Green Building Notes – The Materials in Your Timber Frame Home

Choosing the materials you will use in building and finishing your timber frame home will be a critical next step. Using high quality, environmentally responsible materials is key to building a green home.  Sustainability, energy efficiency, and the impact of the products you use on the health of the homes occupants are the key elements in building your new home.

High performance products that are produced by companies committed to the environment have been and continue to be developed.  Building with regional materials is a responsible way to build with lower embodied energy.  Products that have increased durability and reduced maintenance will continue to pay off long term. Energy efficiency is important in all decisions from appliances to windows.  Be sure to use Energy Star rated components whenever possible.

As a client of Goshen Timber Frames, you will choose to build a home that is either a timber framed home wrapped in R-24 wall and R-40 polyurethane structural insulated panels, a hybrid home consisting of some timber framed areas and other areas built with the same structural insulated panels with timber roof support, or a panelized home built with structural insulated panels with timber roof support. Any of these options have given you a head start on building your home in a green, responsible fashion.

Explore the options for finishing your new home carefully.  Take your time in making these decisions.   Even when you are looking for a cost effective option, you will have many choices.

*  Durability is key to the materials and products you use.  Durable products are less likely to end up in the landfill in a few years.  The manufacturing process is very energy intensive.  The more durable, longer lasting a product is and the less maintenance it requires, the more energy it saves.

*  Gather samples so you can compare the color and quality of your choices.

* While it is comforting to buy from companies with a responsible track record and with names that we’ve heard for years, don’t rule out a newer company who is offering a product that is comparable and is getting good reviews.

*  Buying a product that is available regionally can help keep your project timeline on target.  Waiting for a special order product that has to be shipped from another country or region can cause delays.  Transportation is costly and polluting.  Locally or regionally produced materials save money and are more environmentally responsible.

*  Keep in mind the long term maintenance and longevity of the products you choose.  No matter how much you like a product, research how much time and money will be required to keep it looking good.  Will the product need to be replaced in a few years?  Will the maintenance be a drain on time and resources.

*  Recycled and salvaged building materials can add charm to your home and reduce landfill use.  Sacrificing energy and water efficiency by reusing windows and plumbing fixtures isn’t a good idea, but interior doors, moldings, cabinets, hardware, and lumber are all good choices.

*  High efficiency heating and cooling equipment, properly sized for your home and insulation values, save money and produce less pollution.  Mechanical ventilation is necessary in today’s tight homes.  Energy or heat recovery ventilators will ensure healthy indoor air.

*  Water efficient plumbing fixtures (water conserving showerheads, toilets, and faucets) save water and reduce the demand on septic systems and sewage systems.  Reducing water usage saves on the water system and reduces energy costs to heat the water.

*  Listen carefully to your own voice as you make decisions.  The input of the professionals is critical, but you and your family will live in your home.  Accept their suggestions and advice, but use only what works for you and your family.

The above items are the big picture.   The harder decisions will be smaller, more detailed, but every bit as critical to building a sustainable, energy efficient home.  Your home as a whole is the end result of many, many smaller pieces.   We will start defining energy efficient and sustainable building products early in the design/build process and will be available to help you evaluate your choices.

Building a sustainable, energy efficient timber frame home doesn’t have to be difficult and isn’t rocket science.  Just spend the time and energy necessary to make good choices and you’ll end up with a home built for generations.

And when you build…don’t forget to build boldly.

Green Building Notes – Your Timber Frame Journey

Green Building, in it’s new and sometimes abused persona, is not really a new concept.  It has always been important to use resources wisely, to build with the materials at hand, and to conserve energy.  New technology has helped us to achieve some of these goals, but if we look back, we see that many before us have built green, without all the hype.  Adobe homes protected Native Americans in the Southwest from sweltering heat, wattle and daub homes used materials at hand to build shelters, skyscrapers built in the late 1800’s made use of urban space.  So while architects, designers, and builders today would like to take credit for this movement, they are truly just making the public more aware of the importance of building green.

The goal of Goshen’s Green Building Notes is to inform and educate.  Choices are many and often confusing.  Whether you choose to build a home that is certified by one of the many certification programs, (LEED, NAHB, many local and regional options), or to build a home using best practices without certification, is a very personal and budgetary decision.

Goshen Timber Frames has designed and built green homes for many years.  We’ve helped our clients design and build homes that fit their lifestyle and budgets while not encouraging them to overbuild.  Our material and energy efficient homes sit quietly nationwide, enjoyed by families of all ages and economies.   

Your site will be all important as you move forward with your project.  Whether you own your land or you are just beginning the search for a site for your new home, you need to consider how the land lays, how your home will be sited, and the impact of building on the site.  If you are building in the mountains, The Mountain Home Guide is a good place to start.  This guide was created with much input and thought by professionals in North Carolina.  

If you are looking at land, consider how you will live in your new home.  Are you a “house mouse” or a “field mouse”?  Will you spend much time outdoors or do you prefer to spend your time inside?  This will impact everything from how your home is sited to how it is designed.  Don’t hurry this process.  Changes after the fact are time consuming and expensive.  

