This is a very lengthy file, please download and read off-line.
Here is our log cabin on Ice Mountain. We'd like to share the following details of it's construction with any potential future log home buyers. It may help you in your search for a company and a builder, and may save you the many headaches and heartaches we have encountered.
Owning a log cabin was a long-time dream of ours, so after finding the perfect piece of property, we searched for months for the right builder. We spent months of re-doing our floor plans, etc., sending them to numerous builders and log home companies. It was a confusing decision, as every company we approached stated their reasons of being "the best for us". We even attended several log home seminars to learn as much as we could before signing a contract. What finally made our decision was the beautiful home of a neighbors, Don & Chris Landauer. We had admired his house and felt we were finally heading in the right direction with a log company and a builder.
Alta Industries, in New York, advertises to be one of best, weather-tight log homes around. In our area, their dealer is Colonial Village Industries in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. Even after talking with Mr. Wayne Omps, one of the owners, about the cabin and floor plans, we still waited about a month to finally sign a contract for him to construct our cabin. A cold, unpleasant receptionist usually turns us away from a company, but feeling confident we made the right choice, the contract was signed in February, 1994. Mr. Omps took a lot of time with us, making notes of our cabin plan, a first floor and loft and a full basement. The cost of supplies and labor to construct our cabin by Colonial Village Industries totaled slightly over $43,000.
Our plans showed the first floor open, with the exception of the bathroom, which they would stud- in and leave for us to finish. Also shown were window and door dimensions. The ceiling (2x6 tongue & groove) of the kitchen and bathroom (first floor) was going to also be the floor for the loft, with sanding and finishing to be done by us. We were to have a zero-clearance 'Heatilator' fireplace, the kind that has a fan to blow warm air back into the room. We stated that we wanted 'used, old brick' on our fireplace. This didn't seem to be a problem at the time. We had already ordered a custom-carved mantle from a wood carver in Gatlinburg, TN in Feb. 1994. Mr. Omps suggested that we use 'Eldorado Stone' on the outside. He also stated several times these fireplaces look very good in a corner, but our plan was for it to be centered in the living room. The cabin would have a cathedral ceiling, an "L" shaped deck from the front door and going around to the kitchen door, with a balcony coming out of the loft, over the kitchen door, connected by posts to the deck below.
On May 3rd, our mason arrived to start pouring footers for the basement walls and support beams but needed dimensions, since he and Mr. Omps hadn't had any contact regarding the size and dimensions of the house. This was only the first episode of a lack of communication between Mr. Omps and a contractor, his crew, or ourselves. We immediately phoned Alta Industries, from our neighbor's house, to fax our foundation plans right away, and also requested a copy of blueprints. Mr. Omps had our blueprints, but never called us to go over them. When we did receive ours from Alta, at our request, we noticed several mistakes that had to be corrected.
Our logs were delivered on June 14. The construction crew had one worker who we knew had experience with log homes, as he had headed the crew on our neighbors' house. This member was there on the first day, to unload the logs and get things started, and we saw him only once since that first day, to set the ridge beam. The rest of the crew, we later found out, were new. Even with this experienced worker, our house almost ended up facing in the opposite direction. The logs were numbered according to their place on the blueprints. The first logs, which were set in each corner, were totally turned around from our plan. Danny happened to be looking at the blueprints, and was the first to notice something was wrong.
When the foreman measured the foundation, he found that it was 1 1/2 inches short in both directions. It was in Alta's instructions to allow for a 3/4" overhang all the way around. This was also the time when the sill seal was to be put down. Instead, the sill-plate went directly onto the block foundation. We found out later that these were a couple of things that CVI did differently than the instructions called for.
We were excited about finally getting our cabin started, and the walls went up pretty fast. We drove to the sight every chance we had and with the free days we do have, we could have been there anytime we needed to be. We didn't want to feel like pests looking over the workers' shoulders. It seemed like whenever we arrived at the site, the crew took a lunch break. But now see that we should have made it a point to just stay there all day to make sure things were being done our way. On the surface, everything looked fine, but it wasn't long after the initial start, we noticed several errors.
The loft floor, which we planned to just sand and finish was a disaster. Instead of blind-nailing into the tongue, as to hide the nails, they faced-nailed it, using framing nails. The crew left loose nails laying around all over the floor. This was before the roof went up, and it sat through some wet weather, leaving the floor totally covered with black marks in every spot that was nailed. This will either have to be sanded and the nails counter-sunk and puttied, or put an entirely new floor on top of this one, neither of which we had in our original plans, (Photo 1).
We also noticed, as the walls went up, that the front window opening, which was supposed to be, according to my plans, an opening of 50 inches, ended up being 60 inches. This was done because Mr. Omps said we wouldn't be able to find 24 inch double-hung windows, which we later found in several different hardware stores.
Another major thing that bothered us, and we mentioned it several times... in the very front of the house, in three separate sections, the butt-joints did not meet, so the 1/2 inch or more gaps were filled with an awful putty that wasn't sanded or cleaned up. We mentioned this several times to Mr. Omps, only to be told that "every now and then, you'll have gaps in a log home". Still, we didn't feel this to be correct, especially when the logs are supposedly milled to fit tight, (Photo 2). By this time, the roof was on, and in looking up where the roof meets, we noticed a bit of black, roofing paper showing through on the inside. In mentioning this to Mr. Omps, he said "that happens every now and then and can be covered with some trim".
Another "gap" problem that we were concerned about... the rafters fit tight against the logs in the front of the house, but the back-side, every rafter is almost 1 to 2 inches away from the log. By this time, we decided to contact Alta to ask about the safety of the rafters not meeting the logs. They said there's no way the position of the ridge beam can be perfectly centered, and even if it is slightly off, there should be no structural problems, (Photo 3).
By July 19, they were starting the deck. Luckily, we were there and the worker who was now heading the crew questioned us about the deck. He said he thought it was an "L" shaped deck, but someone at the office said "no, it was a deck in front, a separate deck in back, and a balcony that was separate and held up by angled supports". He said the lumber he brought wasn't enough to cover what we were supposed to have, and he had to order more. If we hadn't have been there that day, it would've been another disaster. In the construction of the deck system, one of the footers, instead of being dug out and in the ground, it was framed-in and poured on top of the ground, (Photo 4). Also, instead of using a 6 foot section for one deck rail, they used scrap lumber and pieced two-3 foot sections together, which looked horrible.
We were not given a choice of doors, as Alta sends their standard doors with their package. But the shingles were ours to choose, though we were not asked what color we wanted. We purposely went to Mr. Omps' local lumber store to look at, not only, shingles, but also the fake stone that was to go outside the fireplace chimney and the bricks to be used on the inside. There was no mention to us of the various styles and colors of stone to choose from. We were beginning to wonder who's house this really was. We also told the crew to take back the basement door that was sent. This was a door with a big glass panel, just like the front and back doors to the house. I wanted a solid basement door, and we assume this door was an extra sent with someone else's Alta package. The outside trim on the door didn't even cover the framing, (a 1X4, as was used on the outside front windows and doors would've at least matched), (Photo 5). Considering CVI also owns Dawson's hardware store, we were surprised at the piece of wood used on the inside basement door framing. This photo also shows a beige switch right next to a dark brown one, (which was commonly done throughout the house), (Photo 6).
