Building your own house is not as difficult or anywhere near as expensive as you think if you use a timber frame engineered solution – that’s a fact.
What exactly is Timber Frame?
First of all let us tell you what it is not! It is NOT a Wooden House or a Chalet it is NOT a Cabin or a Temporary Building – IT IS A PERMANENT STRUCTURE, which is as resilient and durable as any other accepted construction materials and comes with a lot more benefits that any other method of building. Timber Frame construction has been around for several hundred years and equally hundreds of buildings this old are still in daily use. Although technology has improved Timber Frame construction from the old “Black and White Tudor” type of building to an engineered “Kit” the principle remains the same. You will have walked past hundreds of modern Timber Frame buildings, without knowing it! You have probably stayed in a Timber Framed Hotel, eaten in a Timber Framed Restaurant or Pub. You may have visited friends who live in a Timber Framed House or Apartment and not known it was this type of construction, and you wouldn’t unless someone told you. The Timber Frame is exactly what it says it is – A Timber Frame, which is the load bearing element of any type of building. The timber frame acts as a load bearing insulated inner “skin” to which an outside “skin” is attached. The out-side skin can be anything waterproof, as that’s it’s only role – to keep the inner skin dry and to make the finished property look attractive.
Looking attractive is in the eye of the beholder and clearly, what pleases some does not please others. You may prefer a Brick finish or maybe a render finish. Others may prefer a Cladding or a Stone finish, even wood or plastic can be used – anything in fact which serves the role. In most countries where traditional construction takes place, a cavity is built-in between the two skins, in which air must circulate to prevent damp penetration and it also acts as insulation from exterior elements. In many countries a cavity is not used or insisted on, even today. This results in the interior of houses, or any construction for that matter, being cold in the Winter and hot in the Summer. In hot countries like Spain, traditional concrete buildings heat up during the day, and cool down at night. This is known as a radiator effect as the warm building radiates heat into an already warm house, which then requires artificially cooling with the assistance of Air conditioning or Electric cooling fans. Timber Frame overcomes this problem by virtue of its construction. It may be compared to a Thermos Flask, which keeps cold, cold and hot, hot. Timber frame construction keeps the building cool during hot weather and warm in cold weather because once the building reaches the desired temperature, it stays there. Heating and Cooling costs are massively reduced against a traditional build requirement. Another bonus is that because Timber Frame properties have internal insulation as well as a cavity, the period of comfortable occupation is extended considerably because the interior of the building retains the ambient temperature, simply because the heat is not increased and cool air is not heated up, and can not escape. So, to sum up at this stage – Timber Frame is a highly advanced method of construction, which gives us a very comfortable lifestyle at a hugely reduced energy cost over other methods of building available to us.
We just mentioned internal insulation, well yes, we love it – We stick it wherever we can find room for it e.g. under floors, in roof spaces, in interior walls. Not only does this serve to control the temperature we discussed earlier, it also acts as sound insulation. Acoustic values in Timber Frame houses are very high indeed – they have to be to pass the very high standards demanded by British and American (amongst many other nations) building regulations. In colder climates, Scandinavia & Canada for instance where nearly all construction is Timber Frame, have very high levels and demands and all our products meet the requirements of every country. Living in a Timber Frame property is a very quiet and peaceful experience. Timber does not conduct sound, whereas all quarry products and concrete are very poor insulators and excellent conductors of noise indeed – anyone who has lived in a concrete apartment will know!
