A two-storey log house sits majestically among the trees as if in its own natural habitat. Adjacent to it is another residential home made from logs — houses that stand apart from the many stone-walled homes.
These are the offices of Othaya Group Company in the leafy suburb of Lower Kabete, Nairobi.
Log homes are popular in countries where the weather is always in the minus degrees and have dense forest cover and some are built as holiday cabins.
This model of building, however, is fast catching up in Africa for homeowners who see the beauty in rustic.
For Kirit Kanabar, the CEO of Othaya Group who introduced the concept of log homes in Kenya, he first came up with the idea when visiting Canada and he was caught up in a snow storm.
“He had to look for accommodation in a nearby lodge made of the logs which he then took interest in and after research he found a company in Finland called Honka that has built over 85,000 log homes,” says Chirag Kanabar, Othaya Group general manager.
Back home, his first project was his office building. He then built his magnificent five-bedroom home adjacent to the log offices which also serves as a show house.
His passion for log homes is rubbing off on some property owners. Limuru Resort and Spa is one of their biggest developments.
The company has also built log homes in Vipingo, Kilifi and apartments at Nairobi’s Riverside estate which are made of concrete and log. The advantage of the log houses is that they are eco-friendly.
Also, building a log house takes almost less than half the time spent when constructing a stone commercial building with six classrooms. The company took five months to build such a block at Brookhouse School in Nairobi, Mr Kanabar says.
A standard house can take a maximum of one month to build unlike using brick-and-mortar which takes more time.
Logs are also energy-efficient as they have a natural tendency to absorb moisture and emit it out when required.
So when it’s cold outside, it’s warm inside and when it’s hot outside the logs prevent the heat from being transferred through so it’s cool inside. Therefore, no air conditioning is required.
Othaya Group sources the pre-fabricated logs from Finland which has 78 per cent tree coverage and where most houses are made of wood.
Log houses are built on a level surface which means those on a sloppy land require a concrete platform to make it level thereby making it a basement floor.
“We have experimented with various log designs such as square and round logs and have found that the square logs are more popular as they do not collect as much dust as round ones,” says Mr Kanabar, adding that the maintenance costs are just like for standard houses.
To re-apply vanish on the wood or paint it a different colour, one only needs to sand it down and apply a coat of linseed oil and UV protect, then vanish or colour it.
He gives the example of Finland where most houses are built of logs therefore people paint them in various colours to differentiate them. Most Kenyans, however, prefer the natural look which is unique and blends with the environment.
Othaya Group works closely with architectural firm Block45, in designing the structures to ensure viability of the houses they build. Mr Kanabar says designing the log homes takes longer.
“The architects liaise with the clients in order to get their specifications, then they design the house which is sent to Honka where changes are imposed in order to make it a log house,” he says.
The design is then sent back for approval by the client, structural engineer and architect before the manufacturing process starts in Finland.
The long process ensures all the specifications are right since the houses are made of pre-fabricated logs which makes it hard to make structural changes once the pieces are cut and shipped.
“Once the suppliers get the designs, the pieces are custom-made to fit in their place according to the design of the house and sent with a QR code to place each log in its unique place,’’ says Mr Kanabar.
A team from Finland then comes to assemble the house as it is not as simple as staking the logs together.
The QR code helps them know where each logs should be placed as a lot of the electrical fixtures and plumbing are all drilled in the log during manufacturing to avoid visible wires and pipes.
The interior design and finishing is done on ground according to as clients’ specifications, but there are certain finishings one cannot apply to log houses.
Mr Kanabar says an average log house can last for hundreds of years with regular maintenance of the wood.
“Common problems with any house is moisture absorption, termites and the general wear-and-tear of the house. But with a log house, one does not have to worry about that as moisture absorption is restricted with the design of the logs,” he says.
Also, the log homes are water-resistant.
The suppliers also kiln-dry the wood to remove all the moisture from it, thus preventing termites from breeding.
Honka Group also suppliers the door and windows or home owners can opt to fit their own that suits their style.
Prices of log homes are about 30 per cent more than the conventional brick-and-mortar house due to the shipping costs and bringing in a team from Finland to assemble, Mr Kanabar says.