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Timber Frame Guide

Mark Brinkley examines the key differences between masonry and timber frame, and what to expect from timber frame companies to help you decide which construction system is right for your project.

What is a Timber Frame?

The key difference between timber frame and masonry built homes is the way the external walls are built. Masonry built homes use cement based blocks, stuck together with mortar, built on-site by bricklayers. Timber framed homes use panels built out of timber studwork covered with a layer of plywood and protected by water-resistant membranes. Timber frame can be built on site – it is in North America – but in the UK it is usually built in a factory or workshop and then rapidly assembled on site. You can use any external cladding with either system. Consequently, it can be hard – sometimes impossible – to tell whether a house is built of blockwork or timber frame.

What’s Included in the Price?

There are now around 80 companies producing timber frame kits for the UK self-build market. The service provided by timber frame companies can vary from the basic – supply only of the superstructure – to the complete package, i.e. a full turnkey housebuilding service. The commonest way to work is for the company to design, build and erect the superstructure but there are variations on how much of the superstructure is supplied. This makes for difficulties when making comparisons between companies.

(MORE: The Evolution of Timber Frame)

(MORE: Comparing Masonry and Timber Frame)

A basic package would consist of the follow­ing items:

  • Soleplates, damp-proof courses and clips
  • Structural external/internal wall panels and waterproof housewraps
  • Floor joists and floor covers (not finishes) — in Scotland, this tends to include a timber ground floor as well but elsewhere timber ground floors are rare
  • All roof elements, usually supplied as prefabricated trusses
  • External joinery (often supplied unglazed)

Items that may or may not be included:

  • Wall ties, lintels and cavity barriers
  • Insulation and vapour barriers
  • Internal second fix joinery, stairs, doors, skirtings, architraves etc.
  • Plasterboard

Items that are unlikely to be included unless the whole housebuilding contract is let to the timber frame company:

  • Groundworks and substructural materials
  • Drainage materials and services
  • External claddings — i.e. bricks, stone, tiles, render, weatherboarding — and damp-proof courses for these
  • Roofing materials: felt, batten, roof tiles, etc
  • Floor screeds
  • Chimney flues
  • Mastic sealers and glazing (though joinery is increasingly being supplied pre-glazed)
  • Heating, plumbing and electrics
  • Plaster finishes (skim coats, dry lining, Artex, coving)
  • Kitchen units, fitted bedroom furniture and sanitaryware
  • Decorating, wall and floor tiling and finishes
  • Garage doors
  • Externals: paving, fencing and lands­caping

You should look carefully at the specification offered by each company and check that you are comparing like with like. Many brochures offer indicative prices for the elements that are not supplied with the kit, so use these to extrapolate final build costs. Again this can be misleading because the assumed costs are never the same.

This article is sponsored by Flight Timber Products