Building an eclectic post-and-beam home on a budget

Story by Amy Laughinghouse
Photography by Rich Frutchey

Building a dream home doesn’t have to become a nightmare that breaks the bank. As Beth and Tom Koeppel discovered when they built a Victorian-style, post-and-beam home in southeastern Massachusetts, careful planning and creative use of materials can reduce costs while securing the ultimate reward—a cozy home designed to meet their family’s particular needs.

Tom and Beth discovered the rustic appeal of post and beam 10 years ago, when they visited Classic Post & Beam’s model home in York, Maine. “We have country furniture and a lot of family antiques,” Beth says, who thought the warm wooden accents of a post-and-beam home would suit their style perfectly.

In October 1997, when the Koeppels, parents of three young boys, decided to build their “last home,” they approached Classic Post & Beam with a four-bedroom house plan Beth had found in a magazine. The designers at Classic transformed those conventional stick-frame plans into post-and-beam blueprints for the main body of the structure.

Less-costly stick framing was used in the garage and the family room above it, and a load-bearing, stick-framed wall was also used to divide the bedrooms from the main living area and encase wiring and plumbing. As Scott Clark, sales manager at Classic Post & Beam, explains, “If you need a partition there anyway, a stick-framed wall is less expensive and easier to build.” Though the plans were revised several times before the Koeppels settled on the final design, “It only cost $250 for all the redesigns,” Beth marvels. “That was an incredibly inexpensive part of the project.”

The frame primarily is made from eastern white pine, a species indigenous to the Northeast. Eastern spruce purlins connect the gables, and a notched lap joinery system—bolted with steel pins and plugged with wooden dowels—holds the frame together.

The exterior walls are enclosed by oriented strand board (OSB) and insulated with three and a half inches of urethane. Structural insulated panels are attached directly to the OSB. “It is extremely energy efficient,” Scott says—an important consideration when heating a 2,300-square-foot home during Massachusetts’ frigid winters.

Since the Koeppels wanted to stain their siding, Classic Post & Beam suggested pre-stained finished wood siding. Typically, the company offers western red cedar siding, but staining would have cost as much as $6,000 and required a new coat of stain every few years. The finished wood siding, however, comes with a 15-year warranty, that can be extended to 30 years if the home is re-stained with a Cabot Company stain in the 15th year. “Over the years,” Scott says, “they could save from $12,000 to $15,000.”

The Koeppels chose builder Roland Grenier after receiving a recommendation from a friend and checking his references. Though Roland had never built a timber frame home before, he studied the plans for months and even arranged a trip to Classic’s headquarters before breaking ground. “He and his partner, Gerry Morris, are known for being meticulous,” Beth says. “They’re a rare find.”

The Koeppels determined every aspect of their home’s interior themselves, from cabinets, countertops and flooring to plumbing and light fixtures. They saved money on their cultured stone fireplace and oak kitchen cabinets by purchasing them directly from suppliers, using Roland’s contacts. The couple also received a reduced rate on their iron and glass chandeliers and sconces through a relative who manages an electric supply store.

One of the most clever, cost-effective decisions Beth and Tom made was allowing the tongue-and-groove ceiling on the first floor to double as the floor upstairs. The boards were simply sanded and coated with polyurethane. “We liked the rustic look of it,” Beth says. “We also don’t mind that noise travels more freely through the second floor to the first floor. In fact, it can make communications easier in a large house.”

Downstairs, the couple opted for the durable laminate flooring. “I didn’t want the hassle of taking care of real hardwood floors with three boys,” Beth says. “I don’t think it’s much cheaper than hardwood flooring, but the laminate floor comes with a warranty against scratches, dents and burns. It’s virtually indestructible.” Butterscotch-colored oak laminate flooring, nearly indistinguishable from real wood, was used to top the floors downstairs. A laminate, resembling slate tiles, was laid in the kitchen, where Beth installed matching countertops.

“They knew everything they wanted right down to the letter,” Roland recalls. “I just had to incorporate their prices into my contract and take care of the plumbing, painting, heating, electrical, foundation and the masonry.”

By September 1998, six months after breaking ground, the couple’s post-and-beam home had become a reality. The total cost was $315,000. (This figure includes $99,700 for the timber frame kit, $56,000 for the lot, plus construction costs.)

“I was probably one of the luckiest people on the planet,” Beth says. “We were fortunate to have a really good builder.” But she believes a home owner’s willingness to take a proactive role in the building process goes a long way toward ensuring satisfaction. “If someone enjoys managing people and projects, it’s probably the best way to go,” she says, “because you get exactly what you want.”



Home Details

Timber frame producerClassic Post & Beam
BuilderRoland Grenier
Exterior FinishPre-stained wood siding of lodgepole pine
Fireplace facingCultured stone
FlooringLaminate wood and slate flooring
Floorplan nameCustom
RoofingFiberglass shingles
Square footage2,307
Wall systemCombination of OSB, urethane insulation and structural insulated panels
Wood in the frameEastern white pine and spruce
Wood stainNatural finish; polyurethane only

Staying on
Financial Track

Beth Koeppel’s professional background as a banker, as well as her attention to detail, helped her evaluate a myriad of choices and cost considerations to keep her post-and-beam home project within budget.

Here are some of her suggestions for getting the most from your home-building project even if you have limited funds.

When Beth and her husband Tom sought financing for their post and beam home, they first asked their frame producer, Classic Post & Beam in York, Maine, for suggestions. In the end, they selected a bank that was recommended by Classic’s sales staff.

With financing in place, the couple then worked closely with their builder to create a highly detailed bid document, which greatly facilitated the flow of cash from the bank to the builder. “Roland would say, ‘I’m ready with items 10, 16 and 22,’ and the bank would send an inspector out and then send him a check within a day,” Beth says. “He was able to get several draws of cash when he needed it.”

To keep the cost-end of the project organized, Beth kept detailed financial records—including notes from conversations she had with the loan officer, copies of their credit report and information on their 401K, checking and savings accounts–in a three-ring binder. She also kept house plans, fixture brochures, paint chips, price quotes and receipts in the binder, too.

“By the time I was done carrying this notebook around for a year, I think my left arm had grown an inch or two,” Beth says jokingly. “I almost felt naked without it once we moved into the house!”

Classic Post & Beam photos