Timberframe FAQ

FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

GENERAL QUESTIONS

It’s an ancient craft with roots in Europe and the Orient which was brought to North America with the first European settlers. The craft relies on connections that are cut into each piece. The most typical connection is one in which a tongue on the end of a beam is cut to fit into a pocket in a post. A hole is bored through both sides of the post and tongue and a wood peg is driven in to hold the two timbers together.

At Cornerstone we do both. These two approaches to heavy timber construction are often mistaken for each other, or at least the terms are used interchangeably when in fact they are quite different.

“Post and Beam” uses minimal joinery, often simple square or butt cuts that rely on metal plates, lag bolts and spikes to secure one timber to another. Timber framing on the other hand, utilizes a wide array of complex joinery cuts to ensure that timbers remain tightly connected. Metal use is quite limited and if required is usually hidden.

There has always been “cross fertilization” between these two approaches and a number of post and beam builders in the first half of the 20th century still incorporated simple joinery in their work.

Yes, timber framing is usually more expensive, often by 10-15% than the most equivalent conventional method. That said, there are exceptions and the design of a space will greatly affect the relative cost differential between timber framing and more common construction.

Timber frames can be economical or extravagantly expensive, depending on their design. As a rule of thumb, a timber frame will cost between 15-20% of the total construction cost, so a $350,000 home should have a frame valued between $50,000 and $70,000. Using a hybrid approach, where the timber frame is used in the key living areas and secondary spaces are conventionally built, is a good approach to reducing the overall cost of your home project.

Yes, well designed timber frames have a useful life potential measured in centuries. If the foundation and roof are maintained, there is really no limit on their durability. The key reason for their longevity is that a timber frame stands separate from the other systems in the home and has the structural strength to resist most natural forces. Even when neglected they endure. Stick frame buildings have the structure inside walls where moisture will eventually enter and start decay processes. The stick frame is only as good as the flashing detail around chimneys and windows, and when that fails the structure will begin to deteriorate.

We are a timber frame specialist and usually the first stop when customers begin to consider a timber frame. We provide:

  • Everything timber from designs to the final assembled frame, fireplace mantles, verandas, entry canopies…
  • Full design services and architect referrals
  • Structural engineer review and stamp for most provinces
  • Contractor recommendations
  • Resources for straw bale, light clay and cordwood
  • Tongue and groove boards for ceilings and floors
  • Stairs: Straight run, winder, curved, spiral
  • Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

DESIGN PROCESS

Start with your timber framer – we can help you grab hold of all the details you’ll need before going into design. Come with a good description of your building site and the key features / spaces you want in your home and we’ll respond with basic floor plans and timber frame ideas for you to consider.

Possibly, but there will likely be a few spots where the dimensions and room layout will need to be altered to make it work effectively as a timber frame. Often a plan book concept will allow us to see the elements that appeal to you and we can offer similar “timber frame friendly” plans as starting points for a design discussion.

It’s best if you can allow six months or more for design. More time means more opportunity to reflect and revise and significantly reduces the risk of errors. Plans can be done in as little as two weeks but they require clients to be available and to make a lot of “on the spot” decisions.

Experienced home designers will charge between $1.20 and $2.50 per square foot. Some moonlighting designers will work for less. Architect fees will range from $2.00 to $6.00 and more per square foot or are calculated as a percentage of constructed value. Fully accredited interior decorators, depending on agency, charge $60 – $150 per hour. If that seems a little too steep then you can often find semi-professional help for substantially less at full service paint and decorating stores.

Most jurisdictions require an engineer to review and stamp your design. Fees range from a few hundred dollars to several thousands, depending on complexity, size and project value.

Yes, once we understand the specifics of your project we can recommend one or more experienced designers who can provide design cost estimates.

WOOD CHOICE

Our most common wood species by volume are:

  • eastern white pine
  • Douglas fir (green and standing dead)
  • western red cedar
  • white oak

We have also made frames from a variety of other species: burr oak, green ash, white spruce, eastern white cedar and lodge pole pine

Standing dead timber refers to trees that have died while still standing in place. This can happen when a fast moving fire runs through a stand, burning the tops of the trees but otherwise leaving the timber untouched. The trees die and lose a lot of their free moisture through the remaining needles and then continue to dry as long as they remain standing.

Timbers cut from standing dead trees will typically have less checking (cracks along the length of a timber). Checking is a normal part of how large dimension timber dries. But because a tree that dies “on the stump” gives up its moisture slowly the checks are smaller. The timber will also have less shrinkage in girth than green timber and are therefore ideal for use wherever tension joinery is required (e.g. king post in a truss)

One would expect that old barn or bridge timbers should be less expensive than cutting new wood. At the point at which a demolition company buys the rights to salvage, timbers from a structure the cost per board foot is a usually a real bargain compared to new material.

But, of course that would make recycling too easy! After the labour and equipment required to salvage the timbers (sometimes out of really challenging locations), sort and cull, market and distribute the cost is usually 1-1/2 times that of new. And once it arrives on our yard we need to remove spikes and bolts and further cull to arrive at the pieces suitable for use.

In the end, the rustic beauty of reclaimed wood will “make music” in your home, and the added cost will be worth every penny.

Have a question? Give us a call or drop a line! We’d love to hear about your project and will help in any way we can.

PROS AND CONS OF STRUCTURAL INSULATED PANELS (SIPs)

Way back in 1980, timber frame revivalist Tedd Benson, was already writing about how SIPs could revolutionize the way homes were built: “The stress-skin panel presents attributes of heat resistance never before seen in home construction and is a perfect match to timber frames. Energy conservation is the hope of the future…we must mark the end of the era of substandard housing that is cheap to build but expensive and wasteful to maintain.”

At Cornerstone, we’ve noticed a big jump in client demand for SIPs. Before you commit to using them here are a few things to consider:

  • SIPs are more expensive but begin paying back in comfort and energy savings on day one and for as long as people live in the home (great great grand kids?)
  • SIPs go on fast and allow for a quick weather tight shell
  • SIP skins provide continuous nail base for siding and interior finishes (hanging a picture was never so easy!)
  • SIPs provide an unbroken blanket of superior insulation (no studs) and allow for smaller furnaces and air handling systems
  • SIPs have solid, stable cores, so mold and insects have no place to start

Some additional considerations:

  • SIPs, especially the roof panels, require meticulous foaming at the seams, as even a small void between panels can be problematic
  • SIPs require design and production lead times of 8-12 weeks, and your architect and builder need to be “on board” with the process
  • SIPs require advance planning for electrical, and a tradesperson who is prepared to fish wires through wire chases
  • SIPs are sometimes resented by local building trades (read: framing crews) who see panels as a threat to their livelihoods
  • If you would like to learn more about Structural Insulated Panels, check out www.sips.org