For Gastineau Log Homes, www.oakloghome.com, New Bloomfield, Mo., any standard log home plan can be modified or customized to meet the client’s needs. This is the same approach the company takes with technology—custom built.

Case in point, its CRM (customer-relationship management) system. Rather than using an off-the-shelf system, the homebuilder had a programmer develop a customer database in SQL server. The Web-based application allows the company to log details about each client including floorplans, types of logs, types of stain, color of windows, and color of shingles, among others. All of the dealers can then access the database through the Internet.

Lynn Gastineau, president, Gastineau Log Homes, says, “It also gives us a complete activity log from beginning to end of what has happened with the customer conversations, and things that were mailed to them, which is extremely valuable because we have a very long sales cycle.”

The portal also allows the company to create mailings, emails, and letters, but the primary application is follow up for sales people. Gastineau admits developing a custom-built solution was challenging. The company had a database, and needed to convert all leads to the new database. But, in the end, making the switch provided value for the builder. She adds, “We can go back in there and look it up without having to dig through the contract file and trying to find it. We have all that information right there in the database.”

For CAD (computer-aided design), Gastineau Log Homes uses SolidBuilder from Digital Canal,www.digitalcanal.com, Dubuque, Iowa—but with a custom approach. The builder chose this program because it can draw in 3D, as opposed to drawing in 2D and then converting to 3D.

“The common problem that builders have on the jobsite is that people draw stuff that you can’t build. It eliminates almost all of that,” says Gastineau. “We do some fairly elaborate roof systems and (we) have to understand how those are going to fit together. The purpose is to eliminate potential mistakes that happen in the design field that could cause problems in the site.”

Still, while SolidBuilder provides a material list function, Gastineau Log Homes chose to create its own custom feature. Gastineau says, “We have our own material list program where we go in … we put in dimensions and it calculates a lot of the materials that is needed. Within the material list, it prints out, and identifies each board that goes into a house, and each little piece is identified as to what exactly it is suppose to be used for. So it makes it simple.”

The company also uses Microsoft Excel to create a pricing database for estimating. Gastineau’s coined ‘current price links,’ which includes all of the pricing information, links to an estimate template. This allows for price packages and specifications to be prepared. Gastineau points to an example: If the company has a price increase, and a prospect comes back two years later and wants to know what the new price is for the same house, Gastineau Log Homes can link that quote up to the new price links and it will recalculate for the current year’s pricing.

The company has even engineered solar forced air dry kilns, which requires a very low overhead expense to run on a day-to-day basis. Since the company can leave raw materials in the kiln longer, it dries the logs slows, which is much better for the timbers. Solar panels allow the sun to enter and heat up the chambers. Sensors on the sides of the chambers know when the moisture comes out of the wood, reaching a certain humidity level, and opens the doors to let the moist air out and bring the dry air in. The sensors also know when it has returned to the proper humidity level in order to close the doors and reverse the turbines.

Gastineau Log Homes prides itself on its custom creations—both the homes and the technology. Throughout the course of many years, the homebuilder has been able to create a smorgasbord of solutions for CRM, estimating, and CAD, among others. For some residential homebuilders, off-the-shelf applications provide a good solution for managing processes. For others, custom-built, homegrown applications provide long-term value.