frame construction for the interior walls, lowering costs and simplifying the build.
His “Nordic Touch” house was a finalist at the 2018 Georgie Award for three categories — the Best Single Family Home up to $900,000, Best Interior Design, and Innovative Feature.
It’s a new type of home, and for those wanting to see more, they can take a closer look at Denisov’s designs at the 2018 Luxury Home & Design Show in Vancouver, May 3–6.
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