Timber Frame Houses

06/05/2019
Timber frame houses are far less common than brick houses in the UK - although they are more numerous in Scotland - and, like concrete houses and steel frame houses are classified as being of non-standard construction (or non-traditional construction). 

As with homes made from concrete or steel, there are certainly reasons to consider buying them however if you are you need to be aware that this can have implications for mortgages, insurance and even your home buyers survey. In a similar way, you also need to consider what the position might be when you come to sell up.

That said, of all houses built with non-standard materials, overall timber frame houses get the 'cleanest bill of health' (click here for an expert RICS surveyor's opinion on timber frame houses) and should not normally present huge problems regarding finding a lender to lend you a home loan to buy one, as long as the particular property you wish to buy has been kept in good repair and has no particular issues.

Additionally, as with steel frame houses, timber frame homes have also experienced a revival and increasing sales as part of the growing self-build movement.

This article examines:




Looking to buy a timber frame house? You must get a Building Survey from an experienced RICS surveyor

If you already have a mortgage in place, neither you nor your lender might realise that a property you want to buy is timber framed, particularly if there are barriers such as cladding and other masonry materials covering up the build. When this fact comes to light, your lender might reconsider the terms under which they'll lend to you and you might find it more of a challenge to get buildings insurance.

For peace of mind, once you know the house is built from timber frame, you should get a Building Survey from one of our expert RICS surveyors who have years of experience in surveying these properties.

Please note, this service is offered subject to us having an appropriately qualified RICS Surveyor operating in the postcode area of the property you'd like to be surveyed.

* Timber Frame specialists - RICS regulated - same week availability

 

    1

    What's the difference between a timber frame house and a brick house?

Timber frame houses are either built on site – known as ‘stick build’, which is the historic way these house have been built – or prefabricated off site in factory conditions.

In the case of modern, new build timber homes, panels are delivered to the site ‘open’ (with insulation and joinery added on site), or ‘closed’.

Oak frame structures - such as used to be popular in years gone by - if built in the modern era normally require frames to be encapsulated in structured insulated panels (SIPS), which themselves typically consist of two sheets of OSB (oriented strand board) sandwiching an insulative core. 

In the UK, brick-built houses are regarded as being of standard construction or traditional construction and the vast majority of houses are built using brick alongside blockwork/masonry.

Builders lay a concrete foundation and build walls on top of this using layers of blocks which have mortar in between them. Floors are mainly constructed from wood as are internal roof structures. The layers of blocks themselves are then covered in layers of bricks.

The actual blocks chosen can vary and include, among others:
  • standard dense blocks;
  • lightweight blocks with air pockets for better insulative qualities (Aircrete);
  • clay honey-combed blocks that increase thermal performance (Porotherm); and
  • large-format (thin-joint) blocks which can minimise laying times.

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    2

    Timber frame houses vs brick houses - Pros and Cons

Pros

Most of the pros related to timber framed houses relate to the construction process which accompanies putting new build homes up.

  • In the case of exposed oak frames, whether in new or existing builds, many prefer the aesthetics over traditional masonry.
  • Timber has great appeal in terms of its sustainability and related matters such as carbon (dioxide) footprint.
  • In terms of new builds, factory-produced timber frame homes are usually erected on site in a matter of days. 
  • Once up, the internal finishes can be started right away, which can produce further time savings. However, there may be lengthy delays involved in getting the frame built. That said, the National House-Building Council (NHBC) estimate that you might save up to 3 months in terms of a new build if you opt for timber frame over masonry.
  • It's normally easier to accommodate insulation into timber frame walls compared to masonry so you can have thinner build-ups for the same result.
  • Timber is light, construction doesn't involve heavy or complex tools and equipment and all components can be carried by hand - the main tool is a handheld nail gun. 
  • You can generally build a timber frame house with far great accuracy in terms of plumb walls and square rooms than you can one made of masonry, however you rely on there being a very accurate foundation. Timber can also be adapted to pretty much most geometric shapes and clad with a variety of materials.

Cons

  • Timber tends to warp over time which can cause real problems for 'wet' rooms: bathrooms will warp along with the timber and shower enclosures in particular are not designed to warp. Once tiles crack, the room's structure isn't watertight and water can then leak and directly attack the timber frame structure. However this can be avoided by ensuring that shower enclosures themselves are fully isolated from the surrounding structure.
  • Timber frame homes are more susceptible to damage from extremely strong winds (hurricanes) than masonry.
  • They perform less well acoustically: masonry is a better sound insulator.
  • Older homes, depending on the standard of the build and the timber itself, may be more susceptible to structural attack from moisture and condensation. New build timber frame homes can be made more resistant to moisture if they have a vapour barrier between the lining of the inner wall and the insulation to prevent any vapour passing through.
  • If they are not well maintained, external timber elements can rot over time, although generally, the frames themselves are well protected. Older buildings, if not properly heated, can be more susceptible to wet and dry rot if there is a very high moisture content (at least 20%). They can also be more susceptible to attack from infestation, such as from woodworm.
  • Older timber frame houses can be more at risk of fire because they lack the modern chemical fire protection of modern timber.
  • Because timber frame is classed as non-standard construction, when it is known that a building is timber framed, you need to get a Building Survey rather than a HomeBuyers Report because they suit the former survey's scope rather than the latter's; Building Surveys cost more than HomeBuyers Reports.
  • There is an arguable concern over security - it's far easier for an intruder to cut through timber than masonry, however this doesn't take into account matters such as cladding etc.



Timber frame houses have lost their previous bad reputation and perform well

For a period in the 1980s in the wake of Right to Buy, when many non-standard construction houses were put 'under the microscope', timber frame houses received some criticism however perceptions have greatly changed in more recent years.

In the view of Nigel Smith FRICS, one of our most senior RICS surveyors:

"Timber frame houses do not now suffer from the same stigma as post war concrete houses. I've undertaken many surveys of timber frame houses and have generally not found any particular problems with their construction, although it can be a challenge sometimes to confirm the difference between them and standard cavity brick wall houses.

"If anything, the thermal insulation performance of recent timber frame houses isn't quite as good as older ones because of the rigid board insulation used in the wall construction."


    3

    Can you get a mortgage on a timber frame house?

You should never assume that you can get a mortgage on a timber frame house, although there are many lenders that will. After Right to Buy, many non-traditional council-built properties came 'under the microscope' on resale and because there were some isolated issues with timber frame houses, as a class lenders viewed them with suspicion. 

However, over time, they have become regarded as reasonably well performing compared to other construction types, not least because there are some very ancient timber frame homes still in existence - you may have even seen an authentic example from the Tudor-era yourself with their prominent external black oak beam frames. 

That said, the very class of 'non-traditional' puts off some lenders and cash buyers are in a stronger position than mortgage buyers.

Insulation

A media report noted that for one major lender, properties made entirely of timber are not acceptable although it will consider modern timber-framed properties provided they have an outer skin of brick work. Another lender, quoted in the same report, meanwhile, relied on the discretion of the valuer and the individual merits of a timber-framed building but will not lend if the cavity between the timber frame and cladding has been "retrospectively filled with an insulation material".

Always get a survey before bidding for a property at auction!

Timber frame houses can present a hazard when they are sold at auction. A prospective buyer - particularly one who hasn't had a proper survey/inspection carried out - might be unaware that a house is made of timber but reliant on a mortgage to complete on a successful bid.

Their lender on finding out the fact of the timber build, can 'pull the rug' from under them - in theory jeopardising their deposit as well.

It's always worth considering hiring a mortgage broker to find you a lender who is more likely to grant you a mortgage for the property.


    4

    What are the different types of timber frame houses?

There are numerous sellers of timber frame house kits easily found on an Internet search.

For information on pre-built and older types, such as Frameform, Quickbuild and Spooner, you should consult the Building Research Establishment Bookshop (click to visit the BRE Bookshop's website) if you're trying to find out more about a particular type of timber frame construction house.


    5

    Why should you always get a Building Survey for a Timber Frame house?

You are always advised to get a RICS home buyers survey (click to find out more about this), whether a RICS HomeBuyers Report or a RICS Building Survey, when you're looking to buy a property.

In the case of a timber frame house, if you know that it is made of this material or this fact becomes apparent, then you should get a RICS Building Survey, as stated above, because of the wider scope that this type of survey has regarding non-standard properties.

The rule of thumb overall is if you're considering buying a property and you have any suspicions that it's made of non-traditional materials, you should always seek appropriate professional advice from an experienced RICS surveyor.

Looking to buy a timber frame house? You must get a Building Survey from an experienced RICS surveyor

If you already have a mortgage in place, neither you nor your lender might realise that a property you want to buy is timber framed, particularly if there are barriers such as cladding and other masonry materials covering up the build. When this fact comes to light, your lender might reconsider the terms under which they'll lend to you and you might find it more of a challenge to get buildings insurance.

For peace of mind, once you know the house is built from timber frame, you should get a Building Survey from one of our expert RICS surveyors who have years of experience in surveying these properties.

* Timber Frame specialists - RICS regulated - same week availability


Related News Articles

 
Concrete House
04/02/2019
Steel Frame House
14/05/2019
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