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Dear Jim: I have heard about cedar houses and we want to build a natural, semi-solar type of house. What exactly is a cedar house and what are the advantages of cedar? Are they energy efficient for all climates? -- Ed T.

Dear Ed: Cedar is one of the most attractive and durable types of wood for house construction. It naturally resists damage from insects, moisture and temperature extremes. Most houses are made of western red cedar, not the aromatic species used for closets, so there is no cedar smell in the house.

Cedar houses are usually sold as complete packages to be built at your site. These are beautiful homes ranging from 900 square feet cabins to 5,000 square feet mansions. Many are contemporary with cathedral ceilings, large windows, open floor plans -- ideal for free solar heating and natural cooling.

The term "cedar house" used by manufacturers can mean many different things. Some cedar houses have solid cedar walls like a log house. Others use cedar post and beam construction with insulated walls. Still others use a standard framed wall with cedar siding and decorative cedar ceiling beams.

Almost all of the cedar house packages are very energy efficient. Some of the cedar post and beam designs have wall insulation up to R-20, roofs to R-40 and floors to R-28. This creates a comfortable house with year-round low utility bills. By selecting a solar design, the savings are greater.

Although solid cedar wall construction has no conventional insulation, it is still energy efficient. The heavy log structure has tremendous thermal mass that creates an insulating effect. This solid wall design is effective in the summer for comfort and low cooling bills.

Several manufacturers use laminated cedar logs with three to five-ply thickness. Laminated logs are more stable than solid logs, but look identical. They are also better for the environment because they can be made from smaller, managed cedar farm lumber.

One unique cedar log design, called Thermo-Lam, uses four wood plies with an extra insulating foam layer in the center. This provides R-17.5 insulation not including the thermal mass effect from the wood itself.

All the manufacturers have hundreds of floor plan packages, but most people modify them to meet their needs. With no interior load-bearing walls, there is great interior design flexibility. Several "house that grows" packages are specifically designed to add sections as your budget and family grow.

Most cedar home packages include all exterior and interior walls, windows, doors, floor and roof materials. They are predrilled for plumbing and wiring.

Write for (or instant download -- Update Bulletin No. 638 -- list of 15 manufactures of cedar house packages, types of construction, typical specification and eight floor plan layouts and exterior diagrams. Please include $3 and a business-size, self-addressed stamped envelope.

James Dulley, The Buffalo News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.

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