From the outside a timber framed house will look much the same as a brick and block built one, with the external skin similarly constructed from brick or stone and possibly rendered.

In most self-build projects using this method of construction, the ground floor slab or footings of the building will be laid according to the size and tolerances set out by the timber frame designer, then the timber structure will be put together off-site and lifted into place. The main advantage this technique has over brick and block is the speed with which the structure can be completed, often a matter of days rather than the weeks and months which masonry techniques require.

How Does it Work?

Initially, the timber frame designer will assess what is needed in terms of the size, layout and load-bearing capacity of the building’s footings, and will usually return to inspect the slab before the frame is brought to the site. The footings must be accurate to within a few millimetres because sole plates are then fitted to the slab and act as a template for the building as a whole, leaving little margin for error.

The pre-fabricated panels are then slotted into place and lifting equipment used to position the frame and the pre-assembled rafter roof. The structure is then weatherproofed and given time to dry before any further work is carried out.

The Advantages

Timber framed structures have a number of key advantages over other construction techniques:

  • Speed of delivery – Because the frame is manufactured off-site, the actual construction time is significantly shorter than it would be for a brick and block structure. It can be as little as seven days between the specialist timber frame design team arriving on site and the finished frame going up, far shorter than the weeks and months bricks and mortar require.
  • Better insulation – Because the frame is thin and lightweight, there is more room for insulation. A timber wall can often be 5cm thinner than its masonry equivalent, and cavity walls in brick and block properties can’t pack in as much insulation as can be used with a timber frame.
  • Low energy costs – Timber has natural insulation properties which can be improved with high quality insulation. Advances in technology mean some timber frame homes can now be built with no heating systems at all, with air-tight membranes and vapour-control sealing the natural heat in.
  • Green credentials – Being able to prove to the planning department that your project is environmentally friendly is a huge plus when jumping the hurdles of planning applications. Because timber is renewable and non-toxic, using a timber frame can give your project the green credentials which will help smooth the way with the local authorities.

The Disadvantages

  • Limited flexibility – Because the frame comes fully constructed, there’s no back-tracking and changing your mind if you decide the layout isn’t going to work. You also have to make sure that all measurements are spot on to within a few millimetres – it could be a very costly mistake to find the structure arrives and won’t fit the template.
  • Potentially greater risk of fire – Unsurprisingly, timber will burn far faster than a bricks and mortar structure. Should you be unfortunate enough to experience a blaze, you’re likely to lose the majority of the structure, so extra vigilance and fire precautions are called for in timber framed homes.
  • It’s higher maintenance – If not treated properly, timber can suffer from rot. If they have been poorly constructed or experience prolonged exposure to moisture, timber frames will begin to deteriorate – you will need to check the construction on a regular basis and act fast at the first signs of damp or rot.

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