When you design a new home or modify your existing space, deciding on a building method is one of the first—and most important—choices you’ll have to make. If you’d rather avoid the standardized look of conventional construction, then the handcrafted aesthetic, the gorgeous exposed beams, and the open floor plans synonymous with timber framing may have caught your eye.
But is this method of building really the right choice for your home or family? What are the benefits of timber framing—and are there downsides you should know about?
At Carolina Timberworks, our team has collectively had more than 90 years to ponder these questions. Here’s what we think, based on our first-hand experience with building and customizing timber frame homes.
What Are the Benefits of Timber Framing?
We can think of quite a few:
It’s an Art
While watching Fine Homebuilding’s video of architect Caleb Johnson of Biddeford, Maine, discuss the winner of the 2015 Best New Home award, we were struck by his profound insights into the benefits of timber framing. His words beautifully capture why we’re drawn to and love timber framing: “Built poetry.“
“The materials go together in a fashion that you can tell he (architect Louis Kahn) cared deeply about the nature of those materials and the way they came together on a level that’s art–not just construction.“ It’s true: we’ve found that timber framing is much more than a building method. It’s an art.
It Gets Better With Age
As Caleb Johnson says, “If we use natural materials, as time goes on, these natural materials take on a character and patina that enhances the building. Whereas when you use manufactured materials, those materials will look best the day you put them in, and they will deteriorate from there, and there’s really nothing you can do to bring them back.“
Building a timber frame home requires heavy timber and wood joinery, which is about as natural as it gets. What does that mean for your family? You can expect your timber frame home’s aesthetic to continue to evolve and develop a character of its own over time. In other words, it gets better with age.
From the new wood to the concrete and steel, stick-built homes are often the opposite of sustainable. Conventional construction generally uses highly embodied resources that produce extensive carbon emissions and younger trees that never get to realize their potential as a carbon sink.
In contrast, timber framing tends to be much more sustainable. What do we mean when we say timber framing is sustainable? This short comic says it all:
It’s an Experience
A timber frame structure doesn’t typically require load-bearing walls. That means a timber frame home can often support (literally!) open floor plans that go beyond what conventional construction could create.
But that’s not all. As Caleb Johnson says, “I feel that the structure of a house can be the most expressive part of the architecture and I feel that when that structure is exposed, it’s most powerful when it’s authentic–like it’s actually bearing the load of gravity pulling the house down and the winds trying to push the house over.“ In other words, let’s just say living in a timber frame home is quite an experience.
Are There Disadvantages to Timber Framing?
Any timber frame company that tells you there are no downsides isn’t telling you the whole story. Most importantly, you should know that timber framing tends to cost more than conventional construction for a variety of reasons, including the engineering, the highly skilled labor, and the high-quality wood. Even if you opt for a timber frame home kit, you can expect it to be more expensive than a stick-built house—especially if you intend to modify the plans dramatically.
Can you cut the costs? Sure, there are a few ways to make timber framing less expensive. From careful planning to rethinking room size to repurposing space creatively, we have several suggestions for how to fit timber framing into your budget.
Should You Build a Timber Frame Home?
It may come as no surprise that at Carolina Timberworks, we think there’s nothing better than a timber frame structure. But a timber frame house certainly isn’t the right choice for everyone. So how can you decide? Take a look at our timber frame portfolio to see our work in action or contact us to talk about your project. We’re nice!
Special thanks to Shannon Richards of Caleb Johnson Architects for permitting us to reproduce Caleb’s words.