Cost to Build a Timber Frame House

What does it cost to build a 2000 square foot timber frame house?   I guess there are two extreme answers…”not much” or “all you’ve got”.   And both are accurate answers to that question.

A timber frame doesn’t cost 20-30% more to build than any other custom home because the final number depends on so many other factors.  It may cost a little more, but those costs are offset by removing tray ceilings, crown molding, and other details that aren’t needed to make a timber frame special.

Houses, even timber frame homes, come in all different configurations.  Let’s consider some options:

Floor Space – That 2000 square feet can be divided into three floors (lower level, first floor, second floor/loft).  The 2000 square feet can become a variation of a rambling ranch.  The 2000 square feet can be on the first and second levels.

Roof Lines –  You can have a straight gable roof, a hipped roof, a roof with reverse gables and valleys, and everything else utilizing these “standard” roofs.

Timber – Timber can be green (most common), kiln-dried, air-dried.  It can be pine, douglas fir, oak, cedar.  It can even be reclaimed timber.

Site – Is it flat?  Is it steep?  Is it heavily wooded?  Is it rural and hard to get to?

Decks/Porches – Lots of decks and porches?  Enclosed?  Screened?

Fireplace(s) – One…more.  Masonry? Inserts? Rock, brick, or cultured stone?

Roofing – Asphalt shingles, cedar shakes, standing seam, metal?

You can see where I’m going here and we haven’t even touched on the interior appliances, fixtures, and finishes.  The possibilities to spend … and to save … money are endless.  At the end of the day, the cost of that 2000  square foot timber frame home will run between $300,000 and $800,000.  We’ve seen 2000 square foot homes built everywhere in that range.

Cost per square foot?  It’s smoke and mirrors.  Which square foot are you talking about?  The kitchen?  The entry?  The bedroom?  The real cost to build a timber frame house is calculated by the “cost to construct”.  It’s a real number reached by working as a team to identify all the components as closely as possible.  That team can start with you and your timber frame company’s design team and once preliminary drawings are in place, grow to include your contractor and any pertinent tradesmen.

So, next time someone tells you that you can build for X$ per square foot, ask them “which square foot?” and see what answer you get.  In the meantime, start your process to design and build your new timber frame home with an appropriate budget and work with people who have been through the process to develop plans that work with that budget.  You may not get everything you want…or you may get more.   But the cost to build your timber frame home will be much smoother as you work through the process.

The truth is, there is no easy, fill in the blank answer to the question…”What will it cost to build a timber frame house?”…, but there is an answer to what it will take to build YOUR timber frame home and that answer takes some work and investment on both your part and the part of your design/build team.

Give me a call at 828-524-8662 or drop me an email if I can help you plan your timber frame home, Bonnie Pickartz,  Goshen Timber Frames

 

 

 

Timber Frame Homes – The Package

As you move forward in planning your timber frame home, you’ll likely look at timber frames from more than one company.  That’s the easy part.  Then you’ll begin to compare what you are purchasing from the company.

You’ll find that each company has a slightly (and sometimes drastically) different package.   And then you’ll find that many companies will sell a partial package and some companies will only work with you if they are providing all the items that their timber frame kit includes.

You should question what materials and services are included.  Some of the items that are necessary and may be included in your agreement with the timber frame company…or outsourced, either by you or by the company are:

Customer Service/Sales – You can work with a salesperson who will hand the project off to a designer at another location and the fabrication is handed off to yet another facility.  Or you can work with a company where the sales person is the customer service person and is the person who will be very hands on during the design, development, and completion of your home.   That person will have full responsibility for your new timber frame home, from soup to nuts.

Design – You’ll find some companies have designers on staff.  These designers can usually work with a plan from their portfolio, revising it as needed to make it work better for you, or they can custom design a home.    Other companies will work with a designer (either local or at a distance) or will send you to a designer or architect.  Email us for a look at a full set of builders plans that you can expect with a Goshen home.

Timber Frame – of course.

Decking – for the ceiling and loft, if called for in the design.

Insulated Panels – Panels can be used to wrap a timber frame or to be a structural part of a hybrid home.  What is the insulating material?  Polyurethane, expanded polystyrene, polyisocyanurate…and variations of these are most common.   Are the panels prefabricated?  Are they sheathed on both sides…or on one?  Do they have conduit and junction boxes built in (wherever you and your contractor/electrician specify) or do they just have chases for wiring?

Installation – Will the raising and panel installation be performed by their own crew, will they subcontract it, or will your contractor be responsible for this step?

