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Caribou Creek Log Homes

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we have one more reason to be thankful because we have an awesome interview below.  Rick Friesen of Caribou Creek Log Homes is my guest and he has provided us with some very interesting comments and outstanding information about log homes, industry changes, the buying process and don’t miss his ‘check list’ and advice for new buyers – really an excellent article.

Rick, tell us about your company.

Caribou Creek Log Homes was started formally in 1989 by three Byler brothers. Already builders in the construction industry, they received a huge amount of interest from people who had seen the log projects they built for themselves.  (Tragically, two of the brothers were killed in a plane crash in 1999.)

Caribou has continued to grow to be one of the great handcrafted log home companies in the United States.  We typically do 25+ high-end or luxury projects a year.  At full tilt, our team averages about 45 people.  Even though our main Sales Office and Production Yard are here in Bonners Ferry, Idaho, our houses are shipped and finished all over the country, some even internationally. We also have our Design Department and another Sales Office in Hamilton, Montana, as well as sales members in Oregon and Washington. 

We’ve recently been awarded Preferred Builder status at the new Idaho Club where one of our homes was just recently finished.  (Learn more about that home in our email newsletter.)  In 2006 Caribou Creek Log Homes also received the “Log Home of the Year” award from Log Home Design magazine.  Our homes and pictures of our handcrafting have been featured in many log home and building industry magazines including, most recently, the cover of DCD Homes.  Obviously our team is very proud of the work we do, taking our family business beginnings to that next level.  We really aim for that highest level of professionalism and artisanship.

Ours is a competitive industry, why do people choose your company?

I think people come to us because they heard they can really have a great relationship with us.  They choose us because of the people we have working here.  There is all this talk about “this or that system” or “that kind of wood”, or some other technical thing.  And that’s okay.  But what it really comes down to for us is that we are passionate about log homes and building with logs and timbers.

Sure, Caribou Creek has its systems and construction methods and other technical stuff – and we think they’re all really good (and so do our engineers by the way)…  We have our log sources and species – and they are very high quality, beautiful logs… But where the rubber meets the road is that connection between us and our clients.  We just love to help educate people about all there is to know about log and timber homes — the awesome and good as well as the bad and the ugly. 

This includes all the way through the process too – not just upfront to “win the sale”.  For example:  Want to know how you can save a lot of money on your finishing costs?  Let me explain what a non-settling system can do for you… We even have people ask us to help site their home for their particular piece of property!  That sort of thing. And we love to do it because we love what we do.  That passion comes out.  The crafters out in the yard love what they do.  They take their art very seriously, they know they are putting their name on the line as they craft and construct that home.  They love it when our clients come to see the progress of their homes or they get to explain what they’ve been working on when we give tours.

What is your wood of choice?

We use primarily Lodgepole Pine and Engelmann Spruce.  We actually use a class of species called Western White Woods that also include Ponderosa Pine, White Pine and Hemlock.  Using more than just one species allows us to be very efficient in our use of natural resources with less waste.  However, we can also build with Douglas Fir, Larch, Western Red Cedar, and some other readily available species depending on the need.  We build almost exclusively from dead standing logs, especially because we use very dry wood with our Caribou Creek non-settling system.  It seems we are building more and more non-settling structures.

Can you customize the floor plans you display on your site?

Everything can be customized.  We really are a custom log home company.  We have never built the same house twice.  The plans we offer on our website or send out in the mail are really only a starting point – something to get those creative design-dreaming juices flowing.  And because we are a handcrafter (meaning we begin and end with plane old, hand peeled, raw logs), none of our logs go through any machining process.  We don’t have to deal with retooling production lines.  We just build your home.