Moving on, we now have an insulated Timber Frame with a cavity between it and a decorative outside wall. Next we need some joists. These are the bits of wood, which go across the room from wall to wall to which the bedroom floorboards are nailed. In times past all construction timbers were rough-sawn Pine, Spruce or Fir softwood and were typically 225mm x 65mm or other as specified by the design Architect. They had to be cross-braced and notched out to take pipes and cables and then overlaid with T & G boards. This was a very time consuming and expensive operation, which has no place in the modern construction business. Today to complement Timber Frame construction we use engineered Eco-joists which do the same job without any of the above operations required. All services (pipes & cables carrying water, electricity, sewage, phones and aerials) pass through the hollow webs of the joists and as they do not have a “turning moment” i.e. won’t fall over – bracing is no longer needed. Joisting a traditional “chamber floor” takes days but using lightweight Eco-joists takes hours. Gone are the 150mm T & G floorboards and in its place treated 22mm flooring grade chipboard is used. It’s cheap to buy and lay and further it can be uplifted if necessary, which was always a problem with T&G flooring. Next we need a roof and as you would expect, we now use an engineered configuration called a “trussed rafter”. Traditional roofs were always hand cut and took ages to complete, adding a huge cost to the finished product. Trussed rafters are designed and made in a factory to the specifications laid down by a structural engineer. They are made on special jig machines from small section timbers and are quite light for the size of them. They come in all sorts of shapes, each designed to serve a particular roof configuration. They can even make provision for a room in the roof at a later stage of construction. The trusses themselves are not expensive nor labour intensive, therefore the cost measured against traditional roofing demonstrates a notable cost saving, plus of course the speed in which the job is completed.
Sealing the Envelope
Now what? Next we need to “seal the envelope” in other words make our construction, water and weather tight. This is done before the exterior wall is built and it is achieved simply by fitting all the windows and external doors, in the openings created in the timber frames by the factory, and engaging the services of a roofer to felt, lath and tile or slate the roof over. Now you can get to grips with the inside whist the appropriate trade sees to the outside walls. If the weather is too hot, too cold or too wet it doesn’t matter; you can crack on with the inside and wait for the right weather to come along to deal with the outside skin. So what’s next then?
As a bonus we also supply all the inside dividing walls to your home and our chaps fit them for you as part of the supply and erect package. I bet you are wondering where the self-build bit comes in – well it starts in a minute! From arrival on site the operation of erecting the exterior and internal timber frame walls, 1st floor joists and roof trusses takes anything from 3 -10 days – Yes, days! Next up, we need a plumber and an electrician to do the first fix, this means running all the water and heating supply pipe work, & waste pipes – the electric feed cables for lighting and power. Now this is where you have a chance to shine with your DIY skills. You get the ubiquitous insulation and insert it into every available cavity in the stud walls then simply screw 12.5mm plasterboard to the underside of the eco-joists and the wall studs, over the insulation – now it is starting to look like a house. Do the same upstairs then send for your plasterer who will skim over all the plasterboard that you have so carefully put up. Next comes the joiner who will hang all the internal doors, put the staircase in, and generally see to the window sills, skirting and architraves (that’s the pretty bit of moulding that goes round the door frame to hide the frame/plasterboard joint). Depending on the ground floor finish, the joiner may lay a timber floating floor for you, there are many different options using timber frame construction. Next is the kitchen fitter and back comes the plumber with the electrician to do a final fix. This consists of the plumber fixing all the white-ware (Bathrooms, to the uninitiated!) and heating. He will also connect all the waste pipes to the outside services. His last job is to pipe up all the Bathrooms and Kitchen and test all the installation. Meanwhile the electrician has been busy wiring in all the power sockets, light switches and of course, lights.
The bricklayer/stonemason/plasterer will have finished the outside skin, so the joiner will add the finishing touches to the outside, such as Fascias, & Soffits, and the Plumber will fix Gutters and fall pipes. That’s about it as far as Mr Selfbuild is concerned – but don’t go away yet, I am sure Mrs. Selfbuild will find you something to do, because this is where she takes over and decides what colour the lounge is going to be and what sort of tiles are going in the bathrooms, and what about the floor tiling? While the good lady stands and supervises, this is a good opportunity to get the lads round with a crate of the best, and in return for copious supply of refreshments, a working party should hastily be organised. Next thing is to move in!
We have not mentioned the ground works yet, we thought we would save this bit for later, as it is slightly more technical than putting the house up. Because Timber Frame construction is considerably lighter that other methods of building it can be used where ground conditions would not normally favour a construction in heavy side materials. Each country and region tend to prefer different types of foundation so we will not bore you too much by relating the options, which probably won’t apply to your build. In Southern Spain a slab or more correctly a raft construction is favoured. This is basically a concrete base on which the house stands, but there is a bit more to it than that. We have to be certain that it is constructed in the correct manner to avoid movement of both the base itself and the house, which is going to sit on it.
