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FROM CABINS TO CUSTOM BUILDING Log homes are no longer ever so humble

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Debbie Mullinix likes her new log home so much that she even mentions it in her answering machine's message.

"I'm probably sitting in my rocking chair on the porch of my new log home loving life," the recording explains to callers when Ms. Mullinix doesn't answer the phone.

Owning a log home had long been a dream of the 37-year-old nurse at Montgomery General Hospital. She started researching the rustic residences 14 years ago, visiting log home milling plants, attending log home seminars and knocking on the doors of strangers to ask questions about their log homes.

In December, construction finally began on her two-story log farmhouse in Mount Airy. She moved in May 10 and now enjoys watching the ducks in her pond and sunsets over the distant mountains.

"Log homes have so much charm and character," Ms. Mullinix said. "I'm an outdoorsy person, and my house is an expression of me that I can't find in a traditional house."

About 20,000 log homes are built in the United States every year, said Tom Kupferer, a manager for Log Home Living Seminars of St. Louis. That's 5 percent of the custom home market, he added.

"There's a segment of the population that has some mystical relationship with log homes," said Mr. Kupferer, who conducts nationwide educational seminars for prospective buyers. "People who love log homes are really fanatical about them."

Maryland is considered one of the more popular sites for log homes, although it ranks behind leaders like Pennsylvania, the California foothills and the Great Lakes region, Mr. Kupferer said.

Most log homes are built on 3-acre lots within an hour's drive of their owners' workplaces.

"Traditionally when people think of log homes they think of a cabin -- a getaway retreat," Mr. Kupferer said. "But a major transformation in the industry today is that people are buying them for permanent homes and building right outside of the suburbs. It has become more of an upscale market."

Log homes are comparable in price to any custom-built home and include the same options in amenities, Mr. Kupferer said.

"And the whole thing doesn't have to be logs," he said. "It can include drywall and wallpaper. There's nothing you can't have in a log home.."

Today's log homes are "bigger, fancier and much more sophisticated" than those built in the 1970s when the industry was young, said Jim Cooper, a Frederick writer-photographer who sells and builds houses for Gastineau Log Homes.

"The modern log home is a 20th-century-engineered home with a 19th-century feel," Mr. Cooper said. "Over 80 percent of the home sales are for primary residences. Homebuyers are primarily young professionals or people who are at or near retirement."

Most log home manufacturers offer kits from stock or custom plans, selling to consumers through a network of dealers. The kits may include only the logs or they may be more complete, with windows, doors, interior partitions and other materials. Homes can be built by log home company crews, local builders or the buyers themselves.

Earlier this year, Harford County builder Tim Bova sold the general

construction company he has owned since 1983 and signed on to sell and build cedar log homes for Rapid River Rustic Inc., of Michigan.

Now he's working under the company name of T. B. Bova Inc. He broke ground in February on a 1,950-square-foot, 1 1/2 -story log ,, home with cathedral ceilings, a 42-foot covered porch and a foundation covered with stone taken from his 8-acre lot on Amos Road. His family will live here, and the home will also serve as the model for his business.

"Log homes are unique," said Mr. Bova, 32. "I've been all over and I basically have done all types of construction. I was looking for something that would require more craftsmanship."

Dan and Jan DePauw built their 3,150-square-foot log home on the Magothy River in 1989. When the five 18-wheel trucks loaded with logs and other building materials from

Montana pulled up at their 1 1/2 -acre lot, at least one of them was on hand to inventory the material and unload.

"I learned how to drive a forklift," said Mr. DePauw. He and his wife, who is 36 and a flight attendant for American Airlines, have flexible work schedules that enabled them to be at the site as needed.

"We both rolled up our shirtsleeves and were here from 6:30 or 7 a.m. until 8 or 8:30 p.m.," Mr. DePauw said. It took them about eight months to complete the home, from groundbreaking in April until they moved in on Thanksgiving Day.

Mr. DePauw, a 40-year-old pilot for Federal Express, researched 30 manufacturers before selecting Garland Homes of Victor, Mont. He drew his own plans, and all the logs were cut at the manufacturing plant according to his specifications.

With the help of labeled drawings, an electric crane truck and several experienced workers recommended by the manufacturer, the DePauws stacked the logs, fitting them together and driving in spikes to hold them in place.

Contractors did the plumbing, electrical, heating, air conditioning and masonry work, Mr. DePauw said.

Their final cost was $320,000, including $95,000 for the kit and $80,000 for the lot. When it was appraised three years ago, the DePauws' Anne Arundel County home was valued at $600,000.

"We like the warmth of it, the aesthetics," said Mr. DePauw, who now is an independent sales representative for Garland Homes. "We like a nice contemporary home. This house is very livable. You can really kick back and relax."

Randolph and Faith Yohn are also happy with the spacious log home they had Kuhns Bros. Co. of Lewisburg, Pa., build for them in Cecil County in 1988. With its dramatic spiral staircase, stone fireplace and vaulted ceiling that rises to a 20-foot peak, the house inspires "all the right remarks" from guests, Mr. Yohn said.

"People think it would make a great ski lodge," he said. "It just has that rustic look."

For information

* The building Systems Council of the National Association of Home Builders offers a list of member manufacturers and a free booklet, "An American Dream: The Log Home." Call (800) 368-5242, extension 162.

* Home Buyer Pbulications Inc. produces Log Home Living magazine and the "Log Home Living Annual Buyers' Guide" and sells how-to books. For a subscription, a free catalog of books or other information, call (800) 826-3893.

* Log Home Living Seminars, a division of Home Buyer Publications Inc., offers weekend educational programs for prospective buyers of log homes. Cost is $50 per person and $70 per couple. Seminars are scheduled on Dec. 6 in Washington and on March 14 in Baltimore. Call (800) 782-1253 for information.

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