Some companies have dealers/representatives who are contractors and you will purchase your package from them and they will complete the home.  While this may be an option for some, if you aren’t building where they are located, it may be problematic if they are subbing to a contractor who has never worked with timber frames and he/she is expected to raise and enclose your home. If you are working with a company who has no contractual ties to the contractor, you can be more selective in choosing your contractor and can make sure that they are a good fit for you…not just for the timber frame company.

Other companies will ship their package and you are own your own.  They will send a manual and your contractor will need to raise and enclose your home.

Some companies will send an experienced crew…the crew who has cut and/or pre-assembled your timber frame prior to delivery and who has installed insulated panels on their frames for years.

So..you can see that comparing apples to apples is not an easy thing to do.   On top of all these differences, you have to ask how they will communicate with you..telephone, online, mail, etc.

We definitely don’t want to discourage you, but we do want to encourage you to ask questions and consider your options.  At Goshen Timber Frames, we’ve created our entire process to be client-centric and to be flexible enough to allow for individual decisions.    While our three favorite words are plan, plan, plan, we also live by “the buck stops here”.

You can visit our new  FAQs  page for an overview of what a Goshen Timber Frames’ package includes.  And you can always give us a call at 828-524-8662 or drop me an bonnie@goshenframes.com, too.  We’re here to help.

 

Building Timber Frames – First Steps

When building your timber frame home, it’s important that you consider your site first and foremost. Your land will define your timber frame. From looking for land to evaluating a site, there is no step more critical to your building process.

Several years ago a guide called “The Mountain Home Guide” was published.  We felt that it was important enough to post permanently on the Internet and maintain the site where you can read it or download the PDF version to read off line.  This little booklet offers insight into the steps you should take when considering a piece of property.  While it was written for the mountains, most of the information works no matter where you’re building. 

Timber frames are meant to sit lightly on the land.  Because they are sustainable and energy efficient, they are the perfect choice for a home that will last for generations.  If you chose the land for your site wisely, you will be well served.

The Mountain Home Guide offers common sense advice on many of the key decisions you’ll make as you buy and develop your homesite.  We offer it as important reading you’ll need to do before you purchase your land and as you move forward.

And wherever you build, remember to Build Boldly!

 

Common Types of Construction Contracts

The prospect of building your new timber frame home can feel daunting.   There are so many decisions to make.   Working with the right timber frame company and hiring the right contractor are two of the most important choices you will make.   Your timber frame company will guide you through the design process and will cut your timber frame, raise, and enclose it.  The contractor will be responsible for the permits, subcontractors, and all other building materials.

The most common contracts you’ll find in residential construction are lump sum contracts and cost plus contracts.   There are variations of both and each have advantages and disadvantages for both the owner and the contractor.    As you interview contractors, you should discuss the type of contract that they work with and what options you have.  Most contractors are pleased to have the opportunity to work with timber frames and the timber frame company should be willing to discuss the project with the contractors you are interviewing.

The lump sum contract is sometimes called a stipulated sum and is the most basic of contracts.  The contractor agrees to build the home to the specifications as defined by the plans for a fixed amount.   You will need a fully developed set of builder’s plans prior to moving forward with a lump sum contract.  The builder will bid the project based on the scope of work and the specifications agreed upon.

Advantages

  • The cost is agreed upon at the beginning of the contract.
  • The project should move forward quickly because material selections are made well in advance.

Disadvantages

  • If material selections are not carefully specified, the contractor has the option of using materials and methods that meet the minimum options specified.
  • Because there is a risk to the contractor, the contractor’s fee will include money to cover this risk.
  • Change orders can be costly and difficult.

The cost plus contracts are available in more than one format and offer flexibility. Typically, the contractor will work up an estimate to build the home, including allowances for fixtures, flooring, appliances, lighting and other items.  The two most commonly used cost plus agreements are cost plus a percentage and cost plus a fixed fee.

Cost plus a percentage has been one of the most common contracts for many years. With this contract, the contractor charges for all direct and indirect costs plus a fixed percentage.

Cost plus a fixed fee is becoming a more popular version of the cost plus contract. The contract is based on estimates provided by the contractor and a fee based on those estimates is calculated and agreed upon.   While the material and labor costs may change, the fee is set and isn’t impacted by the owner’s decision to upgrade materials, fixtures, or appliances.  While minor change orders may not impact the fee, significant changes may fall outside of the fixed fee agreement and a separate fee charged by the contractor.

