MISSOULA, Mont. -- As you drive up the road it looks like one. When you walk up the driveway it looks like one. When you're standing right next to it, it looks like one. It has all the earmarks of a "real" log home. Except it's not. It's made out of concrete.
"You have to touch it. You have to feel it. When you're telling people we're building homes that look like real wood but are made out of concrete, the first question is, 'What does the stuff look like?' And the second question is, 'Why?' "
Stewart Hansen and I are standing on the porch of a concrete log home, one of 30 his company, Cultured Log Systems of Missoula, Montana, has built in the last three years.
It sure fooled me.
"You get the exact same look and feel. All the grain, the detail, the knots, everything."
Hansen is explaining this as we head over to the concrete plant that is a few hundred yards down the road from his snow-covered office. The process is not complicated: They make a reverse mold of a real log, or series of logs. Pour in the concrete, let it cure, take it out of the mold and voila! concrete log. It is painted on site to whatever specifications the homeowner or builder wants.
But this is a log that won't play home to bugs and won't burn in the next forest fire. Something architect Pat Supplee appreciates: "You get a much better fire rating out of a concrete log structure than out of a natural wood structure," she says as we walk around a home she's designed in the forest outside Missoula.
And in a strange way, it's also more "green" than a real log home. Supplee is thrilled, explaining, "One of the ingredients for "green" construction is building something that will last a long time. A concrete log home will last a lot longer than a real wood log home. And it won't have to be stained every 18 months or treated. It also won't settle and twist."
The general log home market is likely a lot larger than you think. Estimates put it at $3.5 billion to $4 billion annually, with between 25,000 and 30,000 log homes being built every year -- most as second or third homes.
The housing crisis has hurt some, but most log homes are custom-built and that end of the housing market has suffered less.
Hansen expects business to continue to grow at an accelerated rate. I'm scratching my head, saying, "Basically, it's formed concrete. This isn't exactly rocket science."
He smiles, replying, "No, no. Most of the time the best businesses are pretty simple little businesses."
Simple as concrete.
'Mike On America" will be parking the bus all next week. Time for an oil change and tire rotation. I don't know what they're going to do with the bus. But you can catch a full hour of our travels around America on Christmas morning at 9am ET: a "Mike On America" holiday special.
Enjoy, and Happy Holidays to you all.
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