We’ve built everything from hunting cabins to 10,000+ square foot commercial lodges.  Our team has been has been involved with huge projects for Walt Disney Co Parks and Universal Studios Theme Park, to the personal home of one of the stars of Lord of the Rings

Our design department can begin with whatever a client has as a starting point.  From napkin sketch or picture to converting a conventional stick frame plan to a log or timber building.  We charge a simple rate based on the square footage of the home.  (However, we do respect copyright law regarding plans derived from others’ work.  Call us if you have any questions about this.)

Another cool feature of working with our design department — our design software is smart too.  Not only does it provide us with 3D views, color renderings, and emailable electronic versions of plans it can automatically give pricing information from the plan drawing itself.  When we give a quote it comes with one of the most complete specifications sheets you can get in the industry.  You know for sure what is included, no more guessing.

What log profiles and corner styles does your company offer?

Since we are a handcrafter working with full logs, as said earlier, we don’t have any machining done to our logs.  So we don’t really talk about “profiles” per se. However, we can describe our “joinery.”  As far as corner styles for log construction go, we use a shrink to fit saddle notch used in chinked or full-scribed construction.  We also offer a true dovetail corner that we use in our hand hewn timber construction.

We can also do a very rustic looking dovetail style where only the sides are hewn flat instead of using a full square beam.  In this style the top and bottom of the log are left naturally round, still showing the taper in the log (you can still see the big end and small end).  The effect is beautiful.  I don’t think the website has been updated with photos of this style yet.  Folks can email me for some pictures if they are interested.  We also craft timberframes with traditional joinery, as well as post and beam styles.  Check the website for more information about this – www.caribou-creek.com

What’s the best advice you would give to a new log home buyer?

Everyone seems to love lists!  Here are my top 8 bits of advice:

  1. Fully understand the differences between a handcrafted log home and a milled log home.   Both are still log homes and one is not better than the other. They’re just different.
  2. Don’t get caught up in the “hype” (marketing or otherwise.)  Many of the great systems and solutions and terms in the milled log home market don’t apply to a handcrafted home.  Either we don’t have the same issues or the “solution” is very different for a handcrafted home.
  3. Compare apples to apples!  If you really want a quote, get an official one with full specifications!  Don’t go by “guestimates.”  Get the company to give more than a “We’re confident we can give you walls and a roof for under $xxx…”  You wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve have seen clients hang their hat on something that is mere marketing fluff – not a specific, detailed quote.
  4. Realize that the company with the least expensive log home shell may not mean you end up with a less expensive finished home!  Ask questions about and understand the level of finish (or “completeness”) you will be receiving when the home is shipped.  Many log home manufacturers differ drastically in what labor they complete in their yard before shipping or what they expect a homeowner to do once the home has been reassembled. We’ve seen our quotes turned down because we were $1000 more expensive than Brand X’s log shell.  But we knew the client was going to have to pay for a lot more work to his home once he got Brand X’s shell delivered, much more than that original $1000.  It just went to a contractor instead of the log home manufacturer.
  5. Start a relationship, with whatever log home company you choose, with a view toward the long term.  Having that open relationship and talking about the issues addressed here will save you money and hassle in the long run and you will feel better and more confident about the whole process.  You will know someone’s got your back.  Who knows, you might make a great friend in the process.  We often do. If you don’t make that connection right away, ask if someone else can help you.  You might even decide it’s not the company you want to end up working with.
  6. Work on the plan design, work on the plan design, work on the plan design… We cannot underscore enough how important this is!  Once construction is started on a log home – especially a handcrafted one, it is very difficult to change that window, or to move that dining room wall “a little”.  There are other important considerations too, such as maximizing the design for protection of the logs from rain and sun and other hash elements of nature.  Take your time on the front end.
  7. Set a realistic budget – understand that handcrafted homes are usually more expensive than a milled log home of similar size and design.  However, if you love that handcrafted look, dream of artisans lovingly sculpting you your dream home – maybe it’s just what you were looking for.  Again, see the comments above about levels of completeness, and getting detailed quotes.  Ask your representative what ways they suggest to control the costs over the course of the whole project.
  8. Have fun!  Remember, it’s your dream.  You get to control it, direct it.  Enjoy the process!  Learn everything you can.  The prize at the bottom is worth it!