Advantages

  • There is no reason for the contractor to use materials that meet only minimum specifications.
  • The contractor can work with a lower margin than with a lump sum contract.
  • With a fixed fee, the owner has more control over the total cost of the project based on his/her choices.
  • With a fixed fee, the contractor has more incentive to move the project forward to completion more quickly.
  • The owner can take advantage of the builder’s discount on materials.

Disadvantages

  • Cost plus a percentage can lead to overspending and a longer build time by the contractor in order to increase his fee.
  • There is no guarantee of the final cost.

While we’ve only addressed the most common types of construction contracts there are variations that may work to your advantage.  You can negotiate either a bonus or a penalty (or both) to bring the project in on or under time and budget.  No contract is set in stone and the details should be worked out well in advance of signing the agreement.

So move forward carefully, but when you build…build boldly.

If you’d like some sample contracts, just give me a call at 828-524-8662 or email me at

bonnie@goshenframes.com
.

Thanks for joining us here, Bonnie Pickartz

 

Granny Flats – A Timber Frame Opportunity

Multi-generational housing has always been easy for timber frame homes.  With no bearing walls, the space is flexible and with open spaces, it is much easier to be accessible.   As families are motivated to live closer together, whether by economic challenge or lifestyle change, secondary suites or “granny flats” offer an opportunity to turn a single family home into a primary and secondary residence.

Whether the new space is built to bring aging parents closer or to give younger family members their own place to live, there are many options to expand.  A basement suite, garage conversion suite, detached cottage, or an addition to an existing home all offer the chance to grow your space.

If you’ve always wanted to build a timber frame, but love your location and your home, this is the opportunity to build an additional cottage or to add on to your home with a timber frame.  Timber frames provide the flexibility and, when enclosed in structural insulated panels (SIPs), energy efficiency.

With forethought and good planning, even local code officials and home owner associations can be approached to allow for these spaces. Better use of everything from water to sewer connections and…less lawn to soak up resources…offer compelling reasons to add that space to an existing built out lot.

So, think about a granny flat and when you build…build boldly.

Just think about it…Bonnie Pickartz

 

 

Five Steps in Choosing a Timber Frame Company

As you begin the design/build process, you’ll talk to one or more timber frame companies about building your timber frame home.  How those conversations go will often determine which company you work with as you move forward.   If you..or they…aren’t asking the right questions, you could miss an opportunity to work with a great company or you might end up with a company that might not work well with you.

1)  Educate yourself.  Your initial meetings will go much further if you’ve spent some time on the Internet educating yourself about the timber frame building process, styles of timber frames, and the difference between timber frames, log homes, and conventionally framed homes.  This will help you to better understand their answers in the “timber frame” context.

2)  Narrow down the companies you want to consider to two or three.   You might send off an exploratory email or make a call to a few more to help you narrow down your choices.  There are great timber frame companies all across the country.  Each one has their own “package” and business model.  The differences may be subtle or blatant, but if you look at too many, you’ll only be confused, not better served.

3)  Don’t be intimidated or insulted if they ask about your budget somewhere in the early conversations.  They aren’t doing you a favor by making you think you can build more home than you can afford.  Be frank and be willing to listen to them when they tell you that you can build within your budget, but you’ll need to make some tough decisions if you are trying to build more home than the budget will sustain.   However, if their focus seems to be on your budget and time frame and not on you and your project, you might want to think twice.

4)  Build with someone you would like if you met them outside of the timber frame context.  Designing and building a home can be stressful.  If you are working with someone that you can communicate with on a very personal level, then you are ahead of the game.

5)  Make sure that they have a system in place to share plans and work in progress with you and your builder.  Whether it is by emailing PDF files to you as updates are made or having web meetings or phone calls, determine what works for you and go with a company that is can keep things moving forward easily.

All of that said, just move forward confidently and when you build…build boldly…Bonnie Pickartz

Timber Frames, Heavy Timber, and Post and Beam Construction

You’ll often hear the term “heavy timber” and “post and beam” when timber frames are discussed.  The terms have come to be used interchangeably, but there are also differences.

Heavy timber can be used to indicate large lumber which is usually expressed in actual sizes (an 8 x 8 timber is really 8 X 8 ) instead of nominal sizes where a 2 X 4 is usually 1 1/2 X 3 1/2.    Timber frames are always built with heavy timber.

Post and beam can indicate heavy timbers attached to one another with metal plates, bolts, joinery, or a combination.  While the term is often used to mean “timber frame”, it doesn’t have to be traditional timber framing.

