Timber Framing: A Natural Attraction

Timber frame homes offer warmth and beauty.

Trend forecaster John Naisbitt saw it coming 20 years ago. In a world dominated by technology, people will yearn for nature, he wrote in his 1982 book, Megatrends. Annemarie Roseberger of Legacy Timber Frames sees that forecast fulfilled every day. "As more and more people get high-tech, they want spaces to be natural and pleasant," she says. For would-be home owners who visit her shop, timber framing offers the key to a dream home with the warmth and comfort of nature.

Sum of the Parts

As a raw material, wood provides a warm and homey look and feel. The appeal of wood often brings people to log homes the type of wood home that many Americans dream of. Timber frame homes may be unfamiliar to you, but you've no doubt seen framing in churches, historic buildings or even barns. Basically, timber framing uses large wooden posts and beams to create a building's structure, or skeleton. In traditional timber framing, these posts and beams are connected with carved joinery, which is fastened with wooden pegs.

Unlike log homes, where the timbers are stacked horizontally to form the vertical walls of a home, timber framing uses a network of connected posts and beams to create the walls and roof system. And, unlike log homes, the wood in the timbers typically is exposed only in the home's interior. Timber framing has been used for centuries to create large, soaring spaces. Because the frame supports the roof, carrying the weight of its load to the home's foundation, there's no need for supporting partition walls. Timber-framed buildings can offer large, open rooms topped by trusses that highlight vaulted ceilings.

The potential for open floorplans holds particular appeal for many of today's home buyers. Still, if you're more inclined toward a traditional home with separate, distinct rooms, timber framing can easily accommodate your style. "Many people don't understand timber frames' 'design-ability,'" says Roe Cole of Dreaming Creek Timber Frames. A timber frame is flexible enough to create just about any kind of home, he says. Another part of timber frame homes' appeal is their potential for energy efficiency. In conventional stud-frame construction, a home's walls are built with small pieces of dimensional lumber.

The spaces between these studs are filled with insulation. Then the wall is enclosed with sheets of drywall. Although the wall is insulated, that insulation is not continuous—its barrier is broken every 16 to 24 inches by a stud or rafter, creating spaces that are not airtight. Timber frames, on the other hand, are usually enclosed with structural insulated panels (SIPs). These panels, formed when foam is sandwiched between large sheets of plywood, drywall or oriented strand board, wrap around the exterior of the frame and cover the roof. The beauty of the wood frame remains visible inside, and the large panels create a weathertight seal around the outside of the home.

Past Is Present

The characteristics we admire in today's timber frame homes have evolved through the years. For centuries in Europe, skilled craftsmen used timber framing to transform a relatively scarce resource trees into rock-solid buildings that were unmatched in their beauty. When Europeans traveled to the New World, they found an abundance of trees and eagerly used their timber framing skills to create churches, homes and other buildings.

While it's a beautiful form of construction, timber framing is also time consuming. Innovations that made sawn lumber and wire nails plentiful led to the decline of timber framing. With boards and nails, laborers didn't need to know how to carve intricate joinery to build a stick-frame house. Timber framing became a relic. Then, during the energy crisis of the 1970s, home owners and builders researching the efficiency of homes wrapped in panels rediscovered the beauty of timber framing. In the past three decades, more and more people have found themselves intrigued and delighted by the possibility of a timber frame home.

A Home for You

If you're considering a timber frame home of your own, a good place to start your research is by visiting with several timber frame producers. "There are so many people that offer so many different things," Annemarie says. "They should talk with as many people as possible." You'll also need to understand the process of having a custom home built. Typically, a timber frame company will supply, raise and possibly enclose the frame for your home, but you'll need to contract with a local builder or general contractor to prepare your job site and finish the home.

Annemarie suggests that you ask each timber framing company questions about the type of wood they use, the price range for their frames and their schedule for cutting a frame. Of course, you should also ask for and be sure to check the company's references. Keep in mind that you don't need blueprints for your dream home, or even a sketch on a napkin, before you visit a timber framer. "Don't sweat the design," Annemarie says. It's more important, she says, to make a list of what's essential to you in a home: everything from the number and types of rooms or spaces you want to the characteristics you prefer, such as "sunny," "rustic" or "formal."

"Most people who are looking for a timber frame already have buried deep in their brain the exact house that they're looking for," Annemarie says. "It's the designer's job to put it on paper." Many timber frame producers maintain a design staff or work closely with certain designers or architects. You also may choose to hire your own architect, although you should make sure that your design professional is willing to work closely with your timber framer (and vice versa). Whatever your vision of a dream home is, you can find a timber frame to suit your style.

Your frame can be massive and ornately carved or streamlined and modern. Different wood species and finishes offer a range of colors and grain patterns. To lend a historic feel, timbers can be recycled or salvaged from wood used in vintage factory or mill buildings. You may prefer to concentrate your timber framing in just one or two areas of your home a master bedroom or great room for instance to create a hybrid home. The number of options for your timber frame home is limitless. You just need to decide what type of house will fulfill your dream.

The Next Step

To learn more about the possibilities of a timber frame home, flip through the following pages, paying close attention to the photos of other homes. Soon you'll discover that you prefer certain styles over others.

Call or visit the web sites of timber frame producers that interest you. While you're online, click on the sites maintained by two industry organizations, the Timber Framers Guild and the Timber Frame Business Council. Together, these sites offer a wealth of resources for home buyers searching for a home that's perfectly natural.