Timber Frame Farmington NM
Homeowners are generally attracted to timber frame construction because of the beautiful soaring ceilings and revealing craftsmanship found in many timber frame homes. But if most homeowners think of timber frames as rustic structures, they'll have to think again. Today, timber frame homes can be produced in any style, from rustic to sophisticated, traditional to contemporary, and in a variety of different designs.
"Timber frames create [a sense of] security, longevity, art and craftsmanship," says Frank Baker of Riverbend Timber Frame Homes in Blissfield, Mich. "That's a powerful combination, based on the visual qualities of large timbers, wood joinery and phenomenal historical structures worldwide."
A Lost Art Rediscovered
The early settlers brought the art of timber framing to North America, and it was the most popular type of construction until the 19th century, when mills starting turning out uniform lumber and metal nails began to appear. After stud or stick construction was adapted with the Industrial Age, timber framing construction nearly disappeared in this country until the 1970s, when a group of New England craftsmen revived the art and made it fashionable again. Today, there are more than 3,000 timber framers in North America.
|The timber frame construction method has been around for centuries, and is characterized by explosed timbers on the inside of the structure.|
To construct a timber frame home, heavy vertical posts and horizontal beams with mortise (the hole or slot) and tenon (protrusion) joints and wooden pegs are used to form a self-supporting structure. Post and beam construction is similar; however, it often uses metal connectors instead of wood joinery, and engineered wood, such as glued laminated timber (called glulam for short) sometimes is substituted for natural timbers.
Because timber frame homes do not depend on interior load-bearing walls for support, they can be designed with large open spaces and soaring ceilings. Elaborate ceiling trusses and beams are common, enhancing the beauty of the structure.
Today, wood for most timber frames is cut at the lumbar yard. The various parts are labeled and trucked to the site to be erected. In some cases the frame is erected first in the yard and then taken apart before being shipped, to ensure a well-fitted structure.
With a keen eye to conservation, many of today's timber framers use wood from sustainable sources, such as managed or certified forests, as well as reclaimed wood, river wood or standing dead wood (see sidebar). If at some point your timber frame home is dismantled, chances are those timbers will be used again to build another house. In addition, because timber frames are built in a yard, cutoffs from one construction project can often be used for another, which helps reduce much of the debris generated for site-built homes.
Once it's in place, the timber frame structure, which forms the home's framework, must be in-filled between the posts using one of a variety of methods. Traditional stud or stick construction is used in some cases, and other times panels, which are prefabricated stud-type units, are used to expedite and simplify construction. Other materials, such as plywood or even metal, can be used as well.
Increasingly, builders are using structural insulated panels (SIPs) as in-fill, although SIPs can be used on their own as the structural component for homes. SIPs consist of two outer panels, usually oriented stand board (OSB), bonded to an insulating foam core. Builders use SIPs as wall, floor and roofing components.
|Heavy wood posts and beams with mortise and tenon joints are held together with wooden pegs, creating a structure that shows off its natural beauty.|
"Combining the ancient craft of timber framing with the impressive energy efficiency of SIPs [can help reduce] energy consumption and future energy costs," says Jeremy Bonin, LEED-certified architect for Davis Frame Company, a timber frame construction company based in Claremont, N.H. "In this regard, timber framing nurtures the spirit as well as addresses the immediate concerns of rising energy costs and stewardship for our environment."
SIPs with a variety of different foams in different depths are used to increase or decrease the R-value of the wall. The panels are often precut and numbered in the factory to hasten installation; sometimes, however, the panels are cut on-site.
In the past it was sometimes difficult to get local approval to use SIPs for residential construction because the authorities weren't familiar with them. However, SIPs were recently adopted into the International Residential Code, which makes the approval process by local code authorities much easier. "Research and development continues on many fronts to enable engineers and architects to more easily take advantage of the inherent superior strength of SIPs in design for high-wind and earthquake-prone areas of the country," notes Baker, who owns Insulspan, a manufacturer of SIPs, as well as Riverbend Timber Frame.
Building a Timber Frame
To begin the process of building a timber frame, homeowners should consider attending some of the numerous timber and log shows across the country, and look through the magazines devoted to the subject. Ian and Janet Evans did just that. The Evanses perused photos of timber frame homes in magazines and decided they wanted to build a shingled, craftsman-style house in New England.
After investigating several different companies and attending a number of shows, the Evanses choose Davis Frame Company to build their home. They opted for SIPs for the infill of their frame to keep heating and cooling costs to a minimum. After more browsing on the Internet, they focused in on one particular house design they liked and asked Davis Frame to duplicate it for them. They even chose the paint colors from a photo they found on the Web.
The frame was delivered to their site by truck, along with the SIPs. The Evanses hired a local contractor, Phil Miller, to pour the foundation, erect the frame and complete the finishing work on the home. To expedite construction, Ian and Janet helped stain the shingles and completed some of the built-ins, so they'd be able to move into their new home more quickly.
Some homeowners, like the Evanses, find their own designs, while others hire architects to design homes from scratch. "About one in 10 homeowners that we work with have their own designer or architect involved with the project prior to beginning work with us," says Bonin. The rest depend on Bonin and his staff to design a house "tailored to the needs and wants of the particular client."
Many of the components for today's timber frame homes are created using sophisticated CMC (Computer Numerical Machines) machinery. It's a very precise process and faster than the methods favored by hand crafters, who still use many of the old tools, saws and chisels - the same tools used hundreds of years ago. Naturally, houses built by hand crafters tend to be more expensive than homes with factory-cut components because of the time and skills involved.
Often, timber framing is used to construct an entire house. Other times it is used to create an addition, such as a family room with a high ceiling that is added to an existing stick-built house. Other times, timber frame construction is combined with other forms of construction, such as log stacks, to build a hybrid-type house.
When planning to build a timber frame house, Baker notes that if homeowners "invest adequate time in the design and planning stages, the construction phase will go much smoother with fewer unpleasant surprises. Create detailed specifications in the design phase," he adds. "Mid-construction changes are expensive and time consuming. Expect the unexpected. Weather and delays are normal and to be expected." Baker also offers one final bit of advice: "Enjoy the experience!"
Sheri Koones is the author of Prefabulous, which focuses on prefabricated construction, as well as House About It and Modular Mansions. She's based in Greenwich, Conn.