“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: 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).
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: