Log cabins were widely used in Europe, and the concept quickly spread when immigrants arrived on American soil. Settlers had an abundance of lumber and mud, along with basic tools: the ax, auger and adz. This quick and simple building technique spread westward and is now an enduring symbol of American history. Even Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin.
Unfortunately, log cabins are also symbolic of widespread logging and loss of pristine virgin forests. Many log cabins are not energy efficient, and few comply with most building code energy standards. Based in northern Maine, Arborwall is demonstrating that log cabins are more than rustic backwoods dwellings.
Arborwall’s innovative log homes are constructed with Northern white cedar, which has the highest insulative value of any tree species. The interconnected, stacked timbers are lined with rigid panel insulation, avoiding thermal bridges that draw heat out of the home with a continuous sheet of insulation. Thermal bridges typically occur when materials with low R-values (insulative property) relative to surrounding materials span from the interior to the exterior of a building, thus creating a path for heat to exit a home.
The Northern white cedar is sustainably-harvested in Maine by parent company Katahdin Forest Products and the company states that, “Arborwall is the only home manufacturing company that can provide Forest Stewardship Council certified cedar.” Because Maine has an abundance of Northern white cedar, it is ideally suited for responsibly harvesting the timber. In addition, Northern white cedar has qualities that naturally repel insects and protect against rot and mold. This eliminates the need to treat the wood, thus reducing volatile organic compounds. Beyond natural, energy-efficient homes, the company itself has implemented numerous sustainability initiatives.
“My grandfather started the company in 1973 and he had a no-waste philosophy,” says Gabriel Gordon, managing director of Arborwall Solid Cedar Homes. “He knew if he was buying a raw material and building homes with it, he would have a lot of waste and he needed something else to do with that waste.”
This no-waste philosophy continues to this day, making company operations more sustainable, says Gordon. “The largest part of the tree will make a log or a solid cedar timber for the homes. Tops of all the trees go into fencing. We are the largest cedar fence manufacturer in the Eastern United States. If it can’t be a log used in home or in a fence product, it goes to Cedar Ideas for garden products or CedarWorks to make playsets.”
This no-waste philosophy inspired the company to install a biomass boiler in 2007. Instead of trucking away thousands of tons of waste sawdust and shavings — and spending $400,000 annual in heating costs — the biomass boiler now provides 90 percent of the company’s fuel oil consumption and repurposes 5,500 tons of sawdust annually. The mill also produces ethanol from potato scraps from local farms, thus providing renewable fuel for mill vehicles.
“We hope to add some automation in the process in the next three to six months that will allow us to produce 100 gallons [of ethanol] a day,” says Gordon. “We will then be able to replace a majority of our gasoline usage for our mill vehicles. We’re trying to be as energy independent as possible.”
Image credit: Arborwall
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.