Here are the major reasons that discerning people break out of the drywall box and choose a timber home:
While some swoon over the beauty of a timber home, for other homeowners, the building’s energy efficiency makes their hearts beat faster. Bob Burnside, a builder for Riverbend Timber Framing says his company’s homes are super energy efficient, especially when paired with high-performance windows and geothermal heating and cooling systems. “They are comfortable, warm, cozy and provide a healthy atmosphere for the client,” he says. Another Riverbend homeowner agrees: Paul ZumFelde and his wife spent just $734 to heat and cool their 5,000-square-foot timber home in northern Ohio last year. The Hoppings heat their open floor plan home with just a wood-burning stove.
Timber frame homes lend themselves well to modern, efficient systems, such as structural insulated panels (SIPs) in the walls and roof and insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for the basement.
Bob Burnside’s solar power system adds another level of eco-friendliness and thrift: “Our total utility bill for the last seven months has been $40,” Burnside says. The ZumFeldes harness solar power, too, through a passive system. The timber frame in their great room allows for large, east-facing windows that bring the warmth of the morning sun into their home.
Energy concerns may be a modern dilemma, but another selling point of timber homes comes from the past. “We use almost exclusively recycled wood,” Tammy McDowell of San Juan Timberwrights says. Rick Collins, whose company specializes in historic restoration, tells of clients who choose salvaged wood for sentimental reasons. They’ll use timbers from a barn or other building they’ve known all their lives or driven by for years.
Renovating a building, like a barn, for use as a home is an option, as is using wood salvaged from vintage buildings to bring character to a new home. The use of older materials creates a win-win situation: The homeowner enjoys a unique look, and the materials are kept out of landfills. Recycling often goes beyond timbers: Flooring, cabinetry, exterior siding, doors and hardware can all be culled from historic sources to accent a new home. The Hoppings salvaged beautifully aged wood from a barn on their property to build their kitchen island.
An energy-efficient home appeals to people’s brains — and wallets — but what speaks to their soul? For Bob Burnside, the answer is simple: “ The amazing look and feel of the timber frame,” he says. “It is a timeless beauty that everyone loves.”
And, although everyone might love the look, not everyone lives in a timber home; creating yet another benefit. “People like it because it’s different,” McDowell notes. “Not everybody has one.”
Even if everyone did live in a timber home, the homes could all look different. Timber framing can suit a wide variety of styles, McDowell says. “It reminds some people of a church or a barn or a European building.” A timber home can take on a casual or rustic mountain style, the more restrained feel of a classic New England home, or any style in between. Brick, siding, wood shingles or stucco can all be used to make a timber home suit a homeowner’s unique style.
Amy Campbell of Riverbend Timber Framing recalls one client — an artist — who called his timber frame home “wood sculpture on a monumental scale.”
“You can design it to fit your needs,” Cindy Hopping says.
Timber producers explain that a custom home with wood detailing costs more than an average home. Still, there are ways to build on a budget. McDowell says most of her company’s clients build hybrid homes, which feature timber framing in some areas of the home, while leaving it out in other areas. “Put your money where you can afford to get the look, in a great room or a bedroom,” she says.
Building a smaller home saves cash, too, both in the short run and over time. Material costs will be lower, and an energy-efficient home will mean lower fuel bills in every month and year to come. Building smaller with a timber frame works, ZumFelde says, because the overarching structure requires fewer interior walls, which take up space and block sight lines. “Physically, but also psychologically, you have a larger space with a timber frame,” he says.
Fulfilling a long-held dream shouldn’t be a nightmare. Pam Hinton, director of the Timber Frame Business Council, says building a timber home offers buyers the opportunity to work with outstanding people. “Timber framers are the salt of the earth,” she says. “You couldn’t ask for better people to work with when you’re building a custom home.”
Members keep up to date on building and business practices by attending conferences and seminars. Companies that belong to the council agree to abide by a code of ethics. Beyond knowledge and skill is the framers’ enthusiasm for their work. “The one thing that sets them apart is their passion to build beautiful, sustainable, healthy homes that will withstand the test of time,” Hinton says. Not content to develop houses for short-term gain, framers want to build homes that, as Tedd Benson says, people will love enough to want to take care of for a long, long time.