General Timber Frame FAQs
What type of wood do you use for your timber frames?
Our wood of choice is Eastern White Pine. We use only the “heartwood,” the best part of the log. Pine is extremely stable and versatile. It has a small shrinkage factor compared to any other hardwood or softwood; in fact, radial shrinkage is two and half times less than white oak! Our timbers are milled to our specifications from boxed heart (from the center of the tree) with straight grain and small knots. It’s reasonably abundant, making it cost-effective, and pine can be stained a variety of colors to enhance your decor. A natural pine frame will darken over time to a light, golden brown hue, and painting or staining in the future is always an option. We apply a clear, penetrating sealer, and no other maintenance is required.
On rare occasions we will use another species of wood for certain beams, such as Douglas Fir, Eastern Hemlock, or Glu-Lam, when structurally required. These are determined on a case by case basis, and are used only when needed. We have worked with and are willing to work with many species of wood, including recycled timbers from old mills, but pine remains our first choice.
What else is unique about your frames?
Our joinery method. The spline, or free tenon, system is derived from joinery used in wooden ship building. Traditional timber joinery requires large 8-inch or larger posts, when 6-inch posts are more than adequate to carry the loads. These larger posts not only require up to 75 percent more wood, but their size often overpowers the interior space. Another limitation is the difficulty of bringing more than two beams together on a post at the same level. The spline or free tenon system that we developed solves both of these problems and also makes assembly of the timber frame much simpler, since bents do not need to be preassembled on the ground and lifted into place with large cranes. Many other timber framers are now adopting this system of joinery.
We use rafters for our roof system, where some other companies use purlins. Generally, purlins can’t be spaced symmetrically, so they look unbalanced. Rafters also make roof frame construction and panel installation much easier.
We "draw-bore" our frames. Draw boring eliminates the need to pull the frame together with multiple straps and come-alongs. The timbers are pulled tightly toward plumb and square with much less effort while increasing the stiffness of the frame
We erect many of our frames ourselves. The same craftsmen who cut your frame also erect multiple frames a year, providing immediate feedback on the quality of our shop work and the ease of frame raising. Whether we erect the frame or cut a kit for you, we cut our frames to go together quickly and simply using what we've learned in the field over the years.
We maintain a large timber inventory. We carry thousands of board feet of timber, instead of just ordering what we need for your frame. This gives us the ability to quickly replace a piece that might be flawed, damaged, or, on rare occasions, cut wrong! We replace flawed pieces quickly from our onsite inventory, avoiding the temptation to "make do" or delay progress waiting for a new timber from the saw mill.
We have over four decades of experience. We have been improving our product for almost 50 years now. For example, the use of spline joinery is common today, and our SIP panel wire chase detail is now employed by multiple panel manufacturers across the country. There are "copycats" out there who duplicated our process years ago, but we have continued to adapt and improve our methods. Perhaps most importantly, we treat our craftsmen well and turnover is rare; our framers use their average of 25 years’ experience each to produce high quality frames quickly, providing you the best bang for the buck!
We are your guides to the realization of your dream! Our design services, online video tutorials, building guide, Owner's Manual and willingness to answer all your questions helps you make your way through the thousands of little decisions you need to make to turn your dream plan into reality, while staying on budget.
Can the timbers be stained a different color and sealed by your shop?
No, we do not have the capacity to do any finishing. Any staining or extra coatings would be done at the jobsite, by others. We find that very few customers ultimately decide to stain the frame, as the pine naturally darkens and “ambers” over time. The exception is any exterior timbers, which do require regular sealing to prevent weather damage and decay.
What kind of SIP panels do you use?
Our go-to wall panel for many years has been a polyurethane (PIR) or extruded polystyrene (XPS) core “curtainwall” panel, which has drywall on the interior face and OSB (oriented strand board, or structural waferboard) on the exterior face. We like these panels for many reasons: They have a dense, high-R core; they are the same thickness as a standard 2x4 wall, which allows the use of commonly available windows and exterior doors with no modifications; the interior drywall face is ready to finish, saving steps later on. There are drawbacks to this type of panel, mainly that the drywall face is prone to damage unless handled very carefully; there are also limits to the structural effectiveness of curtainwall panels that restrict their use.