On August 2, an octagon window, that was to go in the bathroom, was taken to the site. We had a specific way it was to be installed. The window has a rose etched in the glass and we wanted that to show on the inside and have the screen on the outside. We even left a note on it, and the crew-leader went over the details with us, knowing full well, we wanted it installed "backwards". When we went back on August 8, the window was installed the very opposite of our instructions, with our note still hanging from it! Upon looking at the window from the outside, careless chainsaw cuts and oil splatter from the saw were very obvious, (Photo 7).
On this same day, we found a basement full of a lot of un-necessary "art-sculpture" plumbing, (Photo 8) ...there was no notification when the rough-in plumbing would be done. Several joints were not even glued and there was even a joint with a price tag from Dawson's Hardware sticking out. (Photo 25) No one questioned where we wanted the hot water heater, and the water lines were run in an incorrect location. If Mr. Omps would have let us know of the day the plumber would arrive, we could have easily been there.
At this point, the basement stairs were in, and in going up and down, we started noticing specks of light all around the basement shining between the block foundation and sill-plate, and between the sill plate and first course of logs. By this time it was too late to realize what we now know is an important step before the first log is set, and that is putting down a sill sealer. (An afterthought...on the day the logs arrived, Danny noticed rolls of foam, which are usually used on the sill plate.) When we mentioned this to Mr. Omps, he said they don't use a sill sealer, but the house is caulked after the construction is done. Then, after talking to hardware stores and other home builders, we found out the moisture seal and insulation should have been among the first things taken care of, and caulking around the sill plate after the house was done was another excuse for something not done correctly in the first place.
Regarding the basement and loft stairs, both were too narrow and too steep. This was mentioned to Mr. Omps several times. The landing also looked absolutely horrible, and the treads were nailed to the stringer with framing nails instead of trim nails. Then on August 17, and Mr. Omps met us at the cabin. After walking up and down the loft stairs, he agreed they were too steep and they needed to be re-done. (Mr. Omps had been to the cabin just a few days earlier, without us, but didn't mention anything about the stairs until we did.) We also mentioned again the awful looking gaps in the three logs in front. With the same reply as before, "you're always going to have gaps in a log house", he said he'd have the gaps sanded to make them look better. Also, he mentioned the front windows, and they'd be cutting 6 inches away to install them. I should have questioned it right then, but because I already complained that the opening was wider than I wanted in the first place, I thought I just misunderstood his statement. A few days later, my 50 inch opening, that became a 60 inch opening, was now 70 inches and holding two 30 inch windows! I immediately phoned the office and told the secretary to pass it on, "do not bring us a kitchen window", that we'd do it ourselves, after we put in the kitchen cabinets. We then went to Home Depot in Baltimore and found the living room windows we wanted... the 24 inch ones that Mr. Omps said we wouldn't find. They removed theirs and put ours in. (Very shortly after this time, we also found 24 inch windows at a Romney, WV hardware store, and at 84 Lumber in Winchester, VA.)
By the end of August, we were pretty disgusted at the things that had happened, and the excuses we were hearing. We decided to send some photos to Alta to see if they'd be happy with this kind of craftsmanship on one of their log homes. We sent pictures of the gaps in the front logs, the gap at the roof line, and the gaps at the rafters. Alta called us and said they do not like even an eighth of an inch gap at the butt-joints and that they do send extra logs with each package just for this purpose. Also, in Alta's structure plans, we came across a section where splines are to be used at the joints. This eliminates any chance of gaps between logs. We already had proof that these splines were not used in at least three joints, and we wondered how many more were missing. We then went around and looked more closely at all of the joints, and we could see tiny specks of light at most of them. Using a straightened coat hanger, we could push it all the way through to the outside of the house! This was proof enough of the lack of caulk and splines at the joints and what might have been the start of the many water stains that we now have.
The fireplace was one of the final big steps to be done. It was to be, Mr. Omps words, a "Heatilator", zero clearance fireplace. ("Heatilator" is not a type of fireplace but actually a brand name for a fireplace. Mr. Omps installed a "Superior" brand, a lesser quality, much less expensive one, without our approval.) The outside framing for the chase started September 7th. That same day, sitting in Mr. Omps office, we again told him of the custom carved mantle we had, and on that particular day, he wasn't sure when the mason would be able to be there, but it was to be soon. (Actually, the regular mason was not the one who would be doing our fireplace because we were told he had a fractured arm, but there would be another mason taking his place.) So there would be no mis-communications about the size of our mantle and the size we wanted for the bricks on our fireplace, we phoned three separate times during that first week of September to see exactly when the mason would be there. Every time we called, no one knew. On Friday, September 9, at 8:15 am, we called again, (the third try), to give the dimension of the mantle, in case the mason was planning to work over the weekend. We left the dimension with the secretary, who said she did not have any word of when the mason would be at the cabin. Our mantle is 71 inches long...the brick fireplace inside was to be approx. 66-67 inches, so that the mantle would overlap by about 2 inches on either side. On Sunday, September 11, we arrived at the cabin and to our surprise, the mason was there. He'd also been there the day before, and no one let us know about it. The fireplace was completed. It wasn't the 'used, old brick' we had asked about. Sloppy mortar joints don't look like old used brick. When I measured it inside, the length that was supposed to be 66-67 inches ended up being 75 1/2 inches! The mason wasn't even told we had a custom carved mantle, and in turn, designed the top row of bricks with a finished look. We were very upset with this, especially after all of our efforts and plans for this fireplace. We phoned Mr. Omps and asked to meet again at his office. There, on September 14, he said he didn't mention the width of the mantle in inches to the mason, only to use one and one-half bricks on each side of the fireplace. The mason thought he was doing us a favor by giving us a bigger fireplace and used two bricks on each side. Who's house is this?!!! (Mr. Omps deducted the cost of our first mantle. We picked it up in April, 1994. Valued at $900.00, it took two trips to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, one to order it, and then one to pick it up. Luckily, the wood carver had time in his schedule to do another.) In mentioning our disliking the finished look of the top row of bricks, Mr. Omps stated fireplaces are made that way to give more support to hold the mantle. Then, seeing and talking to the mason on Sept. 15, he told us he was not told we had a custom-carved mantle. That's why we ended up with a bigger fireplace than we wanted and also had a finished look top row of bricks. To cover up another mistake, we have a 1X4 trim running underneath the mantle.
