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 Home Plans and Your Land

The decision to build your timber frame home was probably not made overnight. You read books and magazines, watched television shows and did your research on the Internet. Timber frames are built not only with chisels and mallets, but with dreams and heart.

Your timber frame home plan is critical to making this home the home of your dreams. It has to fit your lifestyle, your budget, and first and foremost…the land it will sit on. If you have a preconceived plan in mind, even before you buy your property, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, find the right property, then design your new timber frame to fit well on that site.  

Timber frames offer great opportunities to design a home with daylighting, no wasted space, accessibility, sustainability, energy efficiency, and all the charm and character you want, whether a very contemporary home, a farmhouse, a lodge, or a cottage. Your site will define the footprint and the orientation.

Armed with the lay of your land, your home can be designed (whether from an existing plan that is revised to work for you or custom designed) to make the best use of all the site’s features. If the amazing view was the defining factor in purchasing your land, then design a home that takes in that view from most of the rooms. If the shelter of surrounding trees is important, design your home so that you walk out into the shade and shelter. Design to fit with the local vernacular. Your timber frame should feel that it belongs on the land, that the land was there, awaiting its arrival.

So, armed with this information, go out and find your perfect land to build the perfect timber frame home. If you have the perfect land, design that home now, whether you’ll build next year or in ten years. The blueprint will give you time to “live” with your plan and to think about how you live and plan to live. The least expensive changes are made right there on paper.

And, don’t forget to BUILD BOLDLY.

Timber Frame Porches Add Outdoor Living Space

Timber frame porches add much to your home.  Whether they offer grand and exciting views of majestic mountains and relaxing water or are reminiscent of Grandma’s front porch and overlook a front lawn, they expand your living space. Your home feels larger when opened up to the outdoors.  That cup of coffee tastes better when sipped from a rocker on the porch.

Porches shelter us from wind, rain, and sun.  They are inviting and welcoming to all who approach. Timber frame porches frame the scenery in massive timbers and remind us of the trees that are living forward as posts and beams.

Sitting on the porch with family and friends brings everyone closer.  Conversation is easier and time spent is well spent. Pets are welcome and enjoy being part of the family as they move in closer. Dogs know that they are only a stick’s throw away from a game.

If you are planning your timber frame home, don’t short change your porches and if you aren’t planning on building a new home, a timber frame porch can add wonderful living space, value, and charm to your existing home.

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 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 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 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.

Timber Frame – A Lesson In English

If you’ve taken to searching the Internet as you pursue your dream of a timber frame home you may be surprised how many “timber frames” there are in the UK.  This is a little confusing if you live in the US.

A timber frame is usually defined as heavy timber construction on this side of the Atlantic.   Timber framing is often used interchangeably with post and beam construction.

However, across the pond, timber framing is the correct term for what we, over here, call “conventional construction” or, if the timber framer is in a snide mood, “stick framing”.   The difference is night and day, but in UK the term is used to distinguish the wood construction method from brick/rock/masonry construction.  The UK Timber Frame Association speaks for this construction method, much as the Timber Frame Business Council is a voice for the timber frame industry in the US.Goshen Timber Frames

While the North American timber frame will have few posts or beams smaller than 6″ X 8″ and most larger, the English structure is more likely smaller, dimensional limber.  You’ll find references on UK sites (those not promoting wood construction) as timber frame being “light weight construction”.  In the US you’ll find timber framers speaking of stick framed homes in the same manner and timber framing is considered “heavy timber construction”.

So don’t let your research lead you off course. Timber frame homes, in North America, are distinctly different than timber frame homes in the UK, even if the roots of timber framing are all the same.   Timber is a renewable resource and roots itself in “green” building.

So, move forward, live your life with abandon, and of course, build boldly.

That said, I’ll close for now.

Timber Frames and Aging In Place

Timber frames are the perfect home for “aging in place”.  With no bearing walls, it is easy to plan for space that will accommodate our needs as we age.

Aging in place is a concept that is being embraced by designers with boomers in mind.  The plan is mostly common sense planning, but we often prefer to wear blinders about what our needs might be in the future.

Wide doorways, space to turn a wheelchair around, wide halls, and first floor living are key.  Accessible homes don’t need to feel like an institution.  Today’s open floor plans are the right fit for accessibility.

Timber frames offer a unique opportunity because they have no bearing walls and can be renovated with ease.

Designing and building a home that will allow the occupants to live comfortably for many, many years and with whatever physical issues life might throw at them is the ultimate “sustainable” home.    Sustainability should encompass not only materials, but lifestyles.

We’ll discuss key elements in designing a sustainably accessible home in the coming days.

Just remember to Build Boldly!

That said, I’ll sign off for now.