For these reasons, we are increasing our use of true SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) with polyurethane or polystyrene cores. These have OSB on both faces and have tremendous structural capacities as well as high R values. They are rugged and resistant to weather conditions encountered during construction. There are several methods of installing these panels, depending on your choice of wall and ceiling finish, and we provide details and instruction for the various methods in the Owner’s Manual and in the plans.
Our standard roof panel is similar, but uses EPS (expanded polystyrene) core, which is similar to a white foam picnic cooler. This material is less expensive than the PIR or XPS type insulation, but it requires more thickness for the same R value. This is usually not a problem on roof panels because the roof edges and overhangs can be finished and trimmed in a variety of ways.
Our goal, as always, is to provide the best value for our customers by combining cost effectiveness, visual appeal, and safe, durable materials for a home that will last for generations.
Can the pine ceiling be stained, sealed, and installed on the SIP panels, at the factory?
No, that’s not possible. We recommend installing the ceiling/roof boards directly over the timber rafters, and the roof panels are installed over that. You can pre-finish the roof boards before installing if desired. We can also supply pre-finished T&G roof boards to save time on site.
Can my home be designed with the possibility of future additions in mind?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, a timber frame/SIP home is often easier to add on to than conventional construction. We will work with you during the design process to map out where any future additions might be, and to help choose design elements to facilitate that. An example would be to position windows and exterior doors to allow for a future bedroom wing or garage addition.
Do your homes only use timbers and panels, or are there conventional framing elements as well?
Our homes are primarily timber frame and panels, but we will occasionally use stick-frame, or “2x construction,” for certain elements. Basement walk-outs and knee walls are almost always stick-built. Garages, porches, and breezeways or connectors are often stick-built. Once in a great while we will use stick framing for a roof or wall element, a type of construction known as “hybrid” (part timber frame, part stick-built). It all depends on the budget and the requirements of each job. We do not use a cookie cutter approach; each job is viewed with an open mind and considering the best interests of the customer.
How do you determine the cost of a timber frame and panel package? Do you charge by the square foot?
Early on in the estimating process, we will use some cost per square foot terms in order to qualify you and to help you determine your budget. But the actual cost of the timber frame and panel package is based entirely on the cost of each timber and panel. As such, there are variations in cost per square foot because more timbers equals more cost. It is always more economical to build “up” rather than “out,” as the greatest cost of a timber frame home is the roof structure. Some larger structures require multiple roof beams and supports; dormers and valleys also increase cost. We will always be upfront about potential cost impacts, and we will always provide a written quote after the timber frame has been designed and priced.
How much does it cost to build one of your homes?
Have you heard from customers on the total cost of the build?
Can you offer assistance or advice in estimating the total cost of the project?
Early in the estimating process, we will use some cost per square foot terms to qualify you and to help you determine your budget. We might tell you to expect to spend $250 per square feet of living space to complete the entire project. But we know that you can’t realistically estimate the cost of a home by the square foot. The reality is that design choices, house volume, number of floors, useable basement living space, and hundreds of other factors go into the cost of a new building. Your contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers are all interested in giving you the best price they can to win your business without losing theirs. We are all in this together, trying to get you the house you have always dreamed of as close to your budget as possible.
To help guide you through the many decisions you will face throughout the design and building process, we have written our Owner’s Manual. Whether you plan to contract out the work, be your own general contractor, or do all of the work yourself, this manual will explain and specify details and various tasks from locating your house on the lot to the last finishing detail of trim or carpet. Our hope is that this manual will help eliminate those unplanned items that can cause misunderstandings, changes, and cost overruns. Included in the manual are specification sheets, estimation forms, architectural details, and contract forms.
We are also good sounding boards for your concerns and can compare your numbers with other projects we have been involved in to see if you are coming in at par. Remember that we approach your project as a team effort -- we’re all in it for success.
Do you provide financing? Can you help with securing a construction loan?
Sorry, no. We have a nice arrangement with the bank -- they don’t cut frames and we don’t lend money!
Seriously, how you finance your project is between you, your lending institution and your financial advisor. A construction loan will require an experienced general contractor to be in charge of the project. If you are getting a construction loan, we will work with your contractor and bank to provide documentation and payment schedules.
Do you have a model home?
No, but we are grateful to have some very generous and accommodating former clients who occasionally allow us to show off their homes to prospective, qualified customers with whom we have established a working relationship. This is strictly by appointment only.