Planning Your Timber Frame HomePlanning Your Timber Frame Home

If you are anything like me you have dreamed about building your own timber frame home for years. Dreaming about it is the easy part. Planning it IS work. Fortunately the more research and planning you do ahead of time the easier it will be for you in the long run. The only regret I have about my now completed timber frame home is that we didn't build it sooner.

I have gathered some pertinent questions it will be necessary to ask & answer before you can realistically start your planning process.

Do I know where I want to build my timber frame home?

  • What is your land BUDGET _______________? Be realistic.
  • What qualities does the property have that may affect your choice of a timber frame plan? How does the land lie?
    • Are there features you wish to emphasize such as a stream ,lake site, waterfalls, distant views, a place for a sunny garden, unusual plants, specimen trees, boulder or rock formations, etc.?
    • Is the land FLAT?
    • Is the land SLOPING?
    • Is the land STEEP? These questions will help you consider where to place the entrance of your timber frame home. You do not have to always have the entrance on the ground floor/
  • What if any views do you have that you want to make use of? 

This question is not always as easy to answer as you might think. When planning our timber frame home we had only assessed the property in the spring and summer; when fall came we had a view of the mountains I could not pass up. So if possible you should consider your property seasonally. The leaves are not always on the trees. This should also be taken into consideration when assessing how much natural light a room will receive.

  • How much does Mother Nature love you?
    • Will your home be subject to heavy snow loads?
    • How much rain will you get? Will you have to have an erosion plan? Will extra money have to be spent dealing with the run off?
    • Snow-belt, Sun-belt, will temperature extremes be involved? Are the R-values of the SIP's going to change from the norm
    • Let deciduous trees shade your home in summer, decreasing heat gain in summer. They will allow sunlight in to warm the house in winter.
    • A two foot overhang will help protect the sides of your timber frame home and decrease heat gain in summer, and it will let sunlight in from a lower winter sun in the cold months.
  • No man is an island at least not where most building departments and utilities companies are concerned. Some things to keep in mind are:
    • How will you get electricity to your building site? Is there electric service nearby that you will able use? Are you miles away from the nearest power pole? Are you going to have to pay to run power to your site? Are you going to go solar or have your own generator?
    • Will the property pass a perc test? A perc test indicates the soils ability to absorb liquid over a specified period of time. How long it takes the soil to absorb liquids will be a deciding factor in how large and what type septic system you will be required to have. If it does not pass a perc test you may not be permitted to build on the land.
    • Is there a hook up to local sewer system available?
    • Is there a source of potable water? Is there a hook up to the local water system available? In rural areas, obtaining potable water usually means drilling a well. You may want to find out how deep and how much well costs usually run in your area.
    • How will your building site be accessed? Does it already have a driveway with plenty of parking for construction? With a timber frame you will need at least room for a crane and an area from which to stage the timber frame materials? Is the area ABOVE where the crane will be working free of overhanging branches, power lines, etc.? I have yet to meet a crane operator that trims trees for free.
    • How far away from a fire department is the property? This question is posed for you to consider the after construction insurance costs more than any thing else.
    • Does any one in the household have need to be near to a hospital, dialysis center, etc?

Do you know what style timber frame home you want?

Post and beam, mortise and tenon, post and plate, are to be considered. Not all cost the same thing to construct, nor does it cost the same thing to erect a unique post and plate house as it does a bent type home.

Our timber frame office complex is post and plate timber frame construction of eastern white pine. Our model home's great room is a fine example of compound joinery and is cut of eastern white pine. The remainder of our timber frame model home is mortise and tenon bent type construction and is cut of hemlock from Maine. Our timber frame structures are joined by oak or locust pegs unless a structural engineer specifically calls for metal to be employed in the joining of materials.

Do you know what species of wood you want?

The majority of our timber frames are cut of eastern white pine. Eastern White Pine is readily available in our area, and we believe it is more stable than other woods (i.e. it splits, warps, and twists less than other varieties).

We have cut timber frames of Douglas fir, cypress, white oak, southern yellow pine, and hemlock. We generally use green timbers which have higher water content and are more easily sculpted. We can, however, have the timbers dried prior to cutting. This does add considerable expense and does not prevent the natural cracking or checking of the wood as it dries. It should be noted that the natural cracking or checking of the wood as it dries does not affect the structural integrity of the timber frame structure.

Eastern White Pine is readily available locally it varies in color from white to cream when it is freshly cut, turning to a golden honey color in a few years. It checks less and is more stable than most other woods.

Hemlock which we obtain from Maine and Massachusetts is also white to light cream in color when it is freshly cut turns to a light coffee with cream color after a few years. Hemlock is said to have insect repellant qualities. Hemlock checks and turns more than Eastern white pine as it dries.

It is our standard to use cherry or walnut splines to strengthen the some of the joints in our timber frames. We have at the customers request used splines of oak and southern yellow pine.

What are your timber frame design needs?

You have to decide what your families needs are, present and future. You want a floor plan that your family will be able to enjoy and support your activities throughout the years and still remain functional.

Designing by Wrote. Writing things down is an excellent organizational tool. If you are a couple we suggest you start with two separate lists and then merge them into one. Whether you design the house your self or turn it over to an architect or designer you will need to fill out the lists. Really, they work.

The first list should be that or what is required by code, covenant or development in order to get your building approved. I am going to title this list GOT TO HAVE IT LIST. I will give you some examples of what should be on the 'Got to Have it List'. Each persons 'Got to have it list' will be unique to them and their own timber frame.

"Got To Have It List"

The minimum or maximum sq footage your development allows should go here.

Code issues such as septic systems, set backs, maximum height of the building, earth disturbance guidelines, how far back your timber frame has to be from the creek or stream, etc, should be on the list.

Timber Frame Project Planning Guide "Got To Have It" list from Cabin Creek Timber Frames
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