Nothing like a log home invokes images of the American frontier – rustic, warm and filled with character. And nothing like Barna Log Homes fills the need for an authentic log home with all the charm and conveniences of 21st century living. Lorie Greenspan reports.
There are many ways the modern log home distinguishes itself from its ancestors of the frontier; a few are: a.) The 1800s log cabin was small – 10 feet wide by 12 to 20 feet long – and consisted of one room, and b.) viewing the landscape was a little like looking through a keyhole, as the log cabin only had one window.
Here are the ways in which a Barna log home may be considered similar to the cabins of the American pioneers: They are custom built, sturdy and rainproof.
And here is where the annals of architecture and cultural identity really meld, in the log cabin’s role as an American symbol of freedom, frontier and joining with nature. Today’s log-home buyers may not be living without electricity and running water but their romance with nature is perhaps no less intense than those who lived more than a century ago. And they can enjoy their surroundings now with stunning floor to ceiling windows that provide a breathtaking view of their very own frontier, in a structure that is not only sturdy and rainproof but tough enough to survive even the blast of Katrina-force winds.
A 30-year-old company now headed by Darlene Branim, Barna was founded by Jim Barna, an immigrant from Hungary who grew up in Ohio and moved to Northeast Tennessee to work on a dairy farm. As it happened, a co-worker at the farm owned a sawmill and by and by Barna began cutting roof lumber, eventually building the necessary machinery. And, because of the prevalence of the logging and timber industry in Tennessee, it seemed a natural course of events that he should parlay his skill into the construction of log homes.
His company is today one of the largest and most innovative log home manufacturers in the United States and Barna is credited with helping to shape the landscape of the current log home market. He began changing the industry by changing the logs and started the trend of milling logs to specific, uniform tolerances and joining them together with interlocking saddlenotch corners and tongue-and-groove walls. These techniques kept the structures air- and water-tight and maintained the straight lines of the logs. Since then, Barna Log Homes has developed multiple log systems that provide innovation, integrity and ease of construction.
They are fast becoming desirable options to traditional “stick-built homes” as Barna Vice President of Sales and Marketing Doug Allen describes traditional subdivision houses. “Log homes today are more a symbol of affluence because of the creative design, mixed woods and textures,” he says. “In a log home you have a sense of character. Jim wanted to build something of substance, something that was durable and he felt confident that this could be a dream home.”
With 85 percent of these homes now custom built, log homes represent a chance to delve into design schemes, unique light fixtures, finishes and other features that few traditional homes offer. Offering nine appealing styles that invoke classic visions of American homesteads, Barna Homes sees most of its activity in resort areas where a log home fits right in with the countryside.
And they also attract a unique buyer, Allen says. “The log home customer spends hours and years reviewing, and determining the design of their log home. They’ll come to a log home trade show and fly across the country or across the world. It’s an extraordinary group of customers.” Yet, despite its presence within the American housing mix, there still exists misunderstanding on buying and building log homes, particularly involving cost. Allen explains: “People think they are more expensive when in reality they are comparable to other custom built houses. They also think they’ll face more of a challenge in getting a builder.”
As it seeks to steadily break down these misconceptions Barna makes a convincing argument on the benefits of its log homes. And there are many.
Built to last
According to company literature, there are two different ways to build a log home. One is a rigid system, in which each layer of log is attached to another layer with either a spike or a lag-bolt. The other is the settling system, where the logs are pre-drilled for lag-bolts or through-bolts and great care is taken in planning for the settling of the log walls.
Barna chooses the settling system, which ensures that the structure settles evenly. Barna Log Homes offers two unique building systems: standard and classic pre-cut. In the standard, rafters and upper floor beams are not pre-cut. These materials must be cut to specific lengths on the job site. The classic pre-cut building system combines precision engineering with ease of construction. All rafters and upper floor beams are pre-cut.
One innovation unique to a Barna log home is its interlocking corner joinery system. The company uses a double tongue-and-groove building system with a saddle-notch corner to lock the logs into place. This gives Barna log homes unmatched structural integrity and strength. The company even designed and built the precision equipment required to execute this configuration, which it claims is “the most copied joinery system in the log home industry.”
Speaking to the strength of a log home, Allen explains: “When you build a fire you start with kindling – these are two-by-fours. A stick frame house is made with two-by-fours. But you couldn’t start a fire with a log, which speaks to the log’s ability to withstand wind and rain and the elements. The overall integrity and engineering of the product is solid; it is tightly put together.” Interestingly, Barna log homes have also been known to withstand the brunt of forest fires, Allen says.
Barna Log Homes provides a wide variety of product options, which currently consist of nine different log systems, in as many as four different log species; three different types of exterior windows and doors; uncut or pre-cut rafter and beam systems, each available in two different types of material; and two different types of dry-in packages with many options.
The Barna custom home process begins by assessing budget, then helping customers select a floor plan suited to their lifestyle. Barna Log Homes offers a wide range of plans, from simple cottages to elaborate dwellings. The company selects, shapes and fits only premium logs to ensure that it maintains the size and conformity of the log. Wood species offered include southern yellow pine, remarkable for its high-tensile strength and considered one of the most structurally sound wood choices; white pine, known for its distinctive light color and medium-coarse texture, lighter in weight and ideal for lateral applications; hemlock, a unique choice with a fairly uneven grain structure that adds a particular aesthetic to the style of the home and western red cedar, which is naturally resistant to disease and insects, relatively soft and light in weight.
Because the raw materials used in manufacturing a Barna log home are a renewable resource, the company has become proactive in ensuring that the trees removed as part of its manufacturing process are replaced with new seedlings. Thus the inception of The Barna Foundation, formed by the Barna family in 1999, a learning center for landowners, loggers and youth.
The non-profit organization is dedicated to funding reforestation and education programs focused on reclaiming and preserving forests.
Working in conjunction with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture and Forestry, the Barna Foundation was formed for the purpose of funding the following programs, which encourage reforestation and environmental responsibility: The Shortleaf Pine Reforestation Incentive Program; a learning center in association with the Tennessee Master Logger Program; a learning center to educate “landowners” on the importance of taking responsibility for the forestlands they control, and an interactive learning center that introduces forestry in all area school districts.
In addition, Barna Log Homes has continually made environmental responsibility a priority. Every piece of raw timber that is brought into the manufacturing facility is utilized in its entirety, from the bark that is sent off to the pulp mill to the sawdust that is used to fuel the boilers. So from design to finished product, Barna Log Homes ensures the environment and the homeowner will be well cared for. That’s the Barna experience from start to finish and it’s why the company says passionately that “The Experience Matters.”