Timber Frames and the International Builders’ Show

The annual NAHB’s International Builder’s Show is possibly the most important event of the year for builders to review products, expand their business knowledge, and bring back to their clients a better understanding of what will help them to make their project more successful, be it a cabin in the woods or a multi-million dollar commercial endeavor.

Designing and building timber frames doesn’t isolate us from the rest of the building world.  A timber frame company should be able to speak with authority to much more than building timber frame homes.  We should be informed and educated about all the components that bring the project together.  That isn’t to say that we can be expected to be experts in all the building trades.  We should, however, be conversant with the most current building materials and practices.

The Builders’ Show gives us the chance to make sure that we have answers…or at the very least know where to get the answers for our clients.  We’ll spend three days from early morning until late in the day trying to take it all in.  The recipients of all this hard work will be the clients for whom we design and build timber frames.

We’ll come back excited about new technology and a lot more able to supply the information that’s important to anyone building today.

That said, I’ll close for now.

Timber Frames and The Efficiency Factor

As you make a decision to build a timber frame, you will probably be thinking about more than the beautiful beams and great open spaces.  You will be considering the size and style and you might be considering how much money you will save in your comfortable, energy efficient timber frame home.

As you ponder your choices, the “efficiency factor” needs to considered.  Your home will be carefully crafted in a controlled environment and ready for assembly onsite.  (The waste timbers (minimal at best) will be put to good use at the shop…ours heat our shop.).  The structural insulated panels that enclose your new home will be manufactured for just your home … again waste will be kept to a minimum.  When the crew arrives to raise and enclose your timber frame, the process will take only days…not weeks.

So efficiency begins early in the process of building your new timber frame home.  The contractor should be encouraged to make best use of materials that he will add to complete your home.  He doesn’t fill up the landfill with trash and you save money in hauling fees.

That efficiency will continue as you select appliances and finishes.   Energy Star rated appliances will very efficiently save you money (both as tax credits and in long term usage).  WaterWise plumbing fixtures do the same.

So let’s think green …both as an eco-decision and about the money you’ll save…and include the efficiency factor in all our discussions and decisions.

Hybrid Timber Frames

Hybrid timber frames are not new.  Since early timber frame homes were usually kept in a family for generations, it was common for additions to be added as the family grew or as its circumstances changed.  These additions were often added with whatever construction method was popular at that time.

Today hybrid timber frames are often a budget consideration.  Other times timber framing may be used to add architectural interest to an otherwise unexceptional design or as an addition.

In the timber frame industry, a hybrid will often be fully timber framed in the more public areas (great room, dining room, porches, etc) and the rest of the house built with structural insulated panels.   This manner of construction will serve several purposes:

1)  The timber frame is showcased in an area that can be enjoyed by everyone.

2)  Construction costs can be minimized.

3)  Other architectural accents (coffered or tray ceilings, crown molding, etc) can be used without compromising the timber frame.

Some hybrid homes are built that offer no hint of timber frame in non-timberframed areas.  At Goshen we typically incorporate timbered ceilings into our hybrids.While saving money, we still have the look and feel of heavy timber in most rooms.

Timber frames should be designed to be “homeowner specific”.  Whether using a stock plan or designing a custom home.  A hybrid timber frame can be an answer for many.

So, in your search for a home, don’t be timid, and do Build Boldly.

Home Buyer Tax Credits and Your Timber Frame Home

If you are thinking about buying a new timber frame home, this may be the time.  With the extended tax credits and low interest rates, the cost to own has dropped dramatically.

It’s no secret that construction and real estate have taken a hit the past year. We were all expecting it, probably at some point, but it did come as a surprise.  The extended federal tax credits offer an incentive to buy for first time home buyers and for certain repeat buyers.

As we understand the credit, the purchase date is the “move in date”, so unless you are under construction, your new timber frame probably won’t qualify for the credit. However, if you are selling an existing home and building a new home, this tax credit may motivate a buyer.

The credit is outlined on the IRS website .

