Why timber needs to be in the frame

Malcolm Thomson of Scotframe explains why he believes timber frame is the ‘gold standard’ for modern construction and why we should all be thinking about fabric-first approaches

Offsite timber frame construction allows homes to be built faster and to a higher sustainability standard compared with traditional construction methods, making them more cost-effective to build and live in.

Why should I choose timber frame?

It’s fast. Timber frame kits are prefabricated offsite so the weather won’t delay delivery and construction. Average build times range from 14-26 weeks.

They’re versatile too. The kits are precision engineered to your individual design, and there are no limits to what you can design and build. They are strong and durable, able to withstand the worst weather.

You also get quality. The timber frame kits and components are factory- constructed, which ensures increased accuracy and reliability.

Energy efficiency is a key advantage and saves money in the long term, plus good acoustic properties means you hear less noise from neighbours.

OK, Where do I start?

The world is your oyster when it comes to design! There are timber frame house styles to suit every budget, lifestyle and location, from compact bungalows to large family homes. Kit providers usually provide a range of properties to inspire you, and then offer a customisation service to suit your exact requirements.

For those who feel daunted by the prospect of creating a dream home from scratch, there’s plenty of expert help around. Technology has come a long way and offers a wealth of benefits to support your decision making – it’s never been easier to design a timber frame home. For example, 3D images and ‘walk through’ visualisations can give you a feel for how a design would translate into living space.

What is the ‘fabric first’ approach I keep hearing about?

Fabric first refers to the practice of designing homes with long-term efficiency measures built in from the start. By fabric we mean the external walls, floors and roofs.

A fabric first approach prioritises the insulation and airtightness of the building, using insulation and high- performance doors and windows to create an airtight structure that prevents drafts and retains heat. This reduces the need for costly ‘add-ons’ such as renewable energy or heating systems, as the building does all the hard the work for you.

For example, we have developed our own unique system to create an energy efficient fabric. The wall, roof and floor panels are designed to last for the life of the building and to be durable for a minimum 60 years.

What’s the difference between ‘closed’ and ‘open’ panels?

Closed panel building systems refer to wall, floor and roof panels where high performance insulation has been fitted in the factory prior to delivery.

The more sophisticated closed panel systems can factory-fit windows, external doors and even patio doors before the panels are transported to your site. They can be erected extremely quickly, thereby reducing timescales and speeding up the build programme.

Open panel systems refer to a structural frame that arrives on site without insulation or vapour control layers – it’s an ‘open’ format, hence the name. Once the building is weather- tight and the services have been installed, the insulation is then manually fitted between the studs before a vapour-proof barrier is placed on top. The final step is lining with plasterboard. This takes longer, as you can imagine.

What about the green credentials of timber frame?

Timber frame homes offer high thermal efficiency and require a lot less energy to heat. All buildings must conform to new thermal performance standards, and timber is a natural insulator, enhancing the efficiency of the other insulation materials used.

Building in such a sustainable fashion also has a positive impact on the environment. By creating homes which are less reliant on fossil fuels, we can do our bit to make the world a greener place for future generations. This means that in addition to saving money on your utility bills, you can also help protect the environment.

How does the cost compare?

Building your own home is the most affordable way to secure your dream property, and is likely to be less expensive than you think.

Timber frame construction is cheaper than a brick and block built house, which is why more and more developers are starting to use it. The kit can be put together more quickly, attaining wind/watertight status within days, unlike brick-built properties which can take weeks to become wind/watertight. This means that electricians, plumbers and heating engineers can begin work on the interior fit out immediately, and you can save money on build time.

It might seem a little pricier at the outset, but the costs are recouped via a shorter build time and lower energy bills in future – for example, space heating energy costs are significantly lower. Plus, it’s important to remember that throughout the duration of the build, you have total control over costs.

Malcolm Thomson is sales director at Scotframe