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Timber-framed houses great energy savers

Published Mar. 5, 1994
Updated Oct. 6, 2005

Question: I want to build an energy-efficient house, but I want it to still have character and charm.

Are timber-framed houses, with the large exposed wood beams, energy efficient and suitable for the do-it-yourselfer? _ H. T.

Answer: Timber-framed construction is one of the oldest house building methods.

The heavy timbers, exposed inside the house, often with high cathedral ceilings and skylights, create character and charm.

Many of the hundred-year-old buildings in Europe used this construction method.

Modern timber-framed houses, with walls and roof constructed of continuous foam-core panels, are very energy-efficient. You can select insulated panels from R-20 up to R-40. Your utility bills, both summer and winter, should be less

than half of a conventional "minimum-code-" efficient house.

Without wall studs, as in a conventional, insulated, studded wall, the insulation is even more effective.

A single wall panel can be as long as 16 feet, so there are fewer air leakage gaps. This creates an airtight, dust-free, and soundproof home.

With the strong timber framing, no interior supporting walls

are needed. This allows you to locate interior walls wherever you wish and easily change room layouts as your family grows.

When air-conditioning or using space or solar heating, an open floor plan improves comfort and efficiency.

Another energy advantage is that the massive exposed timbers act as thermal heat storage mass (ideal for solar heating).

This thermal mass moderates indoor temperature changes throughout the day, especially when air-conditioning on hot humid summer days.

The timber-frame house manufacturer cuts (per your house plan) and delivers the timbers to your building site. Its crew assembles the framing on your foundation. Each timber joint is hand-fitted by craftsmen.

Once the timber-framing is completed, you or your contractor can attach the foam-core insulating panels to the walls and roof. Foam core panels are designed for simplicity of plumbing and running electrical wiring.

These panels usually have drywall on the interior surface and sheathing on the outside. You can finish the house exterior with stucco, brick, siding, stone, etc. From the outside they look like conventional construction.

The foam-core panels already have the holes cut and the framing

(per your house plans) for windows

and doors. Since these houses are very efficient and airtight, you should consider installing a fresh-air ventilating system.

Write for Utility Bills Update No. 802 listing 19 manufacturers of timber-framed houses and exterior diagrams and floor plan layouts of five typical designs. Please include $2 handling fee, cash or check. Write to James Dulley, St. Petersburg Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244.