So lets bring in our digger driver and he can get busy excavating. The drawings you have paid your architect for will have the site levels on and your digger man will know where and how deep to excavate. You will have pegged the site out by now, its not hard to do but you may wish to have your architect do it for you. The drains are also marked on the drawings, as are the service runs in (Water & Electricity). Now is as good a time as any to get your man to dig these as well, seeing as you have the digger on site.
We need to provide a base as we have discussed and what this does is, to allow the finished building to distribute its weight (transmitted spread-loading, if you want to impress your mates!) evenly over a large area, thereby reducing point loads. So, if we excavate the level ground to about 600mm deep and allow 600mm – 1000mm more than the footprint plan of the house, on each side and ends of the slab, that is fine for normal ground conditions. We need to fill the excavated hole with crushed hardcore or MOT as it is known in the trade, back to ground level. The next job is to compact the MOT using a vibrator roller – avoid the temptation of just getting the digger driver to drive over it a few times, don’t laugh it happens! Now blind it over with sand, this stops any sharp bits puncturing the DPC membrane. The what, I hear you ask? The DPC membrane sounds very technical, but it is just a huge sheet of thick plastic, which prevents damp penetrating and introducing problems into the finished floor. You will all have seen DPC membrane commonly referred to as “Visqueen” in the trade. It is a sheet of blue plastic used on building sites for everything and anything. I believe that there is more Visqueen used on some construction sites than bricks. On top of the Visqueen we need to put some reinforcing mesh, raised a couple of inches or so (oops, sorry showing my age again) 50mm or so. Reinforcing mesh is heavy gauge steel mesh divided into squares, and does what it says on the tin – it reinforces the concrete. Next a wooden shuttering is constructed above ground level to a minimum of 150mm. Concrete is them poured or pumped into this box and tamped to make a smooth finish. Prior to tamping we always recommend that a vibrator poker be used to get rid of any air pockets. And guess what? You can put some insulation under the concrete as well if you like! Don’t forget to leave feeder provision for services in and out before you start your pour. Leave this for a week to cure and then send for your Timber Developments Erecting Crew.
Underground plastic is used universally for all pipe-work and ducting as it is cheap and easily available from all builders and plumbers merchants, so while Timber Developments erects your house you get busy laying your pipe-work and cable ducting. This is a good point to mention plastic demountable plumbing systems. Although copper is still used in the industry there is a big leaning to plastic plumbing systems which carry hot and cold water. The trade know it as HEP2o simply because HEPworth Building Products were one of the first to market this brilliant product. No spanners or blow lamps needed, the system just push-fits together and you can get all sorts of different fittings in the system. Can I do it myself did you say? Of course you can, it is not hard and any number of guides are available today to encourage the d-i-y market.
Timber Selection and Treatment
Because Timber Frame in Spain are such nice people we are very environmentally aware of our moral obligations, we are very pro-active when it comes to promoting environmental issues. One thing we do not do, is steal the earths resources, we contribute a hugely to the reduction of Carbon emission into the atmosphere and provide safe havens for wildlife. (Not in your new home, we hasten to add).
What is a timber frame made of? We only use a grade of timber known as CLS. This stands for Canadian Lumber Standard. It has to meet a very high set of regulations and pass several stringent tests, before it can be considered for use. For instance the timber used in our industry must be grown in Canada or Northern Europe, the colder the better because the tree grows slower and straighter thereby giving the converted planks more strength. We only use the species Fir-Spruce-Pine and ALL our timbers – every single piece must come from renewable sources. This simply means that as soon as we fell a tree another one is replanted immediately. We manage our industry so well in fact that we actually grow more than 250 million cubic metres of timber every year surplus to our requirements. An area the size of Cyprus, every year! This means that we are helping to remove excess CO2 in our atmosphere and offering an alternative to ripping the heart out of the countryside to obtain materials to make concrete and other quarry products used in construction. The amount of Carbon discharged into the atmosphere during the process of making building products from stone and steel is unbelievable. The method used to establish how much pollution is being thrown into the atmosphere is called “ Embodied Energy Assessment” Each process of making an article is measured by a lot of very clever people with high foreheads and white coats. They award things called KWh% to the amount of CO2 emission at each stage. To make a batch of concrete the CO2 emission rate starts with the truck going to the quarry, the excavation of a lorry load of rock, the lorry journey to the concrete yard, crushing the rock ……. Each process picking up more “points” until it reaches the site as a finished product. To give you some idea of the benefit of wood – take a window for instance. The embodied energy needed to make a plastic (PVCu) window would be 7872 KWh and the same window made of wood has an embodied energy count of 1024 KWh. If you choose wood you would save 87% energy. Timber Wall v Concrete Block would show a 42% saving and a wood floor v concrete would show a 65% saving.