On September 15, Mr. Omps met us again at the cabin...two crew members, who we never saw before, were putting trim on the peak of the ceiling to cover-up the black roofing paper. They were also caulking around the sill-plate, re-gluing the loose plumbing, replacing the deck-rail with a solid 6-foot piece, and "Oh yes, those gaps in the logs do look awful", so the crew had two replacement logs for us. Now the gaps are met, but the difference in color is noticeable, but we were told it would blend in time. (We found out the reason for all this repair work. After receiving our photos and complaints, Alta sent a representative to look at this cabin and asked Mr. Omps why, after so many years of constructing Alta's homes, this one has so many problems. Alta stated to us that Mr. Omps told them it was a new crew he sent on this job.)
Mr. Omps also agreed to put backing on the stairs to the loft and put bullnose molding around the sill-plate as stated in Alta's instructions. He stated several times throughout this whole ordeal that he does a lot of things different from what Alta states in their plans as Alta will just charge the customer more. (Unfortunately, it was still beginning to cost us more, but at this time, we sure didn't know just how much more.)
Applying for permanent electricity in January 1994 was among the first things we did. (It would have been very easy to connect this early on in the construction instead of the crew resorting to using a generator.) We met the electrician in mid-August 1994 and did a walk-through to see how many light switches and outlets were needed. We called the CVI office in late-September and mentioned that we would like to see at least one light turn on before we left in October for a month-long tour of Alaska. The electrician returned a week later and installed several breakers and switches, all miss-matched colors, some dark brown, some beige. We were never asked about our preference in colors. (Also, a comment was later made that when you are 40 miles from the nearest hardware store, you just can't leave the job and run after every little thing...whatever is on the truck and job site is used. One would think that anyone owning a hardware store should stock enough of one color to send to the site in the first place.)
There was one more payment to be made to Mr. Omps. We were to be out of town after October 5th. We had been complaining to the First National Bank of Romney of ongoing problems with the work that was done, and DID NOT authorize the final payment. On October 3, we met with Mr. Omps in his office to see if he would consider negotiating the final bill, due to the poor quality work and irreversible mistakes that were made, but he said he couldn't reduce the amount because he was just about 'breaking even' on this job. He said he already spoke with the bank, and they were to have his final check on the way to him. At that moment, we weren't concerned because our signature was supposed to be on every draw the bank released. We had already planned to go to the bank when leaving Mr. Omps' office, get the final check, hold it until our return from Alaska and talk with an attorney or an authority to help us decide what we should do. When we got to the bank, the person who partially handled our account surprised us by saying a cashier's check had already been sent to Mr. Omps. We spoke to her of problems a few weeks back, but she thought everything was all right when Mr. Omps phoned the bank to say mistakes were corrected and we were satisfied. The final check was released WITHOUT OUR APPROVAL. Being very upset over this, we spoke with Anna Beverlin, Vice President, who was our original loan advisor. It was her suggestion, and advice to put a hold on the check and she would talk to Mr. Omps about a reduction in the bill. By this time, we were on tour, and Mr. Omps had his attorney threaten the bank with a lawsuit. They ended up still releasing the check to him.
The bullnose trim around the sill-plate, the back of the steps, and the final electric was left undone. It seemed a mutual agreement that this was the end of our relationship with Mr. Omps and his company.
Who would ever begin to think that a little cabin, 22 X 28, with probably one of the simplest plans ever, would become such a nightmare. Every time we have tried to finish something, we would first have to un-do what the professionals did first. There are some things that can never be corrected. Among the very worst are the MANY water stains, on what should be beautiful, finished log walls. There is not a single, solitary wall in the house where water stains are not obviously noticed, causing us to worry just how deep these stains really are, and what kind of rotting is already under there.
The plumbing has been re-done, (Photo 9) leaving a lot of scrap, (Photo 10). It is not that it was wrong or not code, it was just an overly-excessive use of pipe, and downright unpleasant to look at. You can also notice from Photo 9, that the support post is missing as instructed in the blueprints. The backs of the stairs are done. The electrical work is completed with matching colors on switches and outlets.
November, 1994, we phoned Alta to request more of the rafter's "U" trim that had sat in the basement since day-one, then suddenly disappeared when the work crew left. Alta shipped us more.
One problem we've had in doing the electrical work ourselves was the fireplace fan. The wire was ran from the fireplace, but not connected to the breaker box. After running a check with a meter, it seemed it was not connected at the fireplace as well. We then attempted to find the fan inside the fireplace, since no paperwork was left regarding the schematics of the mechanism. By removing the front bottom grill, we found the reason why my meter showed no connection a was that there was no fan included that was supposed to have been there! On Monday, December 12, we phoned CVI to find out about the fan for the fireplace. Mr. Omps wasn't in, but his secretary said she'd give him the message...no return call. Tuesday, December 13, we phoned again and spoke with Mr. Omps. Not mentioning we already knew there wasn't a fan, Mr. Omps said he was "sure, but not positive, the fan was there", but would have to check with his electrician and call us back. A week later we received a call informing us that our fan could be picked up at Dawson's Hardware in Berkeley Springs.
We continued to try and do finishings, but there has not been ONE thing we've attempted to finish without first re-doing or correcting mistakes, including:
Scrubbing the boot-prints and fingerprints off, inside and out, left by workers apparently not aware these ARE supposed to be our finished walls.
The ridge beam...because of the gaps where the rafters meet the log walls and the ridge beam being approximately 1 to 2 inches off center, each piece of the inside trim has to be altered to not look larger on one side than the other.
The kitchen window...this is the window we said we'd do ourselves, so the foreman drew off an area of the approximate location where we'd be able to cut without worrying about hitting a spike. When cutting the opening, you guessed it, a brand new blade was ruined from one of the 12-inch spikes that was not even supposed to be in that entire area. A pry-bar and hammer were used to pry apart the logs that were connected. (The hammer was also ruined doing this.) In between these logs, there was not a bit of caulk...it makes us wonder just how much caulk was used in this entire house, (Photo 11). (In a rebuttal letter to our first attorney, Charles Parsons, Mr. Omps made an explanation of the spike in the kitchen window area. "We run into them all the time. As for the caulk we left out of the window area, if they were experienced they would have realized it would have been much more difficult to remove the logs if they were caulked." Well, If they knew we were going to put in a window and left out the caulk, then why did they put in a spike? The caulk would have been a lot easier to cut through than the spike, especially when we were told we could safely cut around their "X", two feet in any direction. To this day, we still have that log with the spike, and with their "X" marked spot.)
The loft stairs and landing...(Photo 12). You can also see from this photo that a 2X4 was used in the corner, where the blueprints called for a 4X4.
The basement steps...these were as steep as the loft steps before they were re-done. We took apart the basement steps and reworked those before either one of us or our guests broke something going up or down. They are still too steep, but much better than before.
The sliding glass door...A chainsaw was used to cut out this opening from the inside and left a large cut on the outside wall. This again shows the sloppiness of the work done on our cabin, (Photo 15). Even on the inside, the cut goes through the floor and into the basement. This was the way it was left, no caulk at all into what is supposed to be part our finished wall. Instead of using 1x4 as was used for the front doors and windows, scrap pieces were used on the brick molding on the outside. (Photo 14) Like the basement door, if they had used the same trim as the rest of the house, this eye-sore would not be seen.