Whether this tax credit applies to you personally or to a buyer for your existing home, it is worth a look.  Talk to your accountant and your real estate agent about it.

And, whatever you choose to do, remember to Build Boldly!

That said, I’ll sign off for now.

Structural Insulated Panels – Your Timber Frame Enclosure Choices

Timber frame homes are most often enclosed with structural insulated panels.  The panels offer exceptional performance, quick dry-in, and minimize onsite waste.

While expanded polystyrene panels offer all of the above and are widely used throughout the industry, polyurethane is the choice of some companies, including Goshen Timber Frames.

There are discussions about the “greenness” of both products everywhere.  Since both are petroleum based products, the purist will argue that neither should be used in construction.  However, the long term energy savings offset this argument.

A recent Environmental Building News article (you can read about it here) brings into focus some of the differences and argues that polyurethane is the better choice for above ground applications.  A search for discussions about the panels will find manufacturers and salesmen of both products making a case for their product.  However, independent research has led Goshen to use only polyurethane, as the best, safest, most efficient enclosure system.  We are not invested in either product and have made our decisions based on our years of success with polyurethane and our own research.

There are many, many more companies manufacturing expanded polystyrene panels than polyurethane panels.   The process of manufacturing polyurethane panels requires a greater investment and fewer companies are willing to make that investment.  This should not be seen as a vote for EPS as the better product, just the most economical to manufacture.

Discuss your enclosure options with your timber frame company.   While I firmly believe that panels are the best way to enclose, I also believe that polyurethane panels are the best of the best.

That said, I”ll sign off for now.

Timber Frames and The Appraisal Process

Our budget for our new timber frame home was much the same as it would have been for a conventionally built home.  We knew that we wanted to invest in materials and products that would make the home more sustainable, more energy efficient, and to perform better than many of the homes built today and in years past.  This meant making tough decisions on what we could and couldn’t afford.

In the back of our minds, always, was the fact that this home had to meet some of the norms of the appraisal process.  Just because we would have a timber frame, concrete countertops (a product often more expensive than granite), and Energy Star compliant appliances and fixtures didn’t mean that they would add that same value in the appraiser’s eye.  Our energy efficient structural insulated panels will keep our utility bills in check, but again they may not add value when it comes time to appraise.

There is no line item on an appraisal report for “energy efficient” or “green” or “low maintenance”.  While these items have an objective basis, they are still subjective when pulling numbers together.

Those of us who build, own, and/or live in timber frames understand the intrinsic value, but how to impart that value and how to put a dollar value on it is almost impossible.

I don’t envy appraisers today.  They are held to high standards, yet every bank, homeowner, and real estate agent, has a model in their mind that may or may not fit with the actual numbers and calculations that an appraiser must use to reach his/her valuation.

Comparing local properties that have sold (particularly in today’s deflated housing market) can be tough.   The number of properties sold within a fixed time (from six months to a year depending on the rules) and within a fixed area are often limited.

As you design and build your home, keep in mind that somewhere along the way it may need to appraise to comparable properties (unless you are building with cash) and make design and material decisions that will work for you, not against you.

We built a smaller than average home, but with higher than average finishes.   In the appraisal process,  the comparable homes were larger, so money was deducted due to the size of our home.  The finishes were of higher quality and this helped us to recoup those deductions.    We credit the workmanship and quality that was integrated into our new home in increasing it’s value in this unstable housing market.

That said, I’ll sign off for now.

Timber Frame Loft
Timber Frame Loft

Five Hidden Costs in Your Timber Frame Home Budget

The size and style of the home you want will be at the top of your list as you plan your new timber frame.  Homes are built to satisfy our need for shelter, but we require more. We want a home that brings us comfort, peacefulness, and the satisfaction that we’ve been part of the process to make it all happen.

As you start your budget process, the basic costs are easy to calculate.  You know you’ll need timber, lumber, concrete, drywall, windows and doors, etc.   These are the basics.  Then you’ll get into plumbing and lighting fixtures, flooring, tile, countertops…the list goes on and on.  This list is much more subjective and can easily create “budget deficits”.  Then there are what we call the “silent” costs.  Money will be spent on these items, but you won’t see a direct benefit.

