With growth management and property values rising, older, closer-in neighborhoods and subdivisions have become more attractive. Shorter commutes mean more time spent at home; so do telecommutes. Not surprisingly, the remodeling industry is booming.
If you find yourself wanting to add on to or update an existing home, and timber framing is a part of the equation, read on. Careful preparation is vital to the building project you’ll soon be living through. Since timber framing is involved, there’ll be extra considerations.
First of all, ask yourself: Does your house need to be bigger or just better? Do you need to build more storage or have a garage sale? How many years will those busy, growing teenagers actually use additional space before they’re gone? Will a home office really work for you?
Ask hard questions.
Would tearing out a wall, adding closets and storage, remodeling a kitchen or bath make the house more livable? Would fresh paint do the trick? Do you want an addition or just a change?
Think about money.
How much are you willing and able to invest? How long are you willing to carry a second mortgage or a home equity loan? Is the existing house worth it? Work with your mortgage lender or financial planner to establish a realistic budget.
Next, check your parcel for restrictions.
Are there required set-backs from property lines, septic tanks or wells? What about easements and height restrictions? If you add bedrooms, will you need to enlarge the septic system? Will your proposed project mean the rest of the house must be brought up to current standards? Check deed restrictions as well as codes, ordinances and covenants. Talk to local building officials about required permits.
Study your site to see how an addition will affect vehicular traffic, pedestrian access and outdoor living space.
Can a new wing be used to protect the patio from that nasty north wind? Will cutting trees to the west allow too much late afternoon sun into the house? Will guests be able to find the front door? Be sure you’re solving problems, not creating them.
Look at the exterior of your home.
Will your planned timber-framed addition complement the existing structure without overwhelming it? Will the entire structure sit comfortably on its site? How is existing landscaping affected? How long will the new construction take to wear the patina of age? Will the existing building need refinishing and refurbishing?
Consider your interior plan.
Will adding that new wing route traffic through the middle of a much used or private space? Will it eliminate natural light from an existing room? How can additional electrical, plumbing and heating lines be routed, concealed and integrated?
When adding on horizontally, is there an easy way to tie into existing foundations and utilities?
If adding on vertically, will the existing foundations carry the additional loads? Are structural members strong enough to carry another floor? Get professional engineering advice before proceeding.
If you already live in a timber frame home, what is its condition? Are the sills and post bases sound? Is the building plumb and true? Is there insect damage or decay? You may need to do repairs before going further.
At the same time, can the new timber frame be effectively tied in to the existing structure? Can finishes be matched? How do you transition from conventional framing to timber framing?
Remember the elements of good design: line, scale, proportion, mass, color and balance when reworking your home. Remodeling or adding on should complement the existing structure or make it better.
Look at style.
Do you want the addition to blend with the whole, looking as if it has always been there? Is that really possible? If not, consider an addition in the rambling style of the settlers who simply added rooms as needed.
When designing an addition, choose elements that relate to the existing structure. Use the same roof style and pitch. Use similar sizes and proportions for openings–especially window openings. Relate colors and finish materials to one another. Pieces should look as if they go together, though they don’t need to match. Remember that near misses are far more disconcerting than planned juxtapositions.
If adding dormers to a second floor, echo the design elements of the existing house. Use similar finish materials. Relate dormer and window placement to openings below. Be especially careful of scale and proportion, as dormers can make a building look top heavy.
If your timber frame has historic value, consider keeping the original building intact. Add a new structure, timber framed or not, that contains a master suite, kitchen, laundry room, great room—all those areas where function or configuration have little to do with a traditional building layout. The addition may, in fact, be larger than the original house, but careful design and planning can make that work. Tie the two together visually using similar materials, roof pitches, opening heights and window styles.
Attaching new construction to old is the most crucial element of adding on. Pay careful attention to design and detailing here—especially where roofs meet.
Keep the attachment area of new to old as small as you can. Consider using a narrow, transparent looking link between old and new portions, thereby keeping visual elements separate and attachment surfaces to a minimum. If new construction shrinks or settles into place even a little, there’ll be less connection surface to tear apart.
Add on at the gable ends of a building rather than to the sides parallel to the eaves. It’s easier to connect to an existing wall than to tie into an existing roof. It also keeps the new and old parts of the building from looking as if they’ve had an unfortunate collision.
Be certain that construction connections are properly flashed and watertight. Check them regularly and keep them in good repair.
With forethought and planning, careful design and detailing, it’s possible to add a timber frame to almost any structure. Keep connections small. Build and maintain them carefully. Remember that a building’s first job is to keep water out, conditioned air in. Do it artfully and you’ll enjoy your new and expanded home for many years to come.