The front door...is NOT plumb, (Photo 18).
The 6x6 main support post, centered on the 1st floor...cut too short and had to be shimmed. Not only is it NOT plumb (Photo 20), it was notched at the top to fit under the beam, not giving full support to the loft floor. (The 6x6 post in the loft should have been directly above the one on the first floor, and that directly over the one in the basement, making it look like ONE continuous post from the basement floor to the ceiling. Instead, the loft post sets back at least 2 inches and so does the basement.(Photo 27) We asked Mr. Omps the reasoning behind this. When we put up a railing in the loft, the post will not be in the way. Actually, we probably would've ran the railing in with the post itself for better support.)
The water supply lines...one of the only items of plumbing we didn't tear out and re-do. When we finally turned on the water in February, 1995, their water lines were the only items of plumbing that leaked. They showed no signs of primer and cleaner that should've been used before sealing the joints.
The kitchen (back) door...we haven't taken down the trim for positive proof, but the header is already sagging against the door, (Photo 16) which leads us to believe that there were no lag bolts used as in the Alta instructions.
There is an angle brace, shown in the blueprints, that should be attached to the gable above the fireplace, and connected to the ridge beam. We were told by one of the workers that they usually don't fool with that, and it's not really needed, but we wondered why the blueprints show it if it's not important to the structure of the house... it still sits on our back porch. The screens that come with Alta's kit, according to their advertisement, were never received on our site.
In March, 1995, we were concerned of the many problems we were finding, and the cost to repair them. We talked with GM Legal services about needing an attorney to help us get something back to repair or replace the many damages. They referred us to Charles Parsons, in Romney, WV. We met with him, and he forwarded a letter with to CVI that he would represent us.
Our summary was also sent to Alta Industries, West Virginia's Attorney General, WV Consumer Complaint Division, The Log Home Counsel, National Association Of Home Builders, Building Systems Councils, and every log home magazine we could find.
By April, 1995, we were ready to hand over our keys to the bank and let them deal with the entire mess. More problems had surfaced, and in reviewing our videos from when the footers were first poured, combined with looking closely again at the foundation blueprints, something just did not seem right. After awhile, we finally noticed that a major support post was not there. What we thought was the off-set support post, was actually two 2X4's nailed together to support the basement stairs. The correct location, and where the footer was poured, is at the corner of the bathroom under a 4X4 and the laminated beam that supports the loft. This can be seen, (or maybe, cannot be seen), in Photo 9.
We received a call from Frank Mann, president of Alta. He wanted to meet with us at the cabin to see what would resolve our ongoing complaints. He did meet us on April 7, went through the cabin, listened to our gripes and asked what it would take to make us happy. We replied, "Take it down and do it right". Mr. Mann said they would power-wash the outside, remove the remaining fingerprints and boot prints left by the crew, (Photo 28), caulk and seal the outside, then "you'll forget all about all these MINOR problems". This sounded to us like it is all right to make major mistakes, as long as you do a good job in covering them up. We brought up the loft floor, the gap still in the butt-joint in the kitchen area, and other complaints. A major factor, that one of the support posts not being placed in the basement where it should have been, didn't seem to phase Mr. Mann. This was, after all, his own company's architects and engineers that drew the blueprints for the proper support of our house, and he passed it off as if it were nothing. It's understandable that Mr. Mann would seem to side with CVI and their many years of association in building houses, but we sure got the feeling we were just being smooth-talked into forgetting some major mistakes. After considerable time there, Mr. Mann looked around and said, "You're going to hate me for saying this, but this place is adorable". At first glance...!
Also in April, 1995, we talked with John Leeper, editor of "Log Homes Illustrated". Our story and photos were sent to him previously, but he said they couldn't, and wouldn't publish our ordeal because the log home company ads are what keeps his magazine in business.
During that same month, we received a call from "Log Home Guide". They often featured articles on some problems consumers have had with their log houses and builders. Mitch Watson phoned us and said that after seeing our photos and reading our summary, they would be interested in doing an article with us. But, months later, we personally visited their site in Cosby, Tenn., and because they were one of the few who would expose the errors and mistakes consumers were finding, many log home companies did not want to run ads in such a magazine, therefore causing them to cease printing.
On April 24, 1995, we bought a wooden post, borrowed a hydraulic jack, and literally jacked up the house to put in the support post that the work crew did not.
By June, 1995, the frustration we were feeling was getting to both of us. There were times we would leave our home in Baltimore intending to go to the cabin, drive for an hour, then turn around and go back home. It was getting to the point of just not wanting to deal with it. Maria was in tears many times, whether it was in the car, in a restaurant, or in the middle of a music performance.
Charles Parsons, the attorney first referred to us, met with us and said he was on the Board of Directors at the First National Bank of Romney, and should we ever have a suit against the bank, he would not be able to assist us. GM Legal Services then gave us the name of David Savasten in Berkeley Springs, WV, (Morgan Co.). We met with him, and he suggested we get a housing inspector to look over the damages. He referred us to "Blue Line Inspectors", at the time in Winchester, VA.
Bob Lemon, owner of Blue Line came to our cabin in late June, 1996. His final bill for travel, inspecting the cabin, photos and structural reports, including references to building codes was over $900. Mr. Lemon brought to our attention many problems of which we were not aware. The deck had many defects, the interior support beams and posts were not correct, the stairs were still not within code, there appeared to be no flashing where the shingles and chimney stone meet, the stone chimney has structural cracks. Mr. Lemon estimated our costs to repair what could be repaired at over $12,000.
Mr. Savasten, attorney, also suggested we get estimates from other contractors for damages. We did so, and the following companies indicate their estimates:
1) Crafted Homes, (Greg Rogers) $10,000 - $11,000 (8/95) (3 trips, $250 inspection fee, paid by us)
2) Lakeside Mgmt., (Don Widmayer) $6,537 (9/22/95)
3) Service Master of Martinsburg, (Tim Bruffey) to try to remove water stains from log walls, $3700 (1/23/96) ($75 inspection fee, paid by us)
4) Alpha Log Homes, (Edward Cramer) $22,184 ($95 inspection fee paid by us.)
We decided to see for ourselves what another Alta Log Home dealer does, and we traveled to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania to meet with Don Flick of Chestnut Ridge Construction. According to a newspaper article, Mr. Flick received many "Builder of the Year" awards from Alta, and after seeing his work, there was no doubt as to why. We observed several sites of partially completed houses, the neatness and awareness of the crews, but most of all, we saw what our house SHOULD have looked like. The trash was even removed on a daily basis instead of being piled up like ours was. There were no fingerprints all over the logs, and no chainsaw cuts and careless power saw cuts in door or window openings being cut on site. It surprised us to see a woman, Mr. Flick's daughter, as one of his carpenters, and we only wished we'd have ended up with the quality and beautiful work she did.
