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What is a Natural Timber Home?

What exactly is a naturally built timber home, and what sets it apart from other homes?

Written by Mike McCarthy
We're Obsessed with this Salvaged Barn in Montana


Natural is the new black. Its connotations brim with good-for-the-planet perfection at a time when Mother Earth needs a little love. We accept natural ingredients in our food, but does natural extend to our building materials? Wayne Bingham and Jerod Pfeffer, authors of the just-released Natural Timber Frame Homes—Building with Wood, Stone, Clay, and Straw, believe so. Indeed, they maintain that these materials go hand-in-hand with the notion of building a healthy house that will last for generations to come. We recently chatted with Jerod and Wayne to get their take on natural homebuilding and how it might impact the many planning choices you’ll make.
 

Q: The word “natural” is tossed around quite a bit these days. What’s your definition of a natural house, and how do timber homes fit into this scenario?

A:
Natural homes are built with materials that come from near the job site and are minimally processed. For example, timber is minimally processed; it involves taking away existing wood, and the end product still resembles a tree. On the other hand, oriented strand board (OSB) is made with the addition of glues and large amounts of energy. One might ask, “Is the source material still recognizable?”

Also, natural homes are constructed using simple, inexpensive tools and renewable energy in the form of human power. Contrast this concept with conventional building practices, where we use materials from unknown places and with an environmental and health impact we don’t fully understand. We’re forced to hire costly specialists to put the building together, and we must rely heavily on fossil fuels for the manufacture and transportation of materials.

Timber homes fit the mold of “natural” because many of their materials can be derived from renewable forests, cut by local sawmills and fabricated and assembled using simple tools and human power. It’s a building system that can be adapted to renewable materials and built without fossil-fuel inputs.