If you’re in the market for a timber frame builder, we’re happy you found us. But there’s something we should clarify. Technically, we aren’t builders—meaning we don’t usually fill the general contractor role.
Put another way, we do build timber frames, but we don’t build houses. (That’s what general contractors and builders do.)
Carolina Timberworks is a timber frame subcontractor, meaning we specialize in:
- Timber frame design
- Timber frame engineering
- Timber frame fabrication
- Timber frame installation
In short, we handle everything having to do with the timber framing portion of the building. Typically, we work for the general contractor or builder, in close collaboration with the architect and engineer(s).
If that sounds like exactly what you need, then we’re extra happy you found us. Let us introduce ourselves, share what we do, and explain how our timber frame construction process usually works.
Understanding Timber Frame Construction
Timber frame construction is a method that dates back nearly 2,000 years, and we think it’s still as relevant and beautiful as ever. A traditional timber frame uses wood-to-wood joinery (no nails, screws, bolts, or metal plates), creating structures that are gorgeous, sustainable, and incredibly durable.
Timber frame buildings range from classic barns to custom homes to places we work. At Carolina Timberworks, we partner with architects and builders to integrate timber framing into your home construction project.
Choosing the Right Timber Frame Builder or Timber Frame Subcontractor
Finding the right builder or timber frame subcontractor isn’t always easy. Some companies are cost-efficient but less than great with communication. Others get behind schedule or lack clarity about their scope of work.
After 20+ years in business, we’ve seen how easy it is to approach this role the wrong way. That’s why we provide detailed written proposals, weekly progress reports, stick to the schedule, and even clean up at the end of the day—in addition to designing, engineering, fabricating, and installing timber frame structures.
We have plenty of tips on how to interview a timber frame company because we think it’s essential to find the right partner. (By the way, every one of these tips also applies to choosing a builder.) Here are some areas we think are most important.
If it’s their first rodeo, you’re putting a lot at risk. Ideally, you’ll want to find a builder or timber frame subcontractor who has been in business at least 15 years. That’s long enough for the marketplace (and recessions) to have weeded out the bad people and bad business models.
It’s also long enough for the company to have made (and learned from) their mistakes. That’s a big part of how companies learn to build better buildings (and timber frames) while also ending up with happy customers.
Fifteen years is enough time to have built a (good or bad) reputation, a portfolio of finished work, and a whole bunch of customers, to whom you can pose the single-most important question: What was it like to work with this company, and would you tell me some stories?
As a general rule, the larger and more challenging the project, the more experience you’ll want. Carolina Timberworks has been in business for 20+ years and we’re looking for your challenging, difficult, big, and/or time-critical project.
Another important consideration is the builder or timber frame subcontractor’s reputation. Here’s the problem: unlike Amazon, no one in the building industry puts bad reviews on their website.
Start by looking for testimonials on the builder or timber framer’s website. Even if they’re all positive reviews, what patterns can you see? Then, re-read them, looking for what people don’t say.
It can be helpful to check online reviews. Naturally, the quality and content of the review matters, but if you only see five-star ratings, be skeptical.
Every homeowner knows this, but you’d be surprised at how few actually take the time to ask for references, and then call them. You’re about to get married to a builder and his or her subcontractors for a year or more.
Once you’ve made a choice to work with a particular builder or subcontractor, pause. Don’t fall in love just yet. Ask for references. And call them.
Does the builder or timber frame subcontractor’s work meet or exceed your quality expectations? Is it built to last?
Here’s the problem.
You’re undoubtedly very good at what you do for a living, but if you’re like most people, you don’t really know what makes one house better than another, or higher performance, or longer lasting. Or for that matter, what makes one timber frame company’s joinery better or worse than another’s.
Here at Carolina Timberworks, we live by the saying, “When you buy quality, you only cry once.” We’re committed to delivering a quality timber frame that’s built to last for generations.
We’re equally committed to making the process enjoyable. If you don’t think that’s important, you might want to ask someone who has been through an unenjoyable building process to tell you some stories.
Our Timber Frame Building Process
Our timber frame process begins with a dream—yours. We start with a conversation (sometimes several) to see if we’re a good fit. If it seems like a potential partnership, we’ll move on to discussing details.
From there, you can expect things like a scope of work, a budget, a timeline, and a contract. Then the fun really begins as we proceed with the 3D model, timber frame engineering, and shop drawings before placing the timber order.
Interested in more details? We invite you to explore the steps of our timber frame process.
Building and Timber Frame Cost Considerations
No one has ever told us “money is no object.” But over the last 20+ years we’ve had a few clients who’ve quietly explained that “time is more important than money.” But make no mistake, cost is always a part of the decision.
In any building project, timber framed or not, four primary variables will determine the cost. They should be thoroughly understood, discussed and agreed in advance:
Once the scope is defined, you then need to pick two of the time, cost, and quality variables.
Rules of Thumb
Rules of thumb are (almost) always wrong. They can, however, be useful in the very early phases of a construction project. For example, during the design process, you’ll be asked by your architect or design professional about your budget. He or she will then use historical data and rules of thumb to guide the resulting design.
Once design is complete, you’ll probably ask a local builder what it costs per square foot to build in a certain neighborhood, town, or county. A good builder (or timber framer) won’t answer right away without asking you some questions about your project—i.e., do you have plans, when do you plan to build, what’s the property like, etc. But eventually you’ll probably receive an answer in the form of a range, which can be useful.
An Estimate Is Just an Educated Guess
Be very careful. It is impossible to accurately estimate the cost of a building project until it has been completely designed, engineered, and detailed specifications written.
Nor is an accurate cost possible until all site-specific considerations are determined (e.g., land clearing, road, utilities, access, steepness, etc.).
Garbage In, Garbage Out
It’s wonderful when everything goes according to plan. However, if the plans you paid for are just pretty drawings, things might not go well. For one, it’s impossible for a builder (or timber framer) to accurately estimate the cost without good plans.
A good set of building plans specifies in great detail exactly how your builder (and subs) will build everything—from the number and size of rebar in the footers to the species, grade and texture of your timber framed great room.
Yes, good plans cost more. But every problem your builder encounters is going to get solved, eventually. In our experience, it’s a whole lot less expensive to figure them out in advance during the design process than it is on-site when you’re paying people to stop work and figure out what to do.
Cost Plus vs. Fixed Price
In the simplest terms (we’re not lawyers):
A fixed price contract is exactly what it sounds like: the contract is for a fixed dollar amount.
In a fixed price contract, the builder (or timber frame subcontractor) bears most of the financial risk because he or she has agreed to build the project for a fixed price.
A cost plus contract is one where the builder adds a percentage for overhead and profit to the actual cost of building the project.
In a cost plus contract, the owner bears most of the financial risk because the owner agrees to pay whatever the actual costs turn out to be (plus a percentage), regardless of the initial estimate (see garbage in, garbage out above).
We’re all guilty of ignoring the following advice, but you should ask a qualified business law attorney to review the contract before you sign it. Most of the time it’s a waste of time and a relatively small amount of your money. Every once in a while, it’ll save you from a financial and emotional train wreck.
Next Steps for Finding the Right Timber Frame Builder or Subcontractor
Have we scared you away from building? If not, are you thinking about incorporating timber framing into your project? We’d be very happy to talk with you. Contact us and tell us a little about what you have in mind, or call us at 828-266-9663. We’re nice!