We questioned Mr. Flick as to the contents of the log kits. He stated that Alta doesn't include the sub floor or anything below in their kit. We then realized that the three support posts in our basement were taken from the log kit and were meant to be the support of the porch system. We're assuming our builders didn't realize this, leading to the reason why we were missing the fourth support post. Concerning the loft flooring, Mr. Flick's crew had no problem and said it was standard procedure to blind-nail and glue 2X6 tongue & groove to 4-foot centers. (Photo30) (In a March, 1995 rebuttal letter to our attorney, Mr. Omps stated he, or no legitimate contractor, would agree to blind nail a 2X6 floor on 48" centers, as it would warp.) We visited some of Mr. Flick's older cabins and didn't see any signs of warpage, stains or water-leaks on the log walls. We also saw that the gable ends were constructed and shipped from Alta and not constructed on-site as CVI did with ours.
In October, 1995, we hand-washed and caulked outside the cabin. When spraying a wasp nest under the overhang by the chimney, we noticed the stone used on the chimney was not even completed, leaving the plywood and screening completely exposed to the elements. Both sides were left undone.
The deck on the back side of the house is sagging at least 2-inches at one of the posts, (Photo 24). The footers and support posts under the front porch don't line up with the posts on top of the deck, leaving the porch-roof system to be supported by the deckboards.
We also noticed that there are three areas of the roof system where the plywood is raising up.
Closing in the bathroom took an extra amount of time. First, the door frame was out of plumb by 2-inches top-to-bottom. It first had to be shimmed and reframed. This made it impossible to use the 36" door we had planned. The framing for the walls were neither square nor plumb. This meant more time spent in cutting and hanging drywall to fit properly. And the studs that were supposed to be l6" center were 16", 15 1/4", 14", 16 1/2", nothing consistent! After checking back to the blueprints, I noticed that there were supposed to be a 4x4 stud, not a 2x4 at the corner of the bathroom, by the stairs, (Photo 26). This changed the spacing for the studs on this wall and the last stud was 18" from the far corner. I had to piece together strips of insulation to fill this gap, (Photo 17). I also found another place where there was to be a 4X4, in the middle of the adjacent wall in the bathroom. These were to support the loft, but after all the electric was run, it was impossible to install them.
The stud wall between the stairs and the bathroom is where all the wiring was run for the loft. The plumbing for the shower was also ran in the same cavity. This may have been acceptable for code but not for me. It seemed like a fire hazard. (Photo 26)
The wall behind the front door, which contains the switches for the lights, was framed with a 2X4 so warped that it would have to be replaced in order to hang dry wall. This means rewiring all the switches. The corner stud was also cut too short and this left a gap at the top of this wall, (Photo 19). This wall also supports the loft and doesn't have the required 4x4 post in the corner. This whole wall needed to come out.
We've noticed even more the water marks and dirty looking stains all over the interior walls, especially where the large gap still exists at the butt-joint, (Photo 21). Even on the outside of this same area, there are stains, (Photo 22).
It came to our attention that David Savasten, attorney, was in some way related to Mr. Omp's attorney's wife. Not comfortable with this situation, we talked about it with Mr. Savasten, and he understood completely our decision to find another attorney. We again contacted GM Legal Services, and requested an attorney based in our county, Hampshire. They gave us the name of Donald Cookman in Romney, WV, and in January, 1996, Mr. Cookman met with us to discuss filing a Civil lawsuit.
There was not much time spent at the cabin during the 1996 year. It was at the point where we already knew our many problems, and were tired of discovering new ones. After a visit with her doctor, Maria was prescribed anti-depressants. Again, there were the times when we'd head up the highway toward the cabin, drive for a short time, then turn around and go back home. Then, we'd plan to try again, pack and drive the 2 - 1/2 hours to Ice Mountain, stay for a half hour, and go back home. Our patience with each other was also wearing thin, and having talked so much about it, Maria visited a counselor so she could voice her depression and aggravation to an independent person. Around this time, a trip to the First National Bank of Romney had to be made to pick up some papers for the attorney, and for the second time, it was stated to them that they were lucky they weren't getting the key back.
Mr. Cookman filed our complaint in February, 1996. Maria continued on anti-depressants and visits to the counselor. It wasn't until May, 1996, when, along with Maria's long time involvement with performing for Special Olympics, and the writing of a song inspired by the athletes, she finally realized that a material thing as a house should not be able to control you. She will always be grateful to the thousands of athletes around the world who literally picked her up from the bottom and made her determined to move on.
In the fall of 1996, we slowly got back to visiting the cabin more than in the past year. We knew it would one day go to court, so evidence, such as the loft floor, among other items, was left as is. Another inspection of the cabin by McCoy Home Improvement was done on November 18, 1997, this time on behalf of CVI and their insurance company. Then, we were asked to come up with a figure for the insurance company to consider, and it was turned down.
Other than a lot of paperwork, nothing much happened during the months preceding the trial. On our visits to Ice Mountain, we concentrated on some more finishing and trim work, and just tried to enjoy the beauty around us. The bad things were not forgotten, by all means, but a better frame of mind and our musical travels around the world helped a great deal.
We did get another inspection done in November, 1997, by Greg Rogers of Crafted Homes regarding the stone on the chimney. Because of the many cracks, we were concerned of how long this stone would stay up. Mr. Rogers found no flashing at the chimney-shingles connection. The flashing he did see, however, at the top of the chimney, was placed in a way that water was gathering behind the plywood backing of the chimney stone. He felt it's just a matter of time before this cracking stone will start to fall off the chimney, and suggests removing the top 4-5 feet of stone, and replacing them after the flashing is correctly done. (This estimate of $2350 was in addition to the estimate of $11,000 for other repairs given to us by Mr. Rogers in August, 1995.)
The trial of vs. CVI was to take place in the Hamphsire County Courthouse in Romney, WV on February 5 & 6, 1998. The cable network, "Court TV" knew of our suit and trial, and we were contacted by Felice Conte who stated to us that her network wanted to cover the trial to air on television at a later date. Judge Andrew Frye denied Court TV's request to film on Feb. 5 & 6.
Due to bad weather, the trial was postponed until March 18 & 19, 1998. This time, everything did get started, and on Wednesday, March 18, 1998, with a Hampshire County jury of six, the testimonies were heard, all under oath and swearing to tell the truth, starting with Daniel , direct, (Donald Cookman, prosc. atty.), and cross examined, (Glenn Robinette, defense atty.).
Robert Lemon, (our expert witness, housing inspector and appraiser, Nomel Corp), went through his direct examination, then shortly into the cross examination, the question was brought up as to why Mr. Lemon could no longer appraise houses in West Virginia. It was at this exact moment when we heard, for the first time and very much to our surprise, Mr. Lemon had forged another appraiser's name some time back. It was also mentioned many times that Mr. Lemon did not look at the plans or blueprints in his many findings in this cabin, and if he would have, many things would have been explained to him as to why they were done in a particular way. (So, in practicing what one preaches, why is the angle brace NOT up as in the blueprint instructions, and why was one of the major support beams NOT installed in the basement as in the blueprint instructions, and why were 4x4 posts not placed on the first floor against the long sides of the houses' walls, again, as in the blueprint instructions?)