We’ve outlined some of the subjective and silent costs that you should address early on in your budget process.

1)  Initial and ongoing onsite maintenance.   These include disposing of debris from construction and daily cleanup of the jobsite to keep it safe.  Landfill costs are expensive and can be minimized by creating a plan to recycle and salvage as much of the material as possible.  If you do this early and discuss it with your subcontractors, you will minimize your out of pocket costs.   Your jobsite should be kept clean of debris to eliminate the risk of costly injuries.

2) Disposing of trees and other vegetation removed during the site preparation.  The easiest way to handle this is to disturb as little ground as is reasonable.  However, the reality is that most sites require some tree/vegetation removal.  Instead of paying to have the stumps hauled off to the landfill (it is illegal in most places to bury or burn a stump), bring in a grinder/chipper and have the vegetation chipped into mulch that you can use in and around your new home.  Also, the friend who does woodwork may want a chunk of that maple or walnut tree.

3) Countertops.  If you want granite countertops, be aware that there are vast differences in the price of granite.  Look at samples and get quotes on different types before you put that number in your budget.

4)  Appliances.  Be realistic about how you use your kitchen and what you expect from the applicances.  If you are gourmet cook who entertains often, you probably won’t be happy with budget appliances.   Budget for your appliances based on your own use and not just an “allowance”.

5)  Cabinets and vanities.  This is a major expense in most homes.  From custom-made furniture to out-of-the-box cabinets,  you’ll need to make decisions based on what you are willing to spend and the look you want.  Don’t just calculate your costs based on a linear foot cost.  Get a cost based on the quality, finish, and hardware that works for you.

These costs aren’t specific to timber frames, they are costs that will be included in any new home.  Spend time working on your budget and include a cost contingency of at least ten percent so you won’t have any unpleasant surprises as you move forward with your project.

That said, I’ll sign off for now.

Timber Frames and Log Homes – The Cost Conundrum

Often one of the first questions we hear when we discuss building a new home is “how much will it cost?” or “how much will it cost per square foot?”.  These are valid concerns, but the answer is not a simple one.

Pricing a home in terms of “cost per square foot” is like pricing an automobile in terms of “cost per pound”.  It just isn’t realistic.

Your home is much, much more than the sum of its parts.   A range is not just a range.  If you are a gourmet cook who entertains often, a high end range and multiple ovens are a necessity.  If you aren’t in the kitchen much and prefer a simpler slide-in range with one oven, the cost can go down a considerable amount.  Do you enjoy your spa tub or or you a quick “in the shower and out” person?  Every choice can equate to thousands of dollars.  If we take those numbers and break them out as “per square foot”, there can easily be $15 “per square foot” of house difference in the kitchen alone.

I recently saw a comparison of costs for building a log home, log/timber frame hybrid home, and a timber frame home.  The difference in a log home and a timber frame was over $60 per square foot.  Given similar finishes, I don’t believe that number is realistic.  It isn’t apples to apples.

If you determine your “long term” budget and let that number help you decide how much home you need and where to spend your money, there won’t be surprises.  That long term budget shouldn’t just include the amount you are going to spend building your home, but the cost to sustain (maintanence, utilities, etc) your home long term.

Your timber framer will have a much easier time working out a fixed cost and “price per square foot” than your builder.  The complexity of the timber frame and size of the home, along with the items included in the package, make it easy to calculate a price.  The rest of the construction is much more complicated.

Given all of this, don’t be swayed by discounted “cost per square foot” pricing for your home when comparing stick, log, and timber frame.  Plan, plan, plan.  Be realistic and be willing to make concessions where needed to get the home your want.  That might be size, appliances, fixtures, etc.  Do remember the long term investment in energy efficiency and low maintenance construction.

At Goshen Timber Frames, we work closely with each client to help them fully understand their costs and options.

That said, I’ll sign off for now.