No other building style offers the elegant appeal of timber frame homes. Their simplicity, symmetry and strength convey a timeless architectural grandeur. You’ve spent countless hours designing and redesigning the interior spaces, and now you’re picturing yourself sipping a warm drink before a roaring fire.
Hold That Thought
Even though you’re eager to make this dream home your new reality, you shouldn’t rush through the process of choosing a company to produce the frame. Since you’ll be living with the results of this decision for years, explore the craftsmanship of a number of different producers before making your final decision.
When you begin the process of evaluating producers, start by comparing fabrication techniques, fastening systems, wood species and a host of other details. In making your selection, be aware that the decisions should revolve around your needs as a home buyer. So ask yourself a few key questions. Do you need a company that will offer full turn-key construction (meaning the home is delivered to you completely finished and all you have to do is turn the key to enter)? Or have you found a local builder and all you will need from your producer is to provide the frame?
Know Your Options
A timber frame can be created in a state-of-the-art facility where computer-controlled machines cut posts and beams within exacting tolerances. Or your frame could be born at the hands of a craftsman using 19th-century hand tools to create each precisely fit joint.
Another option available from some timber framers is recycled or salvaged timbers. These huge timbers may have had a former life as a barn, covered bridge or turn-of-the-century manufacturing facility that was carefully dismantled. Craftsmen dedicated to reusing these materials restore and rework the timbers into an attractive new frame.
Some producers offer a combination of these options, blending the technology of milling machines with the tradition of handcrafted joinery. Some companies may offer freshly harvested timbers as well as those recycled from older buildings.
Timber framing companies also differ in the size of their operations. A larger company can offer a wider range of service and depth of talent, with specialists in architecture, engineering, master timber framing and construction services. With a smaller company, you’ll likely work directly with the owner, who may also be fashioning your timber frame with his own hands.
You should also consider the geographic location of your producer. The distance from the company to your site may affect shipping charges. If the company you choose is located far away, you may want to limit the extent of your materials package and purchase many items locally. On the other hand, if your building site is remote, you may want to get as complete a package as possible to reduce deliveries.
Many companies offer delivery and assembly of the frame anywhere within the United States, as well as other construction services. But you may feel more comfortable with a producer that’s located closer to your building site, simply because if any warranty issues arise, you will have local representation to resolve the issue.
Then again, many of the larger timber frame producers have national distribution networks, where builders serve specific regions, selling home packages as well as offering construction and after-the-sale service.
Looks, Money and More
The style of timber framing may also dictate your choice of company. If you’re building in the Rocky Mountains but you just love the look of eastern white pine, you’ll likely choose a producer in New England. Another issue is the completeness of the timber frame home package. Some producers offer just the frame, others offer the frame and enclosure systems, and still others offer turn-key construction. Your choice will likely be influenced by where you’re building, the location of the producer, the availability of skilled labor in your local market and a variety of other factors, including your budget and construction schedule.
Regardless of their differences, it’s likely that you will find timber frame companies and the people that work there to be united in their passion for their craft. For the majority of framers, their work is a labor of love.
But love alone isn’t enough: Dream homes don’t happen without money. That’s why the cost of a timber frame home package is an important factor in selecting a producer. Due to the fact that timber frame package contents can vary greatly, comparing prices can be difficult.
In order to maintain some consistency and accuracy as you compare quotes, be certain to submit the same exact design and specifications on timber species, sizes, lumber grade and connection details to each producer. Without this information, it will be impossible to have any meaningful comparison between price quotes.
Should you choose your timber frame producer solely on price? The question is yours to answer. Keep in mind that a few hundred or even a few thousand dollars more for a handsome timber frame from a producer you admire will be worth the handful of extra dollars in your monthly mortgage payment.
Doing Your Homework
The first step in deciding on a timber frame company is to turn to our Producers Directory on page 108 of the 2003 Timber Frame Homes Buyer’s Guide. There, you will find basic information on each company, its style of fabrication and the areas of the country it serves. Make a note of those companies that capture your imagination.
Then call them to request their brochures, plansbooks, catalogs or videotapes. This material should answer many important questions, explain the company’s business philosophy and reflect its commitment to quality.
You can also visit their web sites to gather additional information. Another option for narrowing the field is to explore educational opportunities and visit facilities in person. These opportunities can include construction classes, tours of their shop, educational seminars, frame raisings, open houses, regional fairs and home shows. Visit completed homes to gain insight into the company’s design and construction process, attention to detail and style of customer service.
As you proceed in your research, note a producer’s ability to meet deadlines. A conscientious company will provide floorplans or price quotes when promised. If a company can’t deliver on time, it may signal a lack of customer service that could prove even more disconcerting later.
Deciding on your timber frame home producer is a complex process. You will have to weigh producers’ craftsmanship, their experience, costs and services and a slew of other tangible and intangible issues. Look for the company offering you the most positives and make your choice accordingly. Once you find the company that matches your needs, you’ll be well on your way toward living in your dream home.
10 Common Concerns
Here are the most common areas you should address before deciding on a producer:
1. Quotes & Estimates
Most companies provide free preliminary estimates. Precise cost figures may require blueprints, which carry a fee.
2. Design Services
Most producers offer design and plan services. Be sure you understand your company’s procedures and policy on plans.
3. Deposit and Payment Procedures
Before working on blueprints or providing firm price information, many companies require a deposit. Be sure you understand what you are getting for your deposit and find out about refund policies should you decide not to proceed.
4. Warranty Information
Does the company offer a warranty? Is it clearly written in plain language?
5. Company Reputation
Check with your state attorney general’s office and the local Better Business Bureau to see if the producer has been the source of consumer complaints or involved with litigation or judgments. Often this can be done online.
6. On Schedule
Discuss the fabrication schedule with your producer to be certain it’s achievable. Be aware that your producer’s method of fabrication can affect the time needed to create your timber frame and the resulting delivery time.
7. Price Quotes
Every home and every site is unique and price quotes need to reflect the cost of exactly what is needed to build the home. The quotations you receive should contain specific information on the payment schedules, delivery costs, service policies, warranties and any special charges in designing and building the home. Price quotes should also include a complete bill of materials and grade specifications for all materials.
8. Legal Contracts
The purchase of a timber frame home usually involves a number of legal contracts or agreements, which explain timelines, responsibilities and draw schedules. The first contract is with the timber frame home producer. You may have another separate agreement with a designer or architect. The third will be a construction contract with the builder. Because all of these involve a great deal of money, an attorney familiar with the construction business should review all documents.
9. Insurance Coverage
Make sure each of the builders and subcontractors on your job site can provide proof of insurance for themselves and their staff. If they don’t have insurance and they get hurt on your job site, you could end up paying for their lost time and wagesÃâeven if you didn’t hire them directly.
10. Technical Information
The producer you select should be able to provide all factual information on the engineering and design criteria for the home to building code officials and all other professionals that will have a hand in completing your home. Many producers will also provide onsite technical assistance.