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What is Cordwood Construction?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cordwood construction is a home-building technique that uses a combination of wood and masonry mortar. It is often known as stackwall or stockwood construction, and has been practiced for centuries, particularly in colder climates. Rather than using full timbers or steel framing, cordwood homes are made from shorter sections of wood, similar to firewood. This technique is associated with a number of environmental benefits that have helped increase its popularity over time, even as newer construction materials have been introduced.

The walls used in cordwood construction generally range from 12 to 36 inches (30.5 to 91.4 cm) in thickness. Layers of debarked wooden logs are stacked to form the walls, with the ends of each log facing out towards the exterior surface of the wall. They are held together with traditional mortar mix made from Portland cement, lime, sand and water. Some larger cordwood homes may feature a post-and-beam frame, while others use only cordwood and mortar. The logs are often arranged so that they project from the face of the mortar by a few inches, providing a rustic, traditional log cabin look.

There are two basic techniques used to insulate cordwood homes. The most common is a through-wall method, where insulation is added directly to the mortar in the form of sawdust or shredded newspaper. Some builders may also use mortar/insulation/mortar (MIM) cordwood construction. Using the MIM technique, the logs are stacked normally, but mortar is place only at either end of the log. As the wall is built, loose-fill insulation is placed between the logs and layers of mortar.

Cordwood construction offers many different benefits to homeowners. It is easy and quick to install, and is much more cost-effective than traditional wood or steel framing. Walls made from cordwood are flexible and can be formed into any desired shape or design. The thickness of these walls provides a high level of thermal resistance, especially when proper insulation is added. This can help keep the home comfortable while keeping heating and cooling bills in check.

One of the primary benefits to cordwood construction is its level of sustainability. The wood used to build these homes can come from virtually any source. It may consist of scrap lumber, fire-damaged wood, or materials leftover from other projects. The superior insulation offered by this construction technique helps to reduce energy used for heating and cooling, which can lead to reduced emissions and lower levels of greenhouse gases.

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Discussion Comments
By honeybees — On Mar 30, 2012
We have a neighbor who built a sauna on his deck using cordwood construction. I have seen cordwood home construction before, but thought building something like a sauna with it was a clever idea.

This has a very charming look to it and really didn't take him very long to put together. My neighbor has a lot of building and carpentry experience, so he knew what he was doing.

He drew up his own plans and had this done over a couple of weekends. People who don't know what this building is are curious about it.

His wife has arthritis and she has found that the sauna really helps her joints feel better. All she has to do is walk out of her bedroom to the cordwood sauna on the deck and get some relief.

By LisaLou — On Mar 29, 2012

@julies - You are right about the maintenance and upkeep of a log home. I live in a full log cabin home and we have to have the outside of our logs stained every few years. There is also a lot of caulking that has to be done.

I don't have to do anything with the logs on the inside, but the outside work is never ending.

There is something about log cabins and cordwood houses that are warm and inviting. The wood and the insulation added to the mortar seems to be much more efficient than other homes I have lived in.

Even though our home is spacious, we don't spend nearly as much on heating bills as I thought we would. I can understand why people who like a rustic look use cordwood construction for their homes.

By julies — On Mar 28, 2012

I think homes that are built using cordwood construction are not only eco friendly houses, but also look both rustic and beautiful.

We have a small cabin on a few acres of timber that we like to spend time at on the weekends. When we had this built, we chose to use cordwood construction for many reasons.

The one I like the best is that I don't ever have to worry about keeping a finish on the wood or any kind of maintenance. Our cabin is well insulated and we stay warm and cozy there even on the coldest winter days.

It is similar to a log cabin look without all the expense and maintenance that goes along with it. I have friends that live in a log home, and they have to make sure they keep their logs stained every few years.

This can be quite a project if you have a big log home. The rustic look of our cordwood cabin fits in perfectly with our surroundings without expensive and time-consuming maintenance.

By SarahSon — On Mar 27, 2012

When my husband was growing up, his parents had an old log cabin at a lake. This cabin was over 100 years old and was very run down. The most cost effective thing to do was tear it down and build a new one.

They looked at several cordwood construction pictures and decided this is the look they wanted for their new cabin.

There are a lot of advantages to using cordwood. One of the biggest ones is the house is made from material that might otherwise be considered 'waste' material.

This project needed to be something that didn't cost a whole lot of money and was fairly easy to put together. Using cordwood construction to build the new cabin was a good choice.

It was easy to work with short pieces of wood, and the entire cabin was built faster than what they imagined it would be.

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