Scandinavian Log Cabins – What Are They?

Essentially a small house built from logs or wood – Scandinavian log cabins have a long history in Europe, dating back to Roman times. In the USA, they are associated with the first settlers. Log cabins are typically less-finished, less-architecturally complex structures.

Log cabin construction can trace its roots back to Bronze Age Europe. The first recorded Scandinavian log cabins are believed to have been built around 3,500 BC. Further to the East, Roman architects recorded that in Pontus, Northeastern Turkey, locals constructed their dwellings constructed by laying logs horizontally on top of each other and filling in the gaps.

The Europeans progressed from simple, gable-roofed cabins to sophisticated structures with square logs and interlocking joints, in some cases with timbers extending beyond the corners. Structures of this style are still found in rural Finland.

How were Scandinavian log cabins built?

Essentially, tree trunks were stacked on top of one another, with the logs overlapping at the corners. Interlocking corners were made by putting notches into the logs at the end. This meant stronger, more robust structures.  Covering them with moss or other dense material pressed into the joints ensured they were weather-tight and thus enhanced.

Northern Europe, covered in coniferous forest, was one of the coldest parts of the world. It was essential to the early inhabitants (as much as it is now, to be fair!) to keep warm and insulated from the cold winds. Solid wood naturally has insulating properties. Increasingly complex weather-tight joints enhanced the insulation of these round-log cabins; they were considered superior to timber-frame constructions which would be covered with animal skins or hides.

Scandinavia, and Northern Europe, was perfect for log construction. Still is. Arrow-straight, tall trees like pine and spruce were readily available. Even now, with the right tools, and the right mind-set, you can build a log cabin in just days!

Unlike brick-and-mortar built properties, you can build a Scandinavian log cabin in any weather, any season. There is no need to factor in delays for the mortar or cement to harden, or to be unable to work in wet weather.  Many older towns in Sweden, Finland and Norway are almost entirely log cabins.

There are now a number of ways of constructing a Scandinavian log cabin. Self-build is increasingly popular, with modular prefabricated kits, specifically manufactured in a factory and delivered like Ikea flat-pack furniture. Perhaps not as romantic as choosing, chopping and shaping the logs from your very own forest, but certainly more practical!

How did Scandinavian log cabins make it to the United States?

Building historians believe that the Swedish Colony of ‘Nya Sverige’ (New Sweden) first built log cabins in North America around 1650. ‘New Sweden’ eventually became the English colony of New York! The quick and easy construction techniques imported by the Finns and the Swedes not only remained but continued to spread across the US.

Unfortunately very few cabins from the 18th century survived: log cabins tended to be temporary solutions whilst colonies were constructed – but the oldest log cabin in the US dates back to 1640 and rests in – yes, you’ve guessed it, Swedesboro in New Jersey.

Frontier life in the United States meant that as well as using tried and trusted construction techniques to make the log cabins waterproof and insulated, site selection was also crucial.

The cabins needed both sunlight and drainage, but also needed to be well-placed for managing the farm or the ranch – and naturally the earlier pioneers got the pick of the old-growth trees with fewer limbs and which were much straighter!

Styles of cabins varied across the United States. Factors taken into account (and to this day still need considering for any log cabin build):

·       The size of the log cabin – how many inhabitants?

·       The number of stories

·       Type of roof

·       Orientation of the doors and windows

·       Source, age, size and type of logs

·       Source of stone and available labour

What do Log Cabins look like now?

A log home is usually built from milled logs with the logs visible from the exterior of the property, possibly sometimes inside as well. These cabins are mass-manufactured and increasingly come in ‘self-build kits’. They embody a traditional, sustainable approach to home building which is very popular in the US, parts of the UK and Europe.

Another reason why Scandinavian Log Cabin (elf Build) are increasingly popular is the sheer cost of trying to import a Scandinvian Log Cabin. It can be difficult to find log homes with the same British building standards.

Many log cabin owners fall in love with the style in Europe and in the USA, and partly as a result, log cabin homes tend to be more expensive than traditional building methods. The results, however, can be unique and stunning.

Are Scandinavian Log Cabins sustainable?

Interestingly, the technology in log cabin construction means that these homes are built with a high degree of sustainability and are frequently thought of as at the cutting edge of sustainable, green-build production.

If a cabin-build uses whole logs, even better. The whole-log construction provides the interior, exterior, physical structure and insulation all at once – very efficient. A log cabin built well should have a high level of energy efficiency and potentially superior soundproofing.

Timber also provides a good ‘thermal mass’ meaning the log cabins tend to be naturally warm.

As log cabins fit well into the environment, particularly in a forested area or plot of land close to woodland. Planning permission for a log cabin become easier the more ‘natural’ the surrounding area is.

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