Sorry about that – back to our wood! The trees are felled and converted into plank each plank is inspected and stress graded. This is basically a snap test to make sure the selected wood has a tensile strength to do the job it is intended for. Next it goes through a preservation process which makes it very undesirable for wood-boring/eating beasts to want to attack. It also prevents timber decay. Next the timber is dried in a hot kiln to an optimum % of moisture, and then it is ready for the market. At this stage each individual piece of timber has collected a stamp which tells those in the trade where the timber came from, where it was machined, who tested it, how it has been preserved and kilned, and last of all, the export details. A certificate is also available to prove it has come from sustained forest. The actual Timber Frames are made from 140mm or 89mm studs with a 9mm stiffening board attached – it’s that simple.
We must hasten to add that only the material side is simple, as a huge amount of work goes on in the background before the job hits the factory floor. As soon as one of our factories receives an order, architects drawings are then converted by our engineers to Timber Frame calculations. Each individual property has to be looked at in depth and several pieces of information must be considered by the engineer, such as 10 year weather patterns, roof loads, wind speeds, building heights and such like. Once the engineer has done his bit, the job passes to a design engineer who takes the structural engineers information and re-designs the proposed property to suit Timber Frame construction. This process is done with the aid of a very expensive computer programme approved by several regulatory bodies and is fool proof. If the computer does not like the idea suggested it will tell you, and you must try again until it is satisfied. We can be sure that each unit leaving our factory will perform as it should and that there can’t be any site errors because all problems that may have occurred have been dealt with and eradicated at the design stage. To show how certain we are that your unit is perfect we issue you with an NHBC certificate of engineering compliance, which is in fact, a 10-year guarantee.
We often get asked if timber frame would be safe in an earthquake zone, and the simple answer is that timber frame construction has in fact, proved to be the safest type of building to be in during an earthquake. Several in-depth studies have been undertaken over the years, which bear this statement out, but the easiest one to understand was conducted by a Mr. Karacabeily who revealed that over 30 years, 6 major earthquakes occurred worldwide killing 6,695 people. Those killed in Timber Frame Buildings were exactly 20 in number, with 368,000 timber-framed properties being affected by the quakes. The major cause of building failure in ‘quake zones’ is the roof weight of the construction and the lack of material flexibility used in the build. Another crucial point is the non-mechanical joints used in concrete and stone construction and the weak horizontal element. A designed Timber Framed Building with ERD (Earthquake Resistant Design) meets the requirement for a Class F world rating applying the principles of MSK scale, and this is the best you can get. ALL Timber Frame in Spain`s products fall into this category.
Here are some more questions we get asked regularly (I am informed by a junior member that you have to write FAQs nowadays) – So here are some of those FAQs
If these types of building are so good, why hasn’t Spain used them more than they have done?
Simple answer is that Spain doesn’t have any wood! Construction does not like change and traditionally over the centuries, people built with materials that were in abundance close to where they chose to live because there was no transport to import other materials. Those who lived in forested areas built in wood, and still do. For every 100 homes built in Scandinavia and Canada 90 of them are of Timber Frame Construction. Throughout the world 70 out of every 100 new buildings are constructed in Timber Frame. Those who lived in mountain areas had access to stone, and built in stone, others baked clay into bricks. If you drive through the U.K. you can still see much evidence of material availability. Scotland still has a 65% Timber Frame new build, again – lots of forests. Cumbria & Wales are blessed with Slate so the majority of buildings reflect this material. Yorkshire has abundant supplies of Sandstone, Lancashire has Clay. In the Midlands, we are back to Timber Frame tradition. Spain has only had stone to build with which in turn has been turned into concrete – but now help is at hand!
What about fire risk?
