The Origins of the Timber Framing Tradition

Wood is such a great building material that it is no wonder that its use predates history. Throughout the world, where trees were abundant they were used to build homes and other structures. However, due to differences in resources available in different regions, timber framing developed uniquely in each region and was even absent from some regions. Here is the some of the back story behind the evolution of timber framing.

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The timber frame home has had a long journey through history.

The major factor influencing whether a region developed a timber framing culture was the type of forests found in the region. Areas with softwood forests did not tend to develop timber framing. Since softwoods grow more quickly than hardwoods, and also tend to grow long and straight, these regions preferred to construct log homes instead. This is why Russia and the Scandinavian countries are better known for their log home cultures rather than timber framing. Throughout the rest of Europe, timber framing was more common.

Although softwoods are now commonly used for posts and beams, timber framing developed in regions with hardwood forests.

Although softwoods are now commonly used for posts and beams, timber framing developed in regions with hardwood forests.

Early timber framing used crude engineering, but modern timber framing developed around the time of ancient Rome. In fact, the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius preserved several timber frame structures at Herculaneum. These buildings were of half-timbered construction, with the posts exposed on both sides of the wall and filler made of woven sticks and plaster, called wattle and daub, in between the timber members. The Roman architect Vitruvius felt this construction method was a fire risk, but we now know that thick timers are actually quite fire resistant.

Old German Half-Timbered Building with wattle and daub plus brick infill. Public Domain Image.

Old German Half-Timbered Building with wattle and daub plus brick infill. Public Domain Image.

As the Roman Empire spread, their practices in timber framing spread with them. Timber framing became especially popular in what is now Germany, France and England. Half-timbered construction was still the prevalent form, and when you picture an English or German timber framed building this is likely what comes to mind. The German town of Quedlinberg has over 1200 half-timbered houses constructed over 500 years. The English developed the cruck truss, a medieval development that is still used today.

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A cruck truss Timberpeg home.

By 1500, the massive demand for wood had led to widespread deforestation in Europe and especially in England. Wealthy houses in England used a technique called close studding, where posts of approximately six inches were placed barely a post width apart from one another. This was not needed for structural reasons, but merely intended to show off the wealth of the homeowner. The English colonists in America used half-timbered homes at first, but quickly shifted to clapboard siding, which was also a traditional English building style.

A clapboard-sided Timberpeg home.

A clapboard-sided Timberpeg home.

We’ve focused on the development of European timber framing, since it has had the most influence on timber framing in America. However, timber framing has traditions throughout the world. Japan, for instance, has a rich tradition of timber framing. While it is referred to more often as post and lintel rather than post and beam construction, Japanese timber framing was also highly resistant to seismic stress and thus widely adopted. The pagoda at Hōryū-ji, for example, is a timber framed building that has been standing since about 607 AD, making it one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world.

Timber Framed Buildings at Hōryū-ji. Public Domain Image.

We hope you have enjoyed this brief review of the origins of timber framing. If you want to contribute to the history of timber framing by building your own Timberpeg, please contact us.

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New-Again Techniques for Green Building

Lately, the concept of passive house design has come to prominence in building and design discussions. A passive house is designed to require minimum energy for heating and cooling. While some of the techniques used are modern, such as improved insulation and heat recovery ventilators, many of the techniques have a long history in building design. Here are a few of these well-used techniques and where best to apply them.

Consider Your Shape Factor

A rectangular, two-story home will have less exterior exposure, and thus be easier to insulate, than a rambling ranch of the same size.

A rectangular, two-story home will have less exterior exposure, and thus be easier to insulate, than a rambling ranch of the same size.

The shape factor is merely a fancy name for the surface-to-volume ratio of a house. A house loses or absorbs heat through its exterior surface, while the volume determines how much livable space is available inside. Therefore, a low shape factor means a home will have less need for heating or cooling. This consideration needs to be tempered by practicality; a half-dome will have the lowest shape factor but is not a very practical building. In general, a more rectangular two story home will be more efficient than a rambling ranch home.

Use A Cool Roof If Appropriate

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Metal roofs are not only durable, they also reflect more heat in the summertime, keeping the house cooler.

One recent trend has been to suggest that all roofs should be white or other highly reflective colors. While a white roof undoubtedly helps keep temperatures low in the summer sun, it also means your roof will be colder in the winter. A general rule of thumb is to check data for your area and consider a cool roof if your area has more cooling degree days than heating degree days. So while this technique may be appropriate in Miami and Phoenix, even areas as far south as Atlanta may be too cool for this to be effective. One thing is certain, proper roof insulation, like that found on all Timberpeg homes, is helpful year-round in all climates.

Use Trees to Your Advantage

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Deciduous trees can shade the home in the summer but let the light in during the winter.

One way to get around the issue of cool roofs is to use Mother Nature to provide the solution for you. If you plant deciduous trees on your southern exposure, the leaves will keep the walls and roof cool in the summer. Once the leaves fall in the cooler months, the bare tree will allow the sun to heat the building in the winter. If you have cold northern winds in the winter, than evergreen trees planted on the northern exposure will also help to keep the winds down.

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Big or small, Timberpeg homes are energy-efficient year-round.

 

These are only a few ways to build a home with passive means for lower energy consumption. If you are interested in building an energy-efficient home of your own, please contact us.

