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6 Tips for Tightening Your Timber Frame Home Budget

Revised 10-20-17

The budget for a construction project always rules the day; so, cutting back on a few things and doing some research beforehand will always save you money.  Below are six ways I thought of to help you cut the costs of your timber frame budget.


Use local species of timbers:

How to gain control over your timber frame budgetIf you live on the east coast you will find white pine and oak the least expensive species; and, on the west coast, Douglas fir would be the best choice.  Shipping timbers across the country is certainly an added expense that you do not need to add to the bottom line.
Something else to think about is the material handling and cutting of the joinery.  Oak is certainly harder and heavier to work with than white pine and that takes more time and money.

Enclosure system savings:

Enclose the roof over the timbered areas with SIPs and use a 2x conventional wall system for the wall enclosure system.  Other roofed areas of your home that do not have timbers can also use a more conventional framing approach using 2x trusses and framing.  This allows you to take advantage of the ease of using the SIPs and the speed and insulation values they give you on the timbered roof areas while taking advantage of the cost savings of 2x material for the walls and other roof areas.

Keep your frame simple:

The more complex your frame design is, the more it is going to cost.   The more joints and board footage of wood in the frame, the more complex things get.   I know a few timber frame companies that count the joints in a frame and that’s how they estimate what their cost is going to be.  Thus, the more joints, the more time they will have to spend on it.   Keeping the frame simple can be challenging if you have a lot of hips and valleys but it is something to keep in the back of your head, as these joints can be the most complex ones to cut.

Listen to the pros and get them involved early on:

If someone who is a professional suggests you do something to help save you a bunch of money, please listen to them even if it means you have to lose some of the details you really want. Ask them how to save money, as they will often know ways to cut back on the cost of their services or how you can tweak your plan to make things easier.

Plan on doing some of the work yourself:

Bottom line is that the biggest expense you will have on your project is labor; so anything that you can do yourself will save you money in the end.   Let’s take my timber frame staircase as an example.  If I were to have a timber frame company cut and install my staircase it would have been over $12,000.  With the actual material costs of $4,200 (I had most of the wood on site drying for this occasion that had been milled up 8 years before, that cost is not included in the price) I ended saving about $7,800.

The one catch is that your time is worth nothing if you take this approach.  If you are dealing with a bank or a deadline imposed to you by your significant other, your time starts to be an important factor.  In this case hiring folks will be the only way to go to save you money, because the faster you go the less money it will cost you.  Finding the balance is the hard part.

Find the best pricing for your building materials and contractors:

Both suppliers and contractors prices will vary so getting 3 estimates for everything is the best strategy.   If you only get two you will not have the third one to verify if someone is high or low.   Make sure you make a good Request for Proposal document to send to everyone.  That way you will get true apples to apples bidding.

In the end, just don’t go with the lower price, instead, figure out which one is the best fit for you and your project…the person you can work with. In the end, that will give you the most savings.

You can only save so much money with the timber framing aspect of your construction project.  But, throughout the rest of your project, there is a huge potential to save money and remember you can take aspects from all six of these tips and apply them there.

3 thoughts on “6 Tips for Tightening Your Timber Frame Home Budget”

  1. Sage advice Brice — well done!

    One also needs to take into account the building lot and variable costs associated with getting a Timber Frame out of the ground.

    We travel to many sites where the logistics of just getting there, perking for adequate septic performance, clearing the site, and getting the foundation ready for a new Timber Frame home all combine to incur substantial dollars up front. ‘Site feasibility’ is very, very important.



    1. Brice Cochran

      I could not agree more with you. Site conditions certain need to be taken a look at, I too have seen lots of money go into clearing and foundation costs on projects that has not been needed.
      Great point!

  2. Well done Brice, especially “Keep it Simple”.

    I would add that you might want to consider SIPS on the walls instead and an alternate roof system, such as built-up boards/foam/firring/sheathing or conventional framing over your timber rafters or purlins.

    In general there are far fewer penetrations in a roof, its also of little consequence if you build it thicker in order to add more insulation. Therefore, It is not as difficult to build a tight, high r-value roof. Granted you have more thermal breaks, but the thermal break of a 2×10 or 2×12 is much less of a break than a 2×4 or 2×6 in a wall and the ability to go big in r-value on the roof will mitigate the interruption of insulation by the 2x’s.

    In addition, If you are doing this work yourself you will find it much easier to get the materials up on the roof than the very bulky roof panels needed on a roof.

    On the other hand, walls are full of holes for doors, windows, vents, blocking for exterior attachments and so on. This creates a multitude of opportunities for air leakage and thermal breaks. SIPS on the walls will greatly reduce the thermal breaks and the nature of the assembly (air sealing with foam) will tighten the wall up much better than you can with stick framing.

    It’s also much easier to add panels to a timber frame wall than conventional wall framing. Typically stick framed walls are built laid out flat on the deck and tipped up, but you have a timber frame on the deck so they have to be assembled off the deck on a flat surface (not common on a building site) and then brought to the wall and tipped up and fastened. There is a lot of framing in stick walsl, which makes them heavy, bulky, and redundant. Alternatively you can infill the timbers with stick framing which will create a leakier house than a stick frame unless you go to extreme lengths to air seal it, or simply build the stick walls in place, a stud at a time over your frame, this is labor intensive and difficult to do accurately.

    Finally, roof panels are generally twice as thick as wall panels. I would argue in an air tight structure there is little air stratification and therefore no point to insulating a roof more than the walls, but don’t bother trying to convince a code official on this point. I find there is generally about 2/3 of the cost of the panels in the roof. So there is even more savings to be found with this method.

    I am curious if others have tried this approach and if they have found it to be an effective cost saver?

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