HACKENSACK, N.J. — Tony DiOrio wanted a rustic home, but his heart sank when his real-estate agent drove him up to a West Milford, N.J., log house in 1999.
It was not really what I was thinking of, DiOrio recalled. The whole thing was slathered with this obnoxious brown paint.
But something clicked when he stepped inside.
I knew I was home, he said. I could see where all my furniture went.
In the years since he bought the home, DiOrio has extensively renovated the property, figuring out how to do a lot of the work himself because he couldn't always afford to hire contractors. Along the way, he started a website, bearfortlodge.com, to share his hard-won lessons with the community of log-home owners.
There are an estimated 1.5 million log homes in the nation, including many historic buildings dating to the 19th century, according to Roland Sweet, editor in chief of Log Home Living magazine and author of Log Home Secrets of Success.
Owners tend to be individualists, people who want something a little different, Sweet said. The houses are certainly not for everyone, but their owners love the rustic atmosphere, with the overtones of self-reliance and natural living.
In his book, Sweet call logs the only building material that people romanticize, rhapsodize and fantasize about.
Along with their rustic charm, log homes have some green credibility because they're built from a sustainable, renewable source and because the cellular structure of the wood has insulating properties.
Many log homes started out as two-bedroom, one-bath cabins, though some homeowners have expanded them or turned a sleeping loft into another bedroom.
DiOrio's is larger — about 2,400 square feet, with four bedrooms, on a hilly, wooded 2-acre lot.
The house apparently started life as a hunting lodge for well-off men from New York City. During Prohibition, it may have been a speakeasy; it later was a bar (there is still a bar in the great room).
I wouldn't say it was a seedy place, but it began to have a reputation, DiOrio said. Later, it was turned into a private home.
Log homes require no more maintenance than other wood homes, Sweet said. But if you think they're maintenance-free — because, after all, no one maintains trees — think again.
Logs need protection because they aren't trees any more than leather is a cow, Sweet writes in his book.
The two biggest enemies of log homes are moisture and bugs, especially termites, carpenter ants and carpenter bees. To protect the wood from rain and sun, log homes are often designed with overhanging roofs or porches. And there are coatings that protect the logs from bugs and moisture.
At the log house, his first job was to blast the paint off the exterior with ground-up corncobs. Unlike sand, the corncob powder is soft enough that it wouldn't damage the American Chestnut wood, which was harvested from a species that was wiped out in a blight decades ago. He also created his own mortar recipe to replace the chinking between the logs.
He repaired parts of logs that had rotted out. And he built his own copper bathtub and rigged the plumbing to go with it.
I never would have been able to do this had I had to pay someone, said DiOrio, who works in the pharmaceutical industry from a home office. There are some things you're going to have to learn.