Next witness was Tim Bruffey, (Service Master of Martinsburg), who stated he has never seen water stains as bad as the ones in our cabin. The price he gave us of $3700 in January, 1995 would have increased by 8% by March, 1998. Mr. Bruffy was followed by Greg Rogers, (contractor, Crafted Homes). It was brought up on cross examination that Mr. Rogers wrote up a high estimate because "the more things that are wrong, higher the estimate, the more money you would stand to make". Next witness was William Fout, (foundation, footers). Mr. Fout is the pastor of Kirby Assembly of God, and a part-time contractor. It should be noted here that the defense, after all the emphasis put on, and all the questioning as to whether or not Mr. Fout's foundation was plumb and square, they chose not to cross examine him.
Final prosecution witness was Maria . On direct, a video that the Elswick's filmed was shown, but the sound muted and Maria explained the various segments. She also told the many hours, days and months wasted in dealing with the problems of this cabin. On cross examination, the complaint about the mis-matched switch and outlet covers were brought up, and the fact that Maria had, several years later, bought some hand-painted outlet covers from Alaska that "cost more than a few cents a piece". She was interrupted several times when she tried to say that regardless of what she might have later installed, the job wasn't done right in the first place. The bathroom window was also brought up. Maria explained the reasons "I left a note that 'this is the inside', and I left a note to put the window in backwards, yes". Defense attorney then brought up that when CVI installed it the "proper way", instead of the "backwards way that you wanted it, you were upset?" Then it was brought up.. again.. that "in order to open this window, you need to get a ladder". (This statement is funnier than us climbing that ladder every night to open that window!) Maria went on to explain that she thought it all out about the hinges, crank, and knob that will easily enable her to open the window FROM THE INSIDE. It was brought up that the window trim is not "exterior grade trim", and the screen "is not designed to be exposed to the elements". Well, the trim is pine, just like all of the logs and all of the other wood that they used to trim the front windows and doors on the house and was treated with CWF (Flood's Clear Wood Finish). As for the screen, if the window would've been installed "the proper way", and the window was opened, wouldn't the elements still get to it? Maria was once again cut off, or attempted to be, but still made the final statement, "but it still goes to show they couldn't follow instructions".
Sometime late that afternoon, the prosecution rested and the defense called it's first and only witness of the day, Wayne Omps of CVI. The remainder of the day was a direct questioning of Mr. Omps, with the court ending approximately 4:50pm. The trial was to continue the next day, Thursday, March 19.
On Thursday morning, March 19, we again appeared in court, ready to cross examine Mr. Omps. Suddenly, we were called in the back room for a conference with our attorney, and we were told that the judge would really like us to come up with a figure that could possibly be agreeable to everyone, and the whole ordeal could be settled. For an hour and a half, there was no mutual agreement. Then, we were told of what "the court" thought would be "a reasonable amount", and we could think about it, agree with it and end it now, or refuse it and go on with the trial and the testimonies. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, we're still not sure. But...there were several reasons that were very good to us to get this over with:
#1: The fact of the surprise we got when finding out our "expert" witness had forged a signature. If we had known this long before his cross examination, we might have been prepared for that. To us, that not only made him look bad, it made us look bad, too.
#2: We are considered "outsiders", and being from Maryland and not West Virginia might not make us too likable with the jurors. (And Ice Mountain used to be a park that was open to everyone, now it is a closed development with the parcels of land bought by "outsiders".)
#3: The defense kept insisting that the juror's should make the trip to see our cabin up close. They wouldn't have made it on this day, as the low water bridge was covered over due to the heavy rainfall. That would've meant for all of them to take another day off work, and that probably wouldn't have made them too happy.
#4: Even if the jurors would've seen the cabin, they would've gotten that first glance and not had the time to really dig in and see the major problems that took us months to see. Finally,
#5: The most irritating to us is this... we were told that we should remember, no matter how bad we think our cabin looks, this is a second home for us, and it is probably better looking than most of the houses these people live in year round. We can only say this...even if this were true, what a terrible insult to the people of West Virginia.
So, it was because of the above reasons we felt it better to be able to at least get started on repairing some of the damages, though the amount is much, much, much farther below the estimated amounts we will need to do major repairs. We were asked during the final statement by the judge to have this amount kept confidential between the parties, and frankly, it is too embarrassing an amount to reveal anyway, considering everything we've been through and whatever we will find in the future.
Since the trial did not go on, and since we did not get the opportunity to cross examine Mr. Omps about the many statements he made "under oath", we feel the need to address them now. (The direct quotes you will see here, are from the March 18 testimonies, taken directly from the court tapes, which we obtained from the court reporter.)
1) "Because the contract was signed in February, we were told by the Elswick's we could begin the house soon, that's one reason again I gave them a very good price. In June, July, August, we get very busy, so I did give them a better price and they were told up front that we needed to start it in March."
a) Our month long tour of Alaska for the military in March, 1994, was booked with Capt. Terri Toppin of Armed Forces Professional Entertainment on June 24, 1993.....with the contract signed so many months in advance, why would we plan on anything, personal or professional, for this month?
b) Though our contract was signed with CVI on Feb. 25, 1994, the check, a deposit of $4483, was not given to CVI until after our Alaskan tour. A copy of the check shows that CVI made the deposit on April 2, 1994.
c) We applied for our loan at the First Nat'l. Bank of Romney on Feb. 25, 1994. The loan was not even approved until April 12, 1994, with a settlement on April 18, 1994. How could we plan to build in March if we didn't even know we had the financing?
2) It was stated we couldn't make up our minds between Alta and Kuhns Bros. Actually, we were back and forth between these two, and probably four other companies. At first, the "D" log was the style we really wanted, but seeing our neighbor, Don Landauer's house, and the way Alta's corners met, we liked that look better. So, we chose Alta, but "their condition was, only if I would change the windows and make them double hung. Alta uses Anderson windows, Anderson has casement and double hung, and they're both available, always have been, from Alta. But, what they wanted me to do is, price this Alta home based on a lot less expensive window we could pick up at a local lumber yard."
a) We were never told Alta had Anderson double hung windows. The price had nothing to do with it, we wanted double hung, not casement, and did not really care what brand they would have been.
b) So, did we get a good deal because we were building in March, or because we supposedly chose a lot less expensive window?
3) It was stated our foundation wasn't started early enough, which caused a major backup of CVI's construction schedule. Our foundation date was pushed back by William Fout for about a week, due to the fact that the entire Hampshire County was searching for a lost child. Mr. Fout finished our foundation, Mr. Omps had our delivery date for the week of June 6, then we received a call from CVI's secretary on June 10 saying the delivery would be June 14, due to Alta's New York plant cutting a job with their larger sized logs. Our logs were delivered June 14.