The smallest footprint will have the smallest impact.  This is critical to your new home and should be taken very seriously.  But, just as you shouldn’t build too much home for your lifestyle, don’t underbuild either.  Your home won’t serve you well if you have to add on to live comfortably.  There is a perfect fit for everyone.  

Designing your home to work for you and to fit on the land will take time and energy.  You will need to walk the land, visit with local builders who are familar with not only building, but with the regional landscape, have a local excavator out and discuss the impact of building on the site and how the landcape will change in order to accomodate your new home.  If you are building for a view, take a ladder to the site, climb up and look around.  This will likely be your first floor view.  If the site is challenging, consider renting a lull or bucket to get an even higher view.   Take your time.  If you have the luxury of visiting the site during all four seasons, you are far ahead of the game.

Building green encompasses every aspect of designing and building your home.  As you move forward, you will have to make many choices.  We’ve listed some of these choices and offered some suggestions.  There are hundreds, maybe thousands, of books and other resources available on green building.  It is a touch phrase and has become a hot topic.  In our next few posts, Goshen we will to offer some of the simplest decisions you can make that offer the largest impact.

Green Building Pro Expo – Visit Goshen Timber Frames

Last week Green Building Pro provided everyone interested in green building the opportunity to participate in talks given by industry leaders.  Attendees included architects, engineers, builders, suppliers, and others interested in building better, more sustainable homes, buildings, cities and lifestyles.  Goshen Timber Frames is pleased to have been a participant.

Timber frames, enclosed with structural insulated panels, offer an easy solution to building a home that will use minimal energy to heat and cool and a home built with a rapidly renewable resource.  Since Goshen has long been committed to building the right way, long before “green” became a touch phrase, it was easy to see the fit into the newer building paradigm.


Goshen Timber Frames at Green Building Expo

Timber Frames – A World Apart

Our recent visit to the International Builders’ Show reinforced our knowledge that a timber frame is a world apart from a conventionally framed home.

As we visited the vendors and viewed the new products, one of the things that kept coming to mind was that many were addressing problems that don’t arise in timber frame construction.   Insulation, infiltration, remodeling issues (bearing walls), design issues (bearing walls), and much other information was alien to us.  Polyurethane posts and trim were interesting, as were fake beams that weighed about as much as a cardboard box and finished to look like distressed timber.  You’ve got to love ingenuity.

Since we use structural insulated panels to wrap our homes, we didn’t have to discuss the differences in how to insulate between studs in stud walls.  We didn’t have to discuss the different truss configurations.  Our timbers take care of everything.

Timber Frames seem to solve many of the problems that builders are struggling with today.   We see more timber frames today than in recent history and I expect we will see even more as the importance of a sustainable structure is acknowledged.

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.

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.

Goshen Timber Frame Home Selected For Green Home Tour

Timber Frame Goshen Timber Frames is pleased to have one of their homes chosen for the Western North Carolina Green Building Council 2009 Solar and Green Home Tour.   Selected homes were chosen to showcase sustainable, energy efficient homes built in Western North Carolina.

The home features reclaimed materials, Thermocore structural insulated panel enclosure, Energy Star lighting and appliances, WaterSense certifed dual flush toilets, regionally harvested heavy timber construction, compact floor plan, native landscaping, much, much more.

Sign up for the tour at 2009 Tour to visit all 19 homes.

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

Water Saving Dual Flush Toilets

In Australia, Europe, and Asia, water conservation has long been a focus.  With older water filtration plants and dense populations, using less water is important.  Dual flush toilets are the standard in many countries, but are just becoming available in the United States.

Older toilets use 3.5 to 7 gallons per flush.  Since 1994  low flow toilets have been required by federal standards.  A low flow toilet uses 1.6 gallons of water per flush.  This is a savings of 8,000 to 12,000 gallons per year per family.  A dual flush toilet will save on average an additional 26% more water than a low flow single flush toilet.

While these toilets may not be readily available, many manufacturers (American Standard, Kohler, Toto, etc) offer dual flush toilets and the pricing is comparable to low flow toilets.

If a new toilet isn’t an option, you can purchase retro fit kits and replacement tanks for your existing toilet.

Explaining to guests the difference in flushes may make for some interesting conversations, but you can bet they’ll go away thinking about making the switch to save water.

Water conservation is just another step in building green and living green.

That said, I’ll sign off for now.

Concrete Countertops

Not too many years ago your choices for a countertop in your home were limited.   Early choices were laminate and butcher block, with tile and granite as upgrades. Today you have more options…something for every budget and style.

While granite and solid surface products are the most popular choices today, concrete countertops are becoming more readily available.   There are several great reasons to consider concrete for your new kitchen or remodel.

  • Wide variety of colors and finishes
  • Heat resistant
  • Scratch resistant
  • Design flexibility
  • Considered a “green” product

A concrete countertop can be sleek and glamorous, industrial, or warm and charming.   Costs for custom concrete countertops vary locally.  Most compare in price to high quality granite. And we are seeing many do-it-yourselfers tackle these unique countertops as a project.

As you research countertops for your new timber frame home, look at concrete as an option.  Their organic, solid feel fit well with most timber frame homes.

That said, I’ll sign off for now.