A 12″ X 22″ X26′ timber ridge beam, shown below, definitely qualifies as heavy timber as it becomes an integral part of a timber frame home.

Green Building Notes – Your Timber Frame Journey Begins

One of the first things you should do as you begin your design/build process is make a decision as to whether you will build a “green certified” home. If you decide to do this later in the process, you may have to take steps backwards and redo some things in the construction process. Certification is widely believed to add value, so if you are going to sell the home, this may be a wise option. It also requires oversight and a decision about the class of certification you wish to achieve. As the trend to build homes to meet higher green standards moves forward, certification may or may not have a large impact on the economic value of the home. What will continue to be important is the quality of the home and the measures taken to ensure that the home is built to the highest standards.

We’ve included a checklist of issues that should be addressed in the green design/build process whether you choose to have your home certified or not. Also included is a comparison of the two most common green building standards. Both LEED and NAHB Green Building certifications require builders who are registered within the programs. You must determine which, if either, certification you are seeking early in your design/build process. They both offer extensive documentation. Nationwide there are local and regional certifications that offer similar certifications. They also provide documentation and lists of inspectors who can help you meet their requirements.

Our goal is to provide a list of best practices for building your new Goshen home that are important whether or not you decide to build a green certified home. The Goshen Timber Frames Guidelines are meant to provide a direction and to help you as you wade through the seemingly overwhelming “green building” books, articles, and websites. These guidelines are not meant to meet requirements for any certification program. They will help you to build a green home.

Once you have selected the items on which you will focus and include in your building process, documentation is important. Copies of invoices and inspections, photos, drawings, and any notes you make should be logged faithfully. Start a notebook and be diligent in your documentation.

The location of your new home will be the first step in building your green home. The value of your green home begins with the land on which it sits. Careful site evaluation early in the project will guide your design process in the right direction.

* Will you be building in a rural or an urban area?
* Will your site require extensive site development?
* Will your site allow for your home to be situated for active or passive solar energy or for daylighting?
* Will local or subdivision building requirements allow you to build a home in the size/style you wish?
* Are there important natural features that need to be preserved.

Site the home to minimize the impact on the land. By keeping roads and utility access short you less your impact on the land and save money. Try your best to utilize previously used or degraded areas for the building, parking, and roads.

More local building departments are requiring onsite water management. Working to make sure that stormwater is managed, preventing runoff that will carry topsoil away and will pollute streams, and using a resevoir system to capture rainwater to use for irrigation are all ways to be a responsible landholder.

Protect trees during construction. Fence the trees at the drip line to avoid construction traffic and debris.

Landscaping will play an important part in the energy efficiency of your new home. Trees to protect the home from the glaring sun will significantly reduce cooling costs.

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.

Timber Frame Homes and Construction Costs

Determining the final cost to build any home is a confusing and often misunderstood process.  Timber frame homes are no different in that aspect.  While a budget will drive the design, style, and location of your new home, there are so many variables that it is almost impossible to get a finished cost prior to construction.

The timber frame package price is probably one of the easier costs to determine.   Once the design is in place and the decision on the type of timber is made, the timber framer will calculate a price for the timber frame.  The structural insulated panels are another fairly simple cost to calculate.  With the type of SIPs and the design in hand, your timber frame company can calculate the price and give you a final cost.

From that point forward, the numbers are more slippery.  A homeowner, armed with allowances and estimates, is still at the mercy of an ever changing material supply chain and some very emotional person choices.  Reputable builders do their best to provide accurate estimates based on their clients’ choices.  However, as they move forward, a new product or material can sway the owner. Some choices are simple as they don’t require soul searching…color choices and similarly priced materials.  However, the decision to use standing seam roofing instead of a corrugated metal roofing can mean a major adjustment in the building budget.  Appliances, flooring, and exterior finishes can also create changes in the bottom line.

When working with your timber frame designer and your builder, be realistic with your budget.  If you know that you will never be happy with standard appliances, don’t budget $5,000 for your kitchen appliances.  If you want natural siding (cedar shakes, rock, and cedar siding), take this into account.   On the other hand, if you are working with a more modest budget, make decisions based on the importance of the material to you personally.

Allow plenty of time to work through your budget issues before you break ground.  Once you are into the project, it is much more difficult to make these decisions and, at that stage, they are usually costly decisions.  At Goshen Timber Frames we have three favorite words…plan…plan…plan.

But remember, however you build, Build Boldly!