4) It was constantly stated that we were always trying to save money. We don't know too many people who do not try to do that. And our plan was not the standard Alta plan but you don't get much simpler than the plan we had, a cabin with only one framed wall. Our neighbor, Don Landauer, used a standard Alta plan, windows, trim, everything Alta supplies. But "the Elswick's did not want to do that. They deleted the windows, deleted some of the doors. They wanted us to purchase the doors locally. The reason they did, Anderson doors are expensive. They wanted to get the house as cheap as they could. That's how we approached this contract." "Alta's kit is basically a lumber kit, we get logs, normally the doors and windows, but we didn't on this house because they were deleted."
a) We never spoke, at any time or meeting, of deleting any doors. If we deleted them, how come they are visibly seen on our video the first day the logs were delivered? Four doors, two for downstairs, two for the loft.
b) If Don Landauer did use a standard Alta plan, which included Alta's windows and doors, how come we have exactly the same doors that Don has? The only door we complained about was the basement door, which was not there with the rest of them when the logs were delivered. And, price had nothing to do with that basement door. It was the fact that we wanted a solid door in the basement, not one just like the others we got, with the nine window panels.
c) Alta's ad in a Log Home magazine advertises to be "the finest, easiest and most economical assembly available today"
5) It was brought up many times that we were the general contractors and should have known what we were doing about getting this house built. Our names were listed a month before we even knew who our builders would be, just so we could get our building permit.
a) We've never dug a well, we sub-contracted the job to someone who knows what he's doing
b) We've never excavated soil for a building, we sub-contracted the job to someone who knows what he's doing
c) We've never poured a foundation, we sub-contracted the job to someone who knows what he's doing
d) We've never put in a septic system, we sub-contracted the job to someone who knows what he's doing
e) We've never put in a drive-way, we sub-contracted the job to someone who knows what he's doing
f) We've never built a house, we sub-contracted the job to a company who we trusted to know what they were doing
6) It was asked, by counsel, if Mr. Omps had seen and spoken to us the day the logs were delivered. "The first thing I did of course was say 'hi', I hadn't seen them for awhile. I went to my foreman and talked to him, the first thing we always do, we check the foundation for square and plumb. My foreman said it was slightly out of square, slightly out of plumb, not a big problem. I went to the Elswick's and told them that. You build the house to fit the foundation, if it's a little bit out of square, the house is going to be a little bit out of square.
a) We never saw Mr. Omps at all that very first day. We stayed until two courses of logs were up, and he was not at our site during the time we were there.
b) The foreman mentioned nothing to us about the foundation being out of square or plumb, but he did say it was among the best he's seen recently
7) "They had it on their plan they wanted a 4'3" twin window. The industry does not make a 4'3" window...nobody. Then they wanted a 2'0". I checked with two different Lowe's stores, I checked with 84 Lumber, with Moore's in Winchester, nobody keeps a 2'0" window in stock."
a) Our rough drawing shows a front window OPENING SPACE of 4'3", not the size of the window itself. This would have been close to the size opening needed to fit two 24" double hung windows.
b) Our hand drawing of the front of the house shows TWO windows, not one.
c) We found our 2'0" at our local Home Depot. We also searched 84 Lumber in Winchester, and at the lumber store in Romney, WV...they both had 2'0" windows...in stock.
8) "Jack Webb, my foreman, told me I needed to look at the loft stairs because he honestly said they're too steep. I went in and looked, and they were too steep. I discussed the stairs with the Elswick's and the reaction was, we don't need code approved because there's no code in Hampshire County"
a) We complained about the steepness of the loft stairs on many occasions...Aug. 10, Aug. 12, and on Aug. 17, Mr. Omps met us to discuss this and other problems, walked up and down the stairs and only then agreed they were too steep.
b) Even if it was a limited spaced area, the landing could have been made differently to accommodate the proper sized stairs.
c) How could we bring up anything about code approved when at this stage, we knew nothing about building codes for stairs or anything else.
9) "The first discussion of the loft floor was Feb. 25. The Elswick's asked me if I could blind nail the loft floor. My answer at that time, and my answer to day is no, I will not blind nail that floor. That board is going to warp and it's going to move. If I blind nail it, you're going to get all kinds of squeaks in there." When asked if there's anything on the Elswick's drawing that evidences the discussions about the loft floor, it is answered as, "Yes, when they asked me to blind nail it, I put a note here that said "face-nail 2x6's". I wanted to make sure this went down. They also signed the front of this set of plans, or initialed, they didn't sign it, they initialed."
a) These "evidences the discussions", and our initialing such a thing is full of bull... Why would anyone go through such trouble to specifically make a note that says "face-nail 2x6's", and then make us initial it, when there are so many other major details that should have been initialed but never any notes made. If we initialed a document to this effect, then why don't we have a copy and why were we so shocked when we first saw this floor.
b) We stated we wanted to use the loft floor as our finished floor. This would mean to blind nail it so the nail heads wouldn't show. This did not seem to be a problem, as we already have seen numerous log homes with their loft floors exactly this way.
c) Our pictures show how warped and spread apart this floor is after being face-nailed.
d) Alta's Builder of the Year, Don Flick, had no problem with blind-nailing the loft floors in the houses we saw built by him. He also used construction adhesive under the boards to minimize movement.
e) Now, after all this time, we've put down a Pergo floor, probably the thinnest type flooring you can use, we're wondering this...if this was not intended to be our finished floor, and just a sub-floor to cover over with hardwood or carpeting, why then were the loft doors not raised so we would be able to open them when we did put down our finished flooring?
10) The fireplace mantle was brought up, and the statement that we called too late with the dimension. See the section in above for the extensive explanation about this. What was mentioned on the stand, however was, "I happened to be in Gatlinburg, TN this June, and I saw the same mantle, almost identical, for $299...hand-carved."
a) Our custom-carved mantle was done by a gentleman that would not place his work in any of the local Gatlinburg shops. He, instead, has had his wood carved work in many magazines, including Log Home Magazines, and they pay HIM to display his work. He travels all over the world to display his excellent carvings, and does not place his work in the assembly line aspect as we have seen in many shops. No way, would his work sell for an insulting price of $299. Just like Anderson windows, he's good, but he's expensive.
11) It is overly stressed five times throughout the defense testimony that, "I wish you could see this house." And, "It is a good looking house, built according to log home specifications." And, "I wish you could see this place", And, "The new set of loft stairs, I wish you could go out and walk up them."
a) Anyone and everyone who has seen this cabin falls in love with it....at first glance. If any time is spent there, more than an hour or two, then you can begin to look closer at the things that went wrong and have not, or can not be corrected, especially the horrible water stains on every wall in the house. We were not against a jury seeing this cabin, nor would we have been against "Court TV" showing it on national television.
There are many other trivial statements not worth taking the time to display on this summary. If done, the summary would be a few more pages long.
