Photo: James Ray Spahn
Timber homes continue to win converts with their craftsmanship, variety and superior energy efficiency. But despite their positive features, timber homes remain a small segment of the custom-home market. As a result, how to buy and build one of these houses is a mystery to most people. The most important step toward figuring it all out: Understanding that buying and building a timber home is a process. During the planning phase, you’ll gather information to learn all that’s involved and the choices that are available to you. So, let’s get started.
Address Your OptionsIn general, timber homes fall within several categories, based on how the timbers are used or are fastened. All timber homes showcase the beauty of the wood, which adds abundant character to a home’s interior.
Traditional timber frames are fashioned by skilled artisans who carve the timbers’ interlocking wood joints by hand and fasten them with wood pegs (aka, trunnels) — never metal.
A post-and-beam home is similar to a timber frame, but its joinery is less complex, and its components are fastened with metal hardware, plates or rods.
Other houses use non-structural timbers or heavy wood trusses as part of their design. In some cases these trusses might support a roof load but often they’re just for looks.
Hybrid homes combine the beauty of timber framing in some areas of the home with the use of alternative methods in others. Designing a hybrid home may help keep costs down.
Learn more here: An Introduction to Essential Timber Frame Terminology
Get to Know the PlayersBefore your home is complete, many people will have contributed to it. Here are just a few folks who will play a role in your quest for the perfect timber home:
The loan officer you work with should be able to help guide you through the process of building a home. Remember that you might need a large chunk of your construction loan right at the beginning to make a deposit on your timber package.
Your real-estate agent will help you find the right spot for your home. If you’re buying an undeveloped lot or rural acreage, you should work with an agent who is experienced in land sales.
The most important decision you make will be the timber producer you choose to craft your frame. Once you start researching companies, you will discover that different timber outfits provide a wide variety of products and services. Some timber companies offer turnkey solutions, handling everything from design to general contracting. Some will design and erect the timber frame itself, but do not handle overall construction. Others offer design and fabrication services only. Decide if you want to assemble and manage your own team or whether you would prefer to engage a company to take on these tasks for you.
With great input from you, your designer or architect will create the plans for your home. Your designer might be on staff at a timber company, or you might choose an independent professional. Either way, the person designing your home needs to work closely with your timber producer to make the framing and the home design cohesive.
If you choose a designer/architect who isn’t affiliated with your timber company (or if it doesn’t offer design services), make sure that the designer understands timber frame systems, how they work and how to design with them. It is best, however, to have this person work directly with your timber provider early in the design phase to avoid any duplication of services and to ensure the integration of timber details into your plans.
Your general contractor’s job is to take your home from start to finish. He or she coordinates all the subcontractors who will work on your home, orders materials, meets with inspectors and keeps you apprised of the budget. During the construction process, the contractor will manage your job site, supervise all the workers installing plumbing, roofing and electrical services and much more. These workers may be on the general contractor’s staff, or they may be hired as subcontractors.
You can begin your search for all these key people by looking at the directories and ads found in this special issue. Always remember to ask potential team members for references. Go to a job site and visit a timber producer’s shop, if possible. Ask to see a designer’s completed homes and talk to the homeowners about the design process. Listen to your gut: You will work with each of these people for many months, so make sure your personalities and visions for the project mesh.
Photo: Tim Murphy
Define Your Style
Whatever motif you prefer for your dream home, you can find a timber style that will set the tone. Pay attention to the photos of homes in this guide. You’ll discover that you favor some more than others, so note what you like about them. Follow up these initial leanings by consulting other books and timber producers’ web sites. You’ll begin to develop a direction for your home and its frame.
From there, you should compile an online folder or notebook of ideas, including clippings, that demonstrates the layouts, styles, color combinations, finishes — even appliances — that appeal to you.
Don’t have a clear favorite? A beautiful frame can be the unifying theme for an eclectic style home that buzzes with visual interest.
Do Your ResearchYou will have plenty of homework to do before you break ground. Fortunately, you will find lots of information in the many resources available.
In person, visit home shows geared toward timber homes, or check company websites for open house dates or frame raisings in your area. You can also attend a workshop or seminar, like The Log & Timber University, held in conjunction with the The Log & Timber Home Show, to learn more about the process. Many timber companies also offer educational opportunities and workshops of their own to lead prospective buyers through the steps of crafting a timber home with them.
Photo: Acharaporn Kamornboonyarush / Pexels
The Cost FactorWhat does a timber home cost? It’s a standard question with anything but a standard answer.
A timber home is a custom home, and everything from wood species and frame complexity to level of finishing materials and local labor costs will affect a home’s final price. Although it’s impossible to generalize costs nationwide, timber homes are comparable to other forms of custom construction. Put another way, custom construction often ranges between 15 to 25 percent more than your local tract home builder who offers few upgrades and no changes to a floor plan.
In our 2019 Industry Insights* survey, producers indicated that the average base price of a timber frame home hovers around $240 per square foot, but can quickly escalate depending on the amenities and appointments a buyer chooses.
Hybrid designs can save roughly $67 per square foot, or 28 percent less than a home that uses a full timber frame or post and beam throughout.
*Source: Log & Timber Home Industry Insights/Production Report, Active Interest Media Corporate Research 2019
Become a Student at the Log & Timber University!
If you’re serious about building a timber, log, hybrid or custom wood home, the Log & Timber University is a must for you. You can attend in person at one of our regional Log & Timber Home Shows, held around the country. Visit thelogandtimberhomeshow.com for cities and dates. OR learn on your own time by registering for our Log & Timber University Online program at creativehomeclasses.com/collections/log-timber-university.