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Choose Your Timber Home Truss System

Strong and stylish, trusses hold their own. Learn how to pick the best timber home truss system for you.


By Conrad Theodore


When people enter a timber home, their eyes immediately gaze upward toward the beauty of the exposed posts and beams. And it’s these exposed truss systems that attract many homeowners to this style of house in the first place. “Everybody who comes into a timber home ooh’s and ahh’s at the trusses, whether they live in a stick-built house or not,” says Jan Paul Donelson, architect and owner of Timberland Design in Missouri. “But if they know anything about timber framing, it’s a given that the home will be well built. The reason they buy is for the beauty and artistry of timber framing.”

Of course a truss is beautiful, but it’s also strong, far exceeding the requirements of most local building codes. Trusses consist of a frame work of smaller members of lumber, connected with various types of joinery, such as mortise and tenon, that act as a single structure. This allows the transfer of weight from the roof or other upper-story section, such as a loft, to the walls without the need for additional support. Trusses enable timber homes to have large, open areas, or partition walls can be added without worrying about the roof structure above.

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What defines trusses more than their strength and support is the identity they bring to a timber home. And since the trusses pack a powerful visual punch, moldings and other decorative finishes aren’t as necessary as in a conventional home. But how do you know which truss to choose for your timber frame? Greg Burnshaw of Woodhouse, the Timber Frame Company, in Mansfield, Pennsylvania, says that the design of the home usually dictates the type of truss to be used.

For instance, if a homeowner wants to have a large living area with no posts in the middle of the room, a hammerbeam, made up of smaller pieces of timbers joined together, or a king post truss, which features a post in the center of a triangular frame, would be good options because of their ability to span large spaces. Another choice is a queen post truss, designed with two vertical posts. The queen post truss works well in lower-spaced areas because it can give you the same physical effect without the stair step the hammerbeam requires.

The sturdy but simplified crisscross design of the scissor truss is another popular option for timber homes. Normally, the first step is to get a floor plan that works best for you. Then the trusses are chosen to fit the layout and to contribute to the architectural statement the homeowners want to make. Another factor that homeowners must consider is cost. “The amount of joinery and complexity makes a truss more expensive,” Burnshaw says. For instance, a hammerbeam has many more timbers and joints than a queen post truss, therefore making it more intricate and more costly to build. Also, the number of trusses used in a home affects the cost.

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Many homeowners opt to keep trusses in featured areas, like the great room or master bedroom, where they’ll really make a statement. Others want the look of wood in every room of their homes, possibly opting for less intricate trusses to keep costs down. An architect, designer or timber company representative can help you determine what works best for the budget, size and style of your home. But ultimately, the choice is up to you. “It’s not usually a matter of this truss works better over that one, because they all work well,” Donelson says. “It’s more the style you choose for the look you want to achieve.”

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