Frame FAQ

Here we have answered the most commonly asked timber frame questions. If you don’t find the answer you need feel free to contact us for advice.

Frame Basics

What is the difference between modern timber frame houses and traditional timber framing?

Firstly, traditional frames are exposed rather than being covered by plasterboard, renders or more wood. They are jointed rather than nailed and therefore require a higher skillset than modern frames, all of which can be seen within the building. They are more fire-resistant and, due to their greater sizes of individual sections, more resistant to rotting. They do not rely on partition walls for strength and so are more versatile and suited to open-plan design. A wider choice of species is available, often at a local level, and do not require kiln-drying. The wider spaces between framing members when compared to a conventional frame mean fewer thermal breaks to the fabric of the building and allow for greater expanses of glass to be used without the need for expensive lintels.

Why is traditional framing rare in Ireland?

There are a number of reasons and suggestions as to why it is rare in Ireland-the skills perfected on the Continent and other places didn’t make it this far, many of our once-abundant woods were decimated to make way for agriculture, supply wood for naval ships and as fuel for producing iron. The culture of framing simply didn’t develop here as it did elsewhere.

How long will a frame last?

Correctly designed and kept in a suitable environment, a frame will last indefinitely. There are many examples of frames which have stood for 400+ years, with some frames being around for a thousand. With advancements developed over the last century, our homes are no longer asked to withstand the same levels of dampness and moisture that they have done in the past.

How much does a frame cost?

The cost is determined more by design than anything else-a large rectangular structure will cost less than a smaller one with lots of detail. Curves are more expensive than straight lines. Certain species of wood are costlier and less common than others. The budget is determined first so that the cost of the frame can be matched to it.

I have already designed my house. Is it too late to add a frame?

No. Although traditional frames benefit from simple designs based on best design practices there are many options to design hybrid systems that will fit into your existing design.

I have trees on my property. Can I build a frame out of them?

Yes you can. We can arrange felling, milling and transportation to our workshop.

Maintenance and Technical Questions

Is Ireland too damp for natural materials?

Humidity is a serious issue when it comes to building in Ireland and care must be taken to accommodate this. Thankfully we have come a long way to understanding the intricacies of moisture levels within the home and this allows us greater flexibility of materials than ever before. Wood thrives in and contributes positively to the same healthy environment that we as people enjoy.

What species of wood should I use for my frame?

A wide variety of woods have been utilised globally for framing and there are too many variants to address here. We prefer sourcing local woods unless they are deemed unsuitable for purpose. Oak, spruce, Douglas fir and larch are perfect because they are sufficiently strong and readily available. Take a look at what’s around, traditional frames reflect the local conditions and species which flourish there.

Will my frame require maintenance?

Not necessarily. Wood kept dry with good airflow need not be maintained with finishes. Some outdoor woods will benefit from oiling, others need none. A frame built in damp conditions should be inspected periodically to assess performance.

What about woodworm?

The vast majority of wood in a frame is heartwood and therefore more resistant to insect attack. Wood-boring beetles need a moisture content of around 20% to breed and survive-if your timber is at this level it indicates a more serious dampness problem within the structure. Your frame ought to be no more inclined to rot than your kitchen table and woods like oak, cedar and sweet chestnut are naturally resistant to insect attack. Fortunately for us, Ireland is devoid of termites, though traditional frames continue to be widely utilised in countries where this is an issue.

Why do cracks appear in my wood frame and should I be worried?

Cracks, more correctly called checking, is a natural occurrence of the drying out stage as the wood adjusts from its previous environment to its new one. As wood expels moisture from within its cells and shrinks it gains strength and this compensates for any apparent loss of strength as a result of checking. During manufacture of your frame each piece is hand selected for a particular position within the structure based on how it will act as it dries. Finally, it is a matter of taste as to how you feel about these cracks, for they demonstrate the rawness of a natural material which changes over time.

Health, Safety and Environmental Questions

Is using timber damaging to the environment?

Absolutely not. Heavy frames use less resources and trees than modern frames with lower embodied energy levels. They are a unique structural material because they are produced by the power of the sun, exchange carbon dioxide for oxygen and lock up carbon as well as providing cover for flora and fauna. Concrete and steel are large contributors of carbon and greenhouse gases during their production and usually require extra materials to cover their harsh surfaces. Furthermore, choosing wood as a structural material lessens the buildings carbon footprint and increases demand for good management of both clear-fell and continuous coverage forests.

What’s wrong with using concrete?

Concrete is hugely important as a building material and we are not against its use. It is however, highly damaging to our environment and not without problems of its own when the overall health of a building is taken into consideration. We think it should be used sparingly and that, if we are to build and develop sustainably for the sake of our future generations, any structural system which is grown from seed should be favoured wherever possible.

What’s wrong with using steel?

Likewise, steel impacts negatively upon the environment and is introducing large volumes of carbon into the atmosphere. Shockingly, it takes the equivalent of 140 tonnes of oak to produce a single tonne of iron. Unlike steel and concrete, wood locks up carbon and has the advantage of leaving a warm, tactile structure. Wood is the complementary material of choice when using materials which are sensitive to moisture such as hemp and straw because it regulates humidity instead of providing a surface where moisture from the air will condense upon it. It can therefore deal better with a problem which can create serious problems relating to dampness and unhealthy mould growth in houses.

What about fire safety?

Wood burns by charring from outside to inside at an estimable rate without losing structural strength. Heavy beams burn slowly, whereas modern timber frames will lose structural capabilities faster due to their smaller size, steel will lose strength by bending and twisting and concrete will shatter. Consider this, all modern fire doors are made of wood and oak has been used as a heat shield on the nose-cone of space shuttles because it withstands extreme temperatures. This heat shield is 15 centimetres thick, coincidentally the same size as the smallest sized post within a traditional frame.