Oak-framed buildings

Oak-framed buildings – using green oak or recycled timber – are enjoying a renaissance. But can they really compete with bricks and mortar?…

pic: Border Oak
 Until the 18th century most buildings in England were timber framed. 

But over the years the demands on wood grew, exposed beams became unfashionable, and the art of building a timber-framed house was gradually forgotten.

Today exposed timber-framed housing may conjure up a rather twee image, but this traditional method of building is both versatile and eco-friendly.

Ideal, in other words, for modern living.

Today, these houses come in two basic types: green oak buildings built from scratch using sustainable timber sources, or homes constructed from ancient oak frames given a new lease of life.

 


 

Green Oak Homes

pic: Border Oak
 1. Historic Inspiration: Border Oak is one of many British companies making a name in new ‘green oak’ framed buildings.

The company’s MD, coincidentally named John Greene, says:

“We take our inspiration from the most successful of the traditional frames that have already survived 400 years.”

 


 

pic: Border Oak
 2. Eco-credentials: Greene, like all those involved in the business, is particularly proud of the sector’s eco credentials.

“Our builds use renewable resources,” says John Greene.

“You’ll find that most companies use wood suppliers who are signed up to a reforestation agreement. For every tree used, six more are planted.”

Unlike the methods involved in a conventional build, from tree to beam only takes five processes – cut down tree, deliver to saw mill, cut to size, deliver to builder, then build.

“All the processes use a relatively small amount of fossil fuels. In comparison, steel would use 1000 times as much,” says Greene.

 


 

pic: Border Oak
 3. Energy-Efficiency: And, in usage, the modern oak-framed house is probably a lot better than its forerunners.

According to Greene his buildings can boast a u-value (the amount of heat lost per square metre) of 2.5 times the industry requirements.

But although constructions with exposed frames epitomise the style, they are, unfortunately not as energy efficient as homes with beams that are tucked away inside.

The compromise, says Greene, is to use a Structural Insulated Panel System (SIPS) outside of the building, leaving the rustic charm of the frame visible internally for the inhabitants to enjoy.


pic: Border Oak
 4. The Build: Most companies can either simply supply the materials, or handle the project from start to finish. 

Border Oak estimates a build time of 14 to 18 weeks up to final decoration.

This compares very favourably with six to eight months for a conventional brick build.


pic: Border Oak  

5. The Price: Obviously many factors may alter the build cost, not least of which is where you live and the builders you choose.

But for new green oak frames you can expect to pay approximately £90-110 per square foot (not including kitchens and bathrooms).


Antique Frames Recycled 

pic: Antique Buildings

 1. Reclaimed Frames: But using ancient reclaimed oak frames is even greener, says MD ofAntique Buildings Peter Barker.

And it’s saving our country’s heritage.

“It’s the greenest of green,” says Barker. “It’s recycling in the best possible way. We save bricks and roof tiles as well as the oak frame. Bricks and tiles take a lot of energy to fire.”


pic: Antique Buildings 

2. Dismantled & Reassembled: Stored at the company’s yard at Dunsfold, on the Surrey/Sussex border are some twenty complete frames of buildings, such as houses, barns, cart sheds, and granaries.

All the frames, which have been saved from the developer’s bulldozer, are painstakingly drawn, numbered and photographed, before being carefully dismantled to await re-erection in a new location, and a new life as a modern home.


pic: Antique Buildings 

3. The Build: Antique Buildings will sell a frame and either do the planning and design, or give consultancy and hand holding.

According to Barker, it should be possible for any reasonably competent builder to reconstruct the building.


pic: Antique Buildings 

4. Energy Efficiency: In a structure’s new incarnation standards of energy conservation have to be much higher.

“The structure of the building is visibly ancient,” says Barker.

“But modern building techniques and insulation mean that it will perform as well as any modern building.”


pic: Antique Buildings 

 The Price: For an antique framed building £150-200 per square foot.

Not cheap, when compared with the current price of £40 per square foot for modern estate housing.

But, if you can afford it, undoubtedly worth every penny.


Green Or Antique? 

pic: Antique Buildings

 So which type of frame is better? The old or the new? Both have their advantages.

Modern frames are totally bespoke, designed for the plot and the needs of the builder.

But, says, Peter Barker, old timber looks instantly right and comfortable. And you are, of course, buying a piece of history.

New oak can’t be dried out adequately before the build, so with green oak you are likely to end up with some cracking (known as ‘shakes’) and bending for up to 12 years.


pic: Antique Buildings 

 But, according to Border Oak, this is the frame becoming stronger, and a very significant part of the character and charm of oak frames.

It’s really a matter of personal choice, though if you are saving an oak-framed listed building and re-erecting it within the local area it is possible that an enlightened planning officer might look more favourably on your planning application.

Nikki Sheehan

 

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