In late December, 1998, we received a copy of a letter, sent to our attorney Donald Cookman, from CVI's law offices of Hidey, Coyle & Monteleone. It stated that "the Internet website maintained by your client continues to contain information, allegations and photographs concerning the subject matter of the lawsuit. It is further understanding that in accepting the parties' settlement of that lawsuit, Judge Frye issued a strongly worded suggestion that your clients should remove that material from their website. I am therefore requesting that your clients immediately remove that material from their website and cease any further publication of information or allegations concerning Colonial Village Industries, Inc. or the subject matter of the litigation on their website." (Letter dated Dec. 11, 1998)
This was one of the very reasons we chose to purchase the trial tapes, and the exact strongly worded suggestions of Judge Frye are as follows:
Judge Frye: "Were on record in the Hampshire County Circuit Court with and Colonial Villages, it's 96 C 17. The Court has been advised that the parties during the last hour and a half have reached a compromise on this matter between themselves, which compromise, the Court does not need to know about, does not care to hear about. It will be considered confidential between the parties. In order that any payment be made, be made to the parties within two weeks from today, and the cost be paid within thirty. Is that a problem.. either side?"
Atty.: D. Cookman: "No, just that the Court's order should reflect that the costs are to be paid by the defendant."
Judge Frye: "Yes, sir. And I would suggest and ask that there'd be nothing on the Internet about it. I don't know who's Internet page that is, and I don't really care, but I would ask that that not be put there about this confidential settlement."
The above statement, taken directly from the tapes of the trial reflect the exact suggestions made by the Judge, referring to the confidential settlement. There was no gag order issued that would keep us from talking or displaying the past five years of the dealings and experiences we had in having this cabin built. If there would have been a gag order, or a statement saying we must remove our summary from the Internet, then we would still be sitting in the back room of the Court House, as we would not have agreed to any such thing.
We still hope our nightmare will perhaps help a future log home buyer and help them not go through what we went through, and we still openly offer the story to any one interested, magazines, television or news shows. The cabin is still an open house for anyone interested in observing it as a "Model Home"..... after all, "I really wish you could see this place."
UPDATE, AS OF AUGUST, 2000
Because so many people have read this story and have written with their comments, we wanted to keep everyone updated on what has happened with our log cabin since the trial.
Our estimate from ServiceMaster for sanding down the interior walls to try and get rid of the water stains was well over $5,000. This would have included the sanding and clear finish on the logs. The water stains have always been one gigantic eyesore, and bothered us more than you can imagine. So, we found an area with water stains that was not on a main wall, and sanded it with an electric sander...what a world of difference! In March, 1999, we bought a few new sanders, and took on the task of sanding every bit of interior wall we could! It was about a 3 week procedure, non-stop, and we NEVER want to do it again! We found that a lot of the stains were just on the surface, but several were pretty deep within the logs. Nevertheless, all that work, dust, sweat and clean-up was worth the effort... this is the way the logs should have looked in the first place! (For an example, see the "before" and "after" photos of the water stain just above the front door.) It seemed like it was months before we cleared out all the dust from the sanding, but it's one job we'll never regret doing. We also caulked every single seam inside the house, and then put on a clear wood satin finish. These walls look beautiful! "You should see this place!"
In May, 1999, we decided to wrap around the deck, connecting the back porch with a walkway to the deck we built at the sliding glass doors. It turned out real nice, and we took out two of the original 4x4 posts that were merely sitting on a block of cement, replacing them with new posts that are into the ground and much sturdier. (The corner post, which supported the very corner of the front porch, was movable, and was sitting on a cement block with no support except for a little dirt around it.) And now, after replacing these two posts, the back porch is no longer sagging as it did when first built...and it sure looks a lot better when viewed from down below.
Although we couldn't eliminate every single thing we'd like to in regards to the workmanship and some poor quality materials used, we took the deck a step further, and knocked out every single picket used on the original deck. Some of them were rotted, and some were REAL crooked. We replaced the pickets with 1x4's, connecting the posts together by placing them horizontally. We liked this look better than the standard pickets, and the deck has more of a "cabin-in-the-woods look". Getting rid of those pickets actually became a fun job! Each swing of the hammer removed just one more bad memory.
Also that summer of 1999, we were getting weekly copies of the Morgan Messenger, along with our own Hampshire Review newspaper. The Morgan Messenger is the paper published in Berkeley Springs, and in looking through the realtor ads, we saw, during this time, three different houses, advertised as "an Alta log home". The realtors said they were built by Alta's exclusive area builder, Colonial Village. Because we always felt singled out in getting a house that had so many problems, we decided to call the realtors and see another "Alta" home. We saw all three houses, all in the Berkeley Springs area, and could not believe our eyes! No wonder Colonial Village and the owners of Alta Log Homes thought our house looked good! These houses a lot of the same bad workmanship as ours, but what got our attention the most was the water stains.
In each one, there was not one wall that did not have major stains, (photos), and it was absolutely disgusting to look at! One realtor caught us looking at the stains in the living room of one house, and he said the people who owned the house wanted to "keep the rustic look"! This particular home was merely 2 years old, and was on the market for $149,500! After looking at this house and listening to the agent try to make it look good, I thought about it a few days, and phoned the realtor again to tell him he ought to be ashamed for even listing a house that looked so bad! He hung up on me. The realtor for one of the other houses said that water stains are just a common factor in a log home...we have heard THAT story before! This house was stained with a pretty dark stain, and we're guessing it was to try and cover up the water stains, but it made them look even worse and more obvious. We really felt sorry for the people trying to sell these houses, but probably feel more sorry for the person who ends up buying one!
One of the three houses we saw for sale, was listed as being owned by Frank Mann, who is one of the owners of Alta Log Homes in New York. We still find it surprising that Mr. Mann would accept this kind of craftsmanship on his own house from his own exclusive builder...funny thing is, our home DID look better than this one, also built in 1994. We indeed did discover that we were not alone in getting a house with this kind of workmanship, but perhaps were among a small handful who just stopped believing every cover-up tale that was told.
We've moved on and repaired and replaced a lot of things, and have spent many good times at our location. We're very glad that we held on. But we must say that some very special people gave us many reasons to realize something like a house should not control one's life. Our musical involvement with Special Olympics, and just being around the athletes makes one realize that any problems we thought were enormous were really nothing compared to their every day challenge to live in the "normal" world. They literally saved my sanity. SomeOne knows what's going to happen in your future and what's meant to be. We started an organization to musically reach other disabled groups. It was awarded the IRS 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status and received it's first grant from the Mayor's Advisory Council for Art & Culture. After all the time of being a professional entertainer, working with the disabled persons is the most fun I've ever had in music, and do not get paid for it...at least, not by monetary rewards. There's another group of people who really helped and stood by us, and they are our neighbors of Ice Mountain. Seeing many of the sub-divisions and locations of cabins and property in the surrounding counties, Ice Mountain is definitely the most beautiful area one could ever hope to be in. And although the first person we met on Ice Mountain, Don Landauer, is no longer with us, his spirit is still very present whenever we are there. Don, you WERE, and still ARE, Ice Mountain.
To this day, our cabin and our horror story would be open and available to anyone who ever considered having their own. We have received letters from some real nice people who cannot believe what we've been through, and we thank all of you for writing. No one should have to go through this nightmare, and if it saves one person the hassles we've been through, we'd feel real good for that.