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 Tax Credits for Your Timber Frame Project

Credits are available for a number of energy efficient projects in your timber frame home.  Whether you are planning a new home or considering upgrades to make your home even more energy efficient, there are federal and state tax credits available.

Some credits expire in 2010 and others will be available for several years, so you can plan your projects accordingly. State credits vary greatly and some incentives are made available by counties. Energy providers offer incentives for energy efficient homes. A timber frame home, enclosed in energy efficient insulated panels, is a great start, but making wise choices for everything from plumbing to heating and cooling can help you to recoup some of the money you spend to save money.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (http://dsireusa.org/) offers a look at what is available in each state, including amounts and dates.  The Energy Star website provides guidelines for federal tax credits.

While most contractors are well versed in these incentives, homeowners should do their own research and work with their contractor to ensure maximum benefits from the programs.   In North Carolina, a homeowner can receive up to 65% in combined federal and state tax credits for a geothermal system.

As you plan your timber frame, consider how you can take advantage of the credits, rebates, and incentives available. You are planning for long term efficiency and recouping costs quickly, so plan wisely.

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

Building a Smaller Timber Frame Home

Building a smaller timber frame home isn’t rocket science.  Timber frames lend themselves to smaller, more efficient space.  With many homeowners making the choice to build homes that require less space, less maintenance, and are more cost efficient to build and to maintain, timber frame homes are a practical choice.

A smaller home doesn’t have to be cramped and crowded.  It can live large with open spaces and less wasted space.  Timber frame design typically makes the best use of space that might be a hallway in a conventionally framed home.  With no bearing walls, there a few barriers to the way a home flows.

Of course, if you are building on a lot suitable for a basement, including living space both above and below the  main floor means you can minimize the footprint of your home.  Your first floor may include the more public areas, living room, dining room, kitchen and often the master bedroom.  Within your timber frame, the living room, dining room, and kitchen are all “rooms without borders” and flow easily from one to the other.

Porches and decks, extended outdoor living spaces, are important in a smaller home.   Expanding the living space outdoors is another way to make your home live larger.  Timber frame porches and outdoor living space create shelter from inclement weather, but let you enjoy nature at its best and sometimes most violent.

While homeowners across the country are beginning to realize that smaller homes can be the direction to take for more energy efficient, sustainable living, our timber frame homes have always been designed to make best use of space and to allow their occupants to live large without wasted space.

Visit http://www.buildingatimberframe.com to see how large a 1700 square foot home can live.

And however you build, whatever you build, just Build Boldly.

Earth Day Every Day with Timber Frames

Timber frames have been built for centuries, the Bible refers to timbers and joinery. However, when it became easy to turn timbers into boards and nail them together instead of using labor intensive joinery, timber frames were no longer a common way to build.

The fact that timber frames are more structurally sound and last centuries instead of decades wasn’t an issue.  It should be.  Timbers are minimally processed and often wood is used that would instead go to the chipper mill and become some sort of “wood product” that requires much processing.

So for timber framers, every day is Earth Day.  Most are committed to building more sustainable, energy efficient buildings.  Many consciously work to lessen their personal carbon footprint and to “live lightly on the land”.

We encourage you to take steps, whether small or large, to reserve resources. Change a lightbulb, turn off a light, plant a tree, use cloth grocery bags, shop locally…the list is endless and many things are easier to do than the way you might be doing it.

And, if you are considering a new home, consider a timber frame enclosed with energy efficient panels.

Timber Frame Carport

Sometimes it just makes sense to update an older home.  The addition of a timber frame carport added protection from the weather and panache for updated curb appeal.

Timber frames bring drama and character to all sorts of homes. A timber frame carport, a timber frame porch, or a timber frame pergola are all nice ways to update a home…and the neighborhood.

On Friday in just a couple of hours, this great carport was raised.  By Saturday afternoon, the decking was in place, felt on the roof, and the painters started oiling the frame.  What a difference this new timber frame already makes!  Once again, timber frames shelter…just this time it shelters not only the owners, but also their vehicles, from rain and shine.

So, don’t think you have to build a new home.  If you love where you live, don’t move, just enhance.  Add some “structure” to your life with a timber frame addition.  It just doesn’t get any “greener” than that.

Just remember, however you build, Build Boldly.

Timber Frames Are Not Disposable Homes

How many homes have you lived in that were well past their prime?  Maybe they were drafty or maybe the floors weren’t quite level.  Maybe the windows leaked badly or the ridge was beginning to sag.  Many homes that have been built in the past century were not built to last.  They were built quickly with little oversight.  Timber frames are still standing…and still useful…centuries after they were carefully crafted from the materials at hand. 

Timber frames are not disposable homes.  They are sustainable in every sense of the word.   Today, we understand what our ancestors understood, that a building should last, that it should serve generations.

As we hear the words “green building” and “sustainable”, we need to focus on just what that means to the building process.   We can conserve energy and resources by building efficiently and we can conserve even more energy and resources by building a home that will withstand the forces of nature and time.  A timber frame won’t have to be shored up or torn down.  A timber frame can be renovate without destroying the structure.

So, think about what is going to the landfill today from homes that just couldn’t be saved.   Don’t add to that problem.  Think of the future as you plan and build your new home.

And whatever you do…build boldly.

Timber Frame Design – Scale

Scale is important in designing any home, but is critical in designing timber frames.   Those soaring ceilings, so lovely in the glossy magazine photos, can easily be overwhelming.   The vastness of open living spaces needs to be brought to a human scale.  Balance in designing these spaces is critical.

We’ve seen the too small space with the too tall ceiling.  Makes you think of a rocket ship or maybe Rapunzel’s tower.  Then you have the too large space with the vast, vaulted ceiling.  Maybe nice for a pavilion or barn, but maybe not so nice for a home.  Bringing it all together, capturing the grandeur while not letting it overpower the home and its occupants, is challenging.

Your designer should bring this to your attention and engage you as you work to design just the right home.  Experience in designing timber frame homes and in good building concepts is critical.  Designing a wonderful, beautiful timber frame is not quite the same as designing wonderful, beautiful timber frame homes.  A timber frame can stand alone, majestic.  However, the same frame, when inside a room can make the occupants and furniture seem insignificant.

Scale is the crucial element.  The heavy timbers should enhance the room and bring warmth and shelter to all who enter.  Changing the style of the timber frame and mixing room heights works well.   The bents, trusses, or assemblies should accent the room, not detract from it.  Scaling the timber frame to the room size will help to make that happen.

Your timber frame designer can offer a 3D walkthrough of your home.  This interactive walkthrough will help you to “feel” the timber frame and how it relates to the windows, doors, and layout.  While it may have the feel of a video game, it works to help determine whether the room will bring the warmth and character that you are seeking.

So step back.  Soaring ceilings, with properly scaled rooms, right-sized fireplaces, proper placement of doors and windows, can offer the most magnificent of homes.  Vast rooms and towering ceilings that don’t “fit”, can leave you cold.

As you design your home, recognize this as an issue to be addressed and ask your timber frame designer to help you with scale.

And, as you build, don’t forget to build boldly.

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.