A log cabin and a panel house can provide the perfect retreat for you in your garden, but several differences will be apparent and may make you want to choose one of them over the other.
When building a Log cabin, the timber base frame is secured together then the first logs are screwed down to the base frame to hold them in place. From that point until the last wall logs are fitted at the top of the building, no further screws are required.
The log cabin comprises individual logs with 'tongue' shaped notches at the top of the log and 'groove' shaped notches on the underside, allowing each log to fit perfectly together. Each log has cut-away sections near the end that would enable the logs to interlock.
Windows and doors can be fitted in place at the appropriate time when the log cabin has reached that point in construction and is slotted in. The windows and doors are not screwed to the cabin but can move as the cabin expands and contracts between 10mm and 30 mm, depending on the relative humidity of the environment. So it will grow in height in the wintertime and shrink in the summertime. There may be an element of contraction after the log cabin is initially built as the humidity of the timber equalises with the moisture of the air surrounding it.
A panel house is a very different design. The panels are manufactured in the factory, and each wall is constructed from several panel sections. The panels are composed of many logs cut and nailed into a frame. Because of this, during the construction on site, the panels are just slotted together and screwed in place. Windows will be already fitted within the panel. Doors may need to be added depending on the type of panel house. Once the panel house has been constructed, a ring beam is placed around the top to hold it tightly together after on-site construction.
The expansion and contraction of panel house logs will still occur, but because the panel section logs are nailed into the panels, there is no overall effect on the height of the panel house. There will be individual expansion and contraction of the logs so that each log may expand and contract between 1mm and 3mm, but it won't be seen as an overall change like you will find in a log cabin.
Practical Aspects of Expansion and Contraction
In a log cabin, because of the expansion and contraction, there is a need to repaint areas that may show up as the logs expand around the door frame and window frame; this does not happen in a panel house.
Internally, a log cabin can't have things secured across multiple logs, for example, a TV bracket or shelves, as this will limit the expansion and contraction and cause issues to the overall health of the log cabin. This movement is not an issue for a panel house, although there will be some movement, and there must be an element of flexibility in the items that are screwed to the internal of your panel house.
The overall look of a panel house is much cleaner as there are no interlocking logs at the corners. It is more like an English summerhouse than a log cabin but has the benefit of much thicker logs.
Both log cabins and panel houses can be fully or partially insulated with the addition of a cavity that can be filled with either rock wool or rigid PIR board.
The log cabin must be entirely constructed in its log form before cladding and insulating the walls can take place. Usually, the cladding is fitted to the outside of the cabin if the whole building requires insulation. Cladding can be added internally if a single room needs to be insulated.
Fitting the cladding to the log cabin's exterior hides the interlocking corners, giving the cabin a much cleaner finish, similar to a panel house, creating a much more modern feel.
The panel house will come pre-insulated from the manufacturer, and as such, it is a less time-consuming process to construct on-site. Likewise, the roof of a panel house can come pre-insulated or may be insulated during site construction.
A cavity space in your building allows wires or plumbing to be hidden, giving the inside a much cleaner finish.
Without a cavity, it is required to either fit the wiring to the outside, hiding it from the inside, or fit the wiring to the inside to hide it from the outside. However, intrusion can be limited by placing wires under the floorboards and through the roof.
Which is Best?
Maybe a better question is how you will use the cabin.
How you want to feel within the building and how you want to feel looking at the building are the most critical points to consider.
Remember, we can manufacture a log cabin design as a panel house or vice versa.