How have the changes in our economy affected your company?

We have set up a pretty impressive incentive/savings program right now.  We are offering all of Caribou Creek’s clients a pass through to our own manufacturer’s pricing on log home finishing products.  This includes doors and windows, stain and chinking, lumber packages, roofing packages — all at our cost.  This can make for a substantial savings!

We’ve also setup several referral programs.  Real estate professional referral incentive programs, builder and architect referral programs, and even a way for milled log home professionals to offer their customers handcrafted options or give us referrals.  It’s kind of a “help us help you” type thing. 

Call us for more details on our incentives or how a person can help their clients and earn some extra dollars at the same time with referrals, without raising prices to our customers.  I’m pretty glad the elections are finally over because everyone’s attention was so wrapped up in them.  Now we can all get back to our regularly scheduled plans…

I also think that people should be careful of the false idea that there is ever going to be an actual PERFECT time to buy or build.  There may be better times than others, but if you wait for the perfect time, you’ll wait forever. 

There will always be uncertainties in the world but fortunately life goes on.  That is why I personally think now is one of the BEST times to build.  Adopt that log home lifestyle!  Interest rates are low.  Banks are easing their barriers to financing. So many people are looking for a way to invest in something other than the stock market right now.  I think real property is the answer. And too, because of the current economic climate, everyone is competing for your dollar.  You will probably find better pricing on everything from contractors to materials and supplies.

Also, as we head into winter, everyone wants the reassembly and finishing construction on their homes to begin as soon as the snow melts.  In order for us to meet that kind of schedule, we have to start the planning and construction in our yard very, very soon. 

I think a lot of people forget about that time lag.  Spring seems to come a lot faster for us than for a client!  A client often thinks they always have more time to make decisions or put off signing paperwork.  We have seen homes delayed by a year because they couldn’t hit the building window for their area.  Do it now…

What has been the biggest change(s) you’ve seen in the log home business over the years? 

I would say a big one is our shift to non-settling systems.  They end up saving a client so much time and money on the finishing of their home.   It makes a contractor’s life so much easier.  They have been around in milled packages, now they can be used in handcrafted homes as well.

And actually, that leads to my next shift — a lot more hybrid homes.  These are homes where for architectural reasons or because of remodeling or additions a client adds log or timber built sections to conventional framing sections.  With the non-settling system we have, it makes this easy because the walls are held in place by hardware.  No settling means complicated, slipping connections and roof framing are a thing of the past.

We have also seen a resurgence of traditional dovetail, and interest in timberframe construction too.  A lot of homes are incorporating the timber look into them with rafters and trusses and beams etc, even though they are conventional buildings.  We provide quite a few of these “architectural timber elements” packages for high end homes and commercial buildings and lodges – especially golf lodges and clubhouses.

Do you have an easy way for people to get more information about your company? 

The easiest way is our recently started Caribou Creek News and Updates.  It’s a great way to get updates about Caribou Creek via email.  You can call us to sign you up or just go to www.caribou-creek.com/news  We promise it’s not spam!  We only send emails to those that want to be on the list to feed their log home addictions!  There is an easy unsubscribe link if you change your mind later, and we don’t rent or sell email addresses to anyone. 

Any final words or closing thoughts?

Thanks for this opportunity to share my thoughts and Caribou Creek Log Homes’ story with you and your readers!  We’d encourage anyone with more questions about us, the log home lifestyle or log homes in general to give us a call – 800-619-1156.

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Contact the company: 

Caribou Creek Log Homes
195 Sunrise Rd
Bonners Ferry, ID, 83805
800-619-1156
www.caribou-creek.com
Blog:  See Rick’s new profile and blog 
Email: rfriesen (at) cariboucreekloghomes.com

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