Why Build In Timber

10 Good reasons to consider building a timber frame home

1. Touch the Earth Lightly

The choice of a timber frame home is going to substantially lower your carbon footprint. Trees absorb carbon as they grow and this carbon is locked away when the timber is used for construction – so the more timber you use instead of more energy and carbon costly materials such as masonry and concrete, the lower the carbon footprint of your home. Timber is also a totally renewable building material. In addition, because of the relatively light weight of timber frame materials, less energy is consumed by the transport of materials.

From a purely ecological perspective, a lot less damage is done to the site immediately surrounding a building project when building with timber frame. This is because the work predominantly consists of ‘dry’ trades where products are ‘fixed’ and installed as opposed to ‘wet’ trades where products are mixed and applied on site. Meaning, quite simply, less mess.

2. Keep Cool

The structure of a timber frame wall is essentially a hollow cavity with evenly spaced structural timber studs. It is the nature of this cavity, along with the fact that the high insulating properties of timber prevent ‘thermal bridging’, that allow the wall to be easily filled with as much insulation as is required to produce a thermally efficient home – as long as it is designed correctly in terms of optimal orientation and positioning of glazing of course. The amount of insulation required for optimal efficiency, as well as to comply with the recent SANS 10400 Part XA Energy Efficiency regulations, differs depending on the climatic zone in which you are building.

3. Keep your options open

Despite it’s history as a traditional building material; as the trend towards the use of sustainable materials increases, timber is also gaining popularity with designers and architects as a material in contemporary architecture. Technological advances in design software and fabrication technologies are now starting to allow timber to be cut and fashioned to any shape you desire. So thanks to the extreme versatility of timber, your timber home could be anything from a humble log cabin, to a grand Cape Cod style beach house, a sleek glazed all round clad post & beam pad enclosable by sliding shutters, or a digitally crafted open plan contemporary house with a freeform double curved roof. The choice is yours.

4. Change is inevitable

Families get bigger and families get smaller. Children move out, older parents move in. You accumulate more stuff, occasional edit, but mostly accumulate still more stuff. Over the lifespan of a typical house countless changes occur with regards its spatial requirements. And you can be sure that this will at some stage involve building new walls, or breaking old ones down, expanding outwards or upwards or opening up.

Whatever your future change requirements, they will be easier, quicker, less intrusive, and usually a lot less messy with a timber home than attempting to make changes to a conventional brick and mortar home.

5. Less is more

The first question many people ask when enquiring as to the estimated cost of a house is ‘how much is it going to cost per square meter?’. As there are so many variables, for example finishes, proportion of windows and doors to blank walls (windows are more expensive than the equivalent area of wall), and the complexity of the design, that unless the design and finishes have been decided on, the question is not that far off the ‘how long is a piece of string’ question.

A more interesting question to consider may be, ‘how many square meters of internal floor area you getting as a proportion of building area? Did you know that, because timber frame walls are so much less bulky than brick walls, you gain approximately 1 sq.m of internal floor area for every 7 running meter of external wall length? The maths is like this; typical cavity brick wall at 300mm (including plaster) less typical timber frame external wall at 150mm (including lining & cladding) equals 0.15 sq.m of floor area saved per metre of wall; multiply by 7 RM and you get 1.05 sq.m.

So next time you are comparing ‘sq.m rates’, don’t forget to factor this in to your sums.

6. Time is money

Literally, when it comes to building – assuming you own or are paying to live where you do while building. If you have just sold your house in order to build a new one you will presumably be paying occupational rent. If you are wanting to sell on completion of the new build the sooner you can do this the better. Renting speaks for itself. If you are building a guesthouse or lodge the sooner you can get bums in beds the better for your positive cashflow.

Whichever way you look at it, a longer time spent building costs you more. Now consider the fact that a timber frame home typically takes half to three quarters of the time to build than a conventional brick and mortar home.

7. Rest Assured

Besides the knowledge that you are making a positive contribution to global sustainability, you can also have complete peace of mind about the sustainability of your investment. Timber frame homes are included in the South African National Building Regulations standards, in SANS 10082, Timber Buildings. When built to these standards they also automatically achieve the standard required for registration with the National Home Builder Registration Council (NHBRC). They are also easily designed to meet the requirements of the new Energy Efficiency regulations SANS 10400 Part XA.

Build using a builder who is member of the Institute of Timber Frame Builders and you will also have the backing of an organization with a 29 year tack record of promoting and maintaining acceptable standards in timber construction in South Africa.

8. Stay safe and sound

Timber is strong, light and reliable, making timber construction on site simpler and safer than concrete or steel construction. In terms of structural material, radiata pine, for example, has a strength to weight ratio 20 percent higher than structural steel, and more than four times that of unreinforced concrete in compression.

Timber is also flexible, meaning less chance of structural damage typically caused by heaving clay, or the settlement cracks typicaly found in masonry construction at the top corners of doors and windows.

Modern timber construction also has increased fire protection due to the use of non-combustible linings protecting the frames, the availability of fire retardants, and designing for safety by using mass timber with sufficient charring rates. Safety in the case of a fire is all about safety of the occupants, and timber homes, designed correctly, meet all of the fire safety ratings and requirements.

9. Home and dry

With a correctly designed and built timber home you will never have to worry about typical brick homeowners issues such as rising damp, or for those in the Cape, moisture breaching the cavity. Furthermore, arrive home on a cold winters evening, and a cosy fireplace or heater will heat the home up in no time. This is because, due to the low thermal mass and therefore low thermal conductivity of timber frame construction, the structure itself won’t need to absorb heat to warm up before you can warm up the space.

Use timber cladding in some of your living areas and you’ll also get the additional benefit of the feeling of warmth and cosyness exuded by natural timber.

10. Deal with people who care

Why is it that there are magazines, websites, online interest groups and forums, and building awards dedicated to timber construction? Now I’m not saying that builders who don’t specialize in timber construction don’t care about their work, but you can be sure that most timber builders are passionate about working with wood and take huge pride in their craft. So if you are going to be going with the lowest bidder (which in all likelihood you are), why not ensure that at least that is a choice to get your home built by people whose work is their passion.

Jacques Cronje