How To Build a House That Will Last 200 Years (Or More)

by ziggy on August 13, 2012 -- 8 comments -- Follow

Bayleaf Farmstead Timber Frame House

“The life cycle of timber frame structures is measured not in decades, but millennia.”

It’s true: timber frame houses are built to last, and their durability surpasses conventional stick frames by leaps and bounds. The renowned Ise temple of Japan is, astoundingly, over 1300 years old and claims the title of the oldest existing timber frame structure in the world. And there are many more 500+ year old timber frame barns, homes, and buildings scattered globally, especially throughout Europe.

If you want to build a house that will last 100, 200, 300 years or more, the timber frame is the only answer to long-lasting framed buildings.

Build a House That Will Last for Generations

What makes timber frame houses so much more long-lived? It’s quite simple once you understand the critical differences between timber framing and other framing systems.

Timber framing depends on large posts and beams, tied together using wood joinery, not metal fasteners. The inherent strength of a 6×6, or 8×8 is much greater than a softwood 2×4. Additionally, wood joinery (such as mortise and tenon joinery) is much stronger than 2x4s tied together with a bunch of nails or screws. Joinery uses the natural strength of the wood, instead of depending on a bunch of metal to do similar work.

It gets better, too. As the wood in a timber frame dries (most frames are constructed using newly felled trees), the joinery tightens on itself as the wood shrinks. Seasoned wood is much stronger than green wood, too.

Timber Frame Houses

Timber Frame Houses: Standing Up to the Elements

Timber frames are heavy and extremely solid, and much more resistant to the effects of earthquakes, high winds, or heavy snows. There’s a reason why some of the oldest standing structures in Japan, with its high frequency of earthquakes, are of timber frame construction.

Compared to other modes of construction, including steel frames, timber has an excellent fire resistance rating:

Timber-framed construction is significantly more resistant to fire damage than common stick framing and considerably more resistant to fire damage than construction using unprotected steel support members… Solid wood is very stable at high temperatures and creates its own insulation upon contact with fire. As a result, heavy timber construction is given a two hour fire rating by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

Timber Frame BuildingBuild a Home That You Can Pass On

We chose to build a timber frame house for all of the above reasons, and more. It’s quite appealing to think that we are building a house that will last for generations, providing high quality shelter for families into the future, and that will require much less maintenance than a conventional home.

Timber frame houses may take more time to build, but the extra effort in the beginning will completely pay for itself over the generations that it remains standing and intact, and still beautiful after all those years.

More Old Houses:

Quote source:
Photo credit: Burwash Calligrapher via photo pin cc, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources via photo pin cc, Derek Severson via photo pin cc

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  • “there are many more 500+ year old timber frame barns, homes, and buildings scattered globally, especially throughout Europe.” Yes and its a shame that so many of them have been left to fall apart and rot away 🙁

    I wish I had the money to buy an old house like that and restore it to its former glory! I think a house like that would look so lovely and you could finish it off with an old style looking summer house and/or green house to give a wonderful home for your family to live in for generations to come!

  • Andy

    I fail to see the relevance of the pictures in this post to the subject at hand. You’ve chosen two pictures that reek of wealth and privilege instead of reality. Very, very few ordinary people can afford timber-framing, unless they are timber framers and do the work themselves. Time to reboot.

  • Andy: thanks for the comment. The first image is Bayleaf Farmstead, a 500 year old timber frame home in Germany. It was purportedly originally owned by wealthy farmers, indeed, but timber frame structures are/were not limited to a wealthy class. I think that is a misconception. Plenty of “commoners” or working class families, farmers, etc. have used timber frame construction throughout history, and I think only until recently, where stick framing has become the norm (thanks to cheap industrial production/culture), has timber framing been more frequently delegated to a more elite class. But it doesn’t have to be that way, nor is it always that way, for sure.

    I have perhaps perpetuated that misconception by including the second image, obviously a newer construction, and simply judging by the picture, probably inhabited by fairly wealthy folks. To be honest, it’s hard to find diverse images of timber frame homes.

    I think when timber framing becomes more “in fashion” (as it becomes more obvious that homes made with industrial products are falsely inexpensive, thanks to cheap energy), will it be more known that timber framing is actually a very economic way to build a home. (A timber frame is much more likely to be built with local materials, for one.)

  • Joppe

    Hi Ziggy, great site!
    What are your thoughts on Termites?

  • Andy

    Well, Ziggy, you’re a young man. I’m 63 and I’ve read a lot and seen a lot. When the era of cheap energy ends in the very near future, the elite will continue to live in grand mansions and the common folk will go back to living in hovels, as they did before. Stick framing replaced timber framing because it made more efficient use of the dwindling supply of trees and because it was faster and thus cheaper to build with. Timber framing is not an economical way to build a house – it never was and never will be. Read up on the field of vernacular architecture. Building with dirt and stone was much more common than timber frame and it will become more common because the material is free if the builder owns the land and because it is easy to build with. Timber is a scarce and expensive resource, unavailable to the vast majority of people. You are indeed fortunate to have access to timbers to construct your building with.

  • Pingback: Timber Frame Houses | How To Build a House That Will Last 200+ ... - Australian House Designs |()

  • Joppe: Termites are not a big concern here, and I honestly am not familiar with strategies to avoid or eliminate them.

    What I’ve read is that stick framing displaced timber framing as the go-to construction method for its lower cost, and speed — like you said, but I’ve never read that it had anything to do with dwindling timber. Stick framing is fast and the labor is cheap, since it’s not that difficult to do.

    Many cultures have timber and log building traditions that go way back, especially in Scandinavia, Germany, etc.

    There’s an argument that suggests timber framing actually makes better use of wood supplies, too, as there is less waste in creating bigger posts than working wood down to make 2x4s and small dimension lumber.

    Last thing… Timber framing is not appropriate everywhere, either, of course… I wouldn’t build one in New Mexico, for example, where an adobe or cob house is much more suitable, and shouldn’t be considered an option. Where there is appropriate and abundant material, timber framing will be more accessible and less expensive.

  • Scott

    I once saw a garage made from poured block on a slab floor, with stainless steel tubing for rafters, and a stainless steel roof(the guy had access to a lot of scrap stainless from a hospital remodeling). To me, that would be something that would last close to forever. I’ve been in wood structures over 175 years old-essentially log cabins that had been “encased” over the years. Drilling into that old wood is a lot like drillling in to metal (in one instance, I tried drilling through it to run coax..emphasis on tried..).
    I could see it being very durable. Give it a heavily galvanized metal roof and maybe your great grandchildren might have to replace it.

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