Believe it or not Wood performs better in fire than Steel Reinforced Concrete! Because we use fire rated materials such as plasterboard to cover the timber frames we can control the length of time it takes a fire to get to the timber, we also know the char rate of our timber so we can accurately predict how long the fire protection will be. In any other type of construction this is very difficult to do. We also build in added protection such as fire “sausages” in the cavity. This action compartmentalises the frames and confines the fire to a known and determined area, in the unlikely event of a fire getting through the internal fire protection.
Can you get mortgages on Timber Frame Houses?
There is do distinction between Timber Frame and any other type of construction as far as most lending sources are concerned. Provided the property is built correctly and has passed the mandatory inspections required by the local authority, certification is issued and accepted by all mainstream lenders.
What about Insurance?
Again no problem, the building is classed a permanent dwelling and is no different to any other. In fact, some insurers prefer Timber Frame to traditional construction, as they are faster and cheaper to repair in cases like flooding. Traditional block requires the removal of all the wall plaster to a point 500mm above the high water mark in the building, a long drying out period and the re-plastering with a salt repellent plaster. With Timber Frame you simply cut out the wet board and replace it the same morning.
Do you really save money for the full life of the property?
Yes, definitely! There is tons of evidence available to back this up, and we will gladly supply you with any details on request.
How long should it take from start to finish?
A complete build for a 120m2 house, for instance, should take about 16 weeks. This is subject of course to having all the materials and labour to hand as you need it
Surely concrete is much cheaper & faster?
No, it certainly is not. Each batch that is poured has to be left to cure before the next lot of shuttering can be filled. Prior to any concrete arriving on site all the starters, reinforcing and shuttering has to be prepared and placed. Whilst we are on the subject of concrete just look at these horrific figures: In each cubic meter of concrete it is estimated that you need 320kgs of cement plus 600kgs of sand plus 1200kgs of gravel plus – now this is the hard bit to swallow (excuse the pun) 176 litres of water! Spain is in serious trouble with a water shortage and thousands upon thousands of gallons are pumped into construction unnecessarily. Not only does timber frame avoid this waste, it avoids the lengthy drying times needed with quarry products. Rapid or excessive heat drying leads to cracking and accelerates failure in buildings; Timber Frame avoids cracking, as there is nothing to dry out!
What do you do with the waste from the site?
The short answer is that there is none, the engineered panels come as a finished kit, which are erected by our own teams.
How long do these houses last?
We answer this question with a question – How long do you want it to last? The oldest known Timber Frame property is over 1200 years old and still in daily use. Hundreds of 500-600 year old buildings survive and are in daily use. Simply put – If you are prepared to maintain your property and renew the parts that inevitably wear out, just like a car, it can go on forever.
Can I have any design I like?
Yes! Not only can you have any design you fancy, but also you can have any finish you like. Your new home can look like a medieval castle or a futuristic designer home – the choice is yours.
This is all very interesting but can I save money on a Timber Frame House?
Certainly, every time, this is a win-win situation from day one. You will save on initial cost of the build. Again on the speed of build and yet again on full life costs, compared to other methods of construction. Because the system is so diverse it is impossible to quote figures without knowing exactly what our clients want. But we can give you an assurance that we can demonstrate a good saving in each case and a state of the art home you will be proud of and enjoy living in.
Do you provide a full build service?
We may be able to offer this service depending on location and our own workload. But if the object is to live in a quality home at a very affordable price, the self – build route is unbeatable.
Where are your house kits made?
In the U.K. Every single kit meets and often beats U.K. Building Regulations, Robust Detail and TRADA Standards. We have various suppliers and we supply kits on a national and global scale.
What about planning permission, and licences etc?
No problem, we have spent quite a lot of time and effort to ensure that we can provide a service second to none. We can deal with your design and planning needs from day one. We work with local Spanish registered Architects as well as our own in-house professionally qualified staff.
How do I get a quote or further information?
We have excellent representation throughout Spain and all it takes is a call and we will do all we can to help you. The names and contact numbers are shown below. We do not employ salesmen on a pay for result system, and you will only receive sound advice based on a wealth of experience from within the industry. We give you a firm figure and never ask for any fees or expenses. A payment programme can be arranged to suit your lending arrangements and we are happy to work with any nominated professional agent you care to engage.