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Living with Summertime Wildlife

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Home built by Independent Rep, John Waite of Bondville Construction Management

While we humans like to get outside more in the summertime, the same is true of animals. Many animals hibernate in the winter, posing less of a nuisance to the homeowner. In the spring and summer, these animals are more prone to attempt using your property to their advantage as well. Here are a few ways to use the great summer weather to secure your homestead and make it less useful to wild animals.

Protecting the Garden

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Home Designed by Bonin Architects and Built by Independent Rep, Old Hampshire Designs

The garden may be a great place to grow your own fruits and vegetables, but wild animals will feel free to take their fill as well. Even ornamental flowers like buttercups can be a very appealing meal to a deer. If you want to protect delicate flowers without fencing them off, then surrounding the flowers with less desirable plants can deter deer. Pungent plants like garlic, or poisonous ones like daffodils, can deter deer from reaching more tempting plants.
4520-placervilleca-01If you have small fruiting plants like strawberries, the best defense is to completely enclose them in a cage with wire netting. If you use a mesh around one inch in size, it will prevent rodents, birds and large animals from eating the fruit while still allowing bees to pollinate. Make sure you build access hatches to allow you to harvest the plants!

Cap the Chimney

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Home Designed by Architect Craig Threshie

Although the primary purpose of a chimney cap is to prevent water infiltration from damaging the chimney crown and mortar, they can also be helpful in keeping wildlife out. To a squirrel or raccoon, a chimney can look just like a hollowed out tree and seem a perfect place to make a den. Although this activity peaks in the spring, mating season is still ongoing in parts of the country. A chimney cap with a wire grate to keep out animals looks the same from a distance and costs nearly the same as an open cap. If you have your chimney cap replaced, why not have the chimney swept at the same time and be ready for the winter burning season?

Secure Your Trash

We tend to throw away a great deal of food waste, which naturally attracts animals. Composting in a proper compost bin will help by removing food from the trash while keeping animals out. If you need to secure your trash against small animals like raccoons, a locking bin or heavy weight on the lid may be all you need. For larger foragers like black bears, you may need to store the trash in a garage or other area where the animals cannot reach.

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Your garage may be the best place to keep critters out of the trash.  Home Built by Independent Representative, Jim DeLorenzo of Berkshire Landmark Builders

These are just a few steps of many you can take to protect your post and beam home from its bothersome “neighbors”. Of course, there are so many great aspects of living amongst nature that it’s best to plan ahead so you can live in harmony with the wildlife around you. If you’re looking to get your own Timberpeg home started, whether in the wilderness or the urban jungle, please contact us.

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A Martha’s Vineyard Timberpeg Home

Bill and Bo Stueck first visited Martha’s Vineyard in the 1980s and became instantly hooked on the island’s charm and beauty. After renting for several decades, they decided to buy a house in Aquinnah. After deciding that they loved the location but not their house, they bought a lot nearby on which to build their dream vacation home.

5806-Aquinnah01After striking out with two other architects, the Stuecks turned to local designer Geoff Thors. The small buildable area of the lot and local restrictions presented challenges to the design. The zoning limited the roof height to eighteen feet, so Geoff designed a L-shaped floor plan that maximized the views while keeping within the lot’s restrictions. The low-pitched roof is typical for The Vineyard, but the Stuecks wanted a timber frame home, which is atypical for the area. After soliciting multiple firms, only Timberpeg could deliver trusses that would work with Geoff’s design.

5806-Aquinnah03Looking at the front of the home, you see an entryway framed by a truss, which Timberpeg has coined the “monarch truss,” and echoing the interior trusses behind. Looking through the front door you can see into the dining room, and through the bay window looking out over Vineyard Sound. This great visual has a dramatic first impression that sets the tone for the house. A full-width outdoor deck can be accessed through the dining room, perfect for entertaining.

5806-Aquinnah04Adjoining the dining room is the living room. While it has a fieldstone fireplace, like the rest of the home this room is relaxing rather than imposing. The fireplace does not dominate the room, with built-ins for books occupying almost as much of the wall space. The living room also has a full bank of windows and glass doors looking out over the deck and towards the water. The deck itself features clever storage integrated with the house and the requisite outdoor shower.

5806-Aquinnah05On the other side of the main wing is the kitchen. It employs an L-layout with island and an additional side bar counter with wine cooler and wet bar. The kitchen cabinets and floors are a dark cherry wood, which provide a nice contrast with the lighter wood tones of the timber framing. Beyond the kitchen is a small storage area which functions as both a pantry and laundry space.

5806-Aquinnah14The master bedroom is separated by a short hallway from the kitchen. The bedroom has its own private deck for great early morning views. The suite has a walk-in closet as well as a small office area with more cherry wood features. The master bathroom has a double vanity, large separate shower and soaker tub.

5806-Aquinnah08The lower level is a walk out basement which features two additional bedrooms. One bedroom has its own suite with full bath and walk-in closet. There is also a workshop space, as well as a garage that more frequently stores bicycles and kayaks than cars.

5806-Aquinnah12We hope you’ve enjoyed this look at this Martha’s Vineyard home. You can read more about the home, and see more photos, in Vineyard Style’s Spring 2015 issue. If this post has inspired you to build your own Timberpeg vacation home, please contact us.

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