The Pros and Cons of Timber Frame Houses

Are timber frame houses as durable and energy efficient as brick and block constructions? They’re popular, but present a few issues during their lifetime.

timber frame house

Following on from my piece on the pros and cons of brick and block constructions, you’ll find out here what the advantages and disadvantages of timber frame houses are. They’re becoming an increasingly common choice for new builds but are they as green, energy efficient and durable as masonry?

The construction cost of brick and timber frame houses isn’t that different, so you won’t be better or worse off by choosing one over the other. We must therefore take into account other factors…

Pro #1: Timber frame houses allow for a more flexible design

As with most wood, timber frames can be shaped into pretty much whatever shape you want. They’re the best type of frame to have for an open plan house and other non-traditional house designs. Brick is relatively limited in terms of building an unconventional design with them because their unchanged square shape only allows for rigid, block-like structures. If you want, you can also leave timber beams exposed. This can lend a more classic touch to a modern building.

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Pro #2: It’s much quicker to build a timber frame house

Brick and block frames can take many weeks to construct because they require a fair bit of time for the mortar and plaster to dry. They are a ‘wet’ form of construction. Timber frames are usually put up in a matter of days as it is a mainly dry construction. This means, if planned well, the frame can avoid being damaged by severe weather before it’s fully constructed.

Pro #3: Timber frames can be built in sub-zero temperatures

One of the main issues with a brick and block frame is they can’t be constructed once the air temperature reaches freezing. What with brick and block being a wet construction form, you mustn’t allow it to freeze and expand as this could warp the entire structure. However, timber frame houses can still be built regardless of temperature. This is why they are more popular in colder parts of the world and why more than 70% of homes in Scotland are built with timber.

Pro #4: Timber is a green construction material

As long as trees are planted where they are cut down, timber can be very green. While lots of deforestation is happening in the world where trees are not replaced and wildlife is being destroyed, there are many conservation projects which prevent this from happening. Timber can be considered a renewable resource as long as the wood is responsibly sourced. Timber frame houses can therefore be very eco-friendly.

Pro #5: You often only have to deal with one company

This can further make timber construction a quick process. Very often the one company will be responsible for designing, manufacturing and erecting your timber frame, as well as supplying the roof structure, windows and doors.

Con #1: Timber frame houses don’t survive fire

Heaven forbid any fires break out in your home, but if they do, or if a wildfire rages out of control, a timber frame house will not withstand it as well as a brick and block house would. It isn’t recommended that you construct a timber frame if you live in an area prone to wildfires.

Con #2: Timber isn’t as naturally energy efficient or sound proof as brick

It’s quicker and easier to fit insulation in timber frames as it is a necessary requirement, but this also means that on its own timber isn’t very energy efficient. Masonry houses are better at retaining heat and therefore have a higher U value on average and a better thermal mass than timber. Timber also isn’t as good at blocking sound out as solid brick constructions.

Con #3: Lots of the construction has to take place off-site

Timber constructions may not take much time to complete, but much of it takes place in factories rather than on site. This means there is more toing and froing with construction materials, which is obviously bad for your carbon footprint.

Con #4: Timber frames can rot

As with most wood which is exposed to damp conditions, timber frames will rot if they’re poorly built or in an extremely wet climate. If the construction isn’t damp proofed well or anything isn’t sealed completely, moisture can seep in and destroy your house from the inside out, albeit over a long period of time. You should check the quality of the construction before putting the finishing touches in place or seek a professional who can survey it on your behalf.

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Con #5: Dealing with condensation is a difficult task

Condensation can occur in both masonry and timber frame houses, but dealing with it is a different matter. Condensation normally happens when warm air from inside hits a cold wall which is poorly insulated. If this happens in a timber construction, preventing it can be a major concern as it can rot the skeleton of the house. You can fit a polythene sheet or foil-backed plasterboard between the lining of the inside wall and the insulation as this will stop much of the vapour from passing through. This is harder to do once a timber frame house has already been built, so make sure your construction is effectively insulated and damp proofed before completion.

Images: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, Michael Scott, David

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