Like any other house, hiring a qualified home inspector is a vital part of the process. However, on a first visit to a pre-owned log home, there are a few questions people always ask. Here are some observations that will give you a "heads-up":
Insects: This is at the top of the list. For the most part, log homes get a "bad rap". Everyone is afraid of termites, but this is a rarity. Termites go after damp, rotten wood. A properly built log home will have several inches of concrete wall between the ground and the first course; in other words, the logs are not soaking up moisture from the dirt. You want to keep your logs dry. Hopefully the house has wide eaves; the rain shouldn't drip onto the corners. If the log ends are wet, that could be a problem. Termites aren't the only insects that invade damp wood.
Carpenter Bees tend to be the most troublesome critters. They chew perfectly round holes about ½" in diameter, then make long tubular nests inside the wood. The only way to treat them is puff insecticide into the hole then caulk it shut. The good news is they don't like stained wood, so if the house is properly maintained, their nuisance can be kept at a minimum. Check for them around the eaves. (If you see large, irregular-shaped holes in the log, those are most likely made by woodpeckers.)
Exterior Finish: Log homes are stained, not painted. The stains come in many shades and even colors; the darker the stain, the more sediment it contains. More sediment protects the logs better from the sun; solar rays and moisture are the big concerns. When water no longer beads up on the surface—or if the original wood shows through—it's time for a maintenance coat. Depending on the exposure, this will be about every three to five years per side; you'll find that you don't have to stain the whole house at the same time (unless it's been neglected). If the stain is peeling, it has to come off; otherwise, a new coat goes on top of the old finish. Removal of the old stain can be done by a professional using a cob corn blaster (similar to sandblasting but much less abrasive). If the house is well maintained, this step won't be necessary.
Horizontal cracks in the wall: When a log home is first built, the logs themselves usually continue to dry for the next couple of years. This creates pressure, and the log naturally cracks—or checks—during the drying process, relieving pressure. Some species check more than others, but it is a totally natural process and nothing is wrong. The structure is not weakened. 99.9% of the time the check will stop at the center of the log; it doesn't go all the way through.
What about insulation? Yes, the log is the insulation. Logs work under the concept of thermal mass. The usual "R-Value" doesn't apply here like it does with a regular "stick framed" house. Because the logs contain tiny pockets of air, they tend to hold the heat very efficiently; think of a down jacket. In the winter, the sun is absorbed into the logs then reflected into the interior of the home. So, for instance, if the power fails, a regular house will start cooling off immediately, whereas the log home will stay warm longer. One year, on the day before Christmas (at 18 degrees), our furnace failed and we were very comfortable for two days with two wood-burning stoves and a space heater in the kitchen. It was a good real-life experience.
Aside from the exterior walls, just about everything else in the log home is the same as any other house. There is no special kind of furnace or air conditioner, though people often find that log homes naturally stay cooler in the summer.
RESALE: Experience has shown that for the most part, the resale value of a log home is not much different from that of a normal house. If anything, it might come out a little bit higher than an equivalent-sized stick-framed home. Much depends on the comparables in the area. If there are no log homes recently sold nearby—and this can be a real challenge—it can be difficult getting a good appraisal. Banks are by definition conservative. However, you will usually find that there is a good market for log homes, especially in rural areas considered ideal locations for weekend getaways—like Bucks County. Finding a buyer seems to be the easy part.
Regardless of whether you buy or build, living in a log home can be a satisfying experience. Many people are smitten the moment they walk inside, and the good news is that the love affair never ends.