We commonly receive calls from potential clients that know they want to integrate timbers into their home but are not sure how to make it happen. There is sometimes an assumption that the only options are either a home without timbers or a full timber frame, with no options in between.
Our first goal is to work with the customer to understand what their vision is for their house. After the vision is understood then we can begin to work on designing the timber structures that tie into their vision. This commonly leads to a hybrid technique where the structure is built using multiple building techniques. Some of the structure might be stick framed, some might be timber framed, some might be enclosed with SIP panels, and some areas might rely on engineered wood products. It is very rare that a client’s vision is best completed relying solely on one siloed building technique.
Using a variety of products and building techniques is relatively easy but it requires forethought and planning. When the planning phase is rushed, skipped, or sacrificed in the name of “standard home plans”, the end product is never as magnificent as its potential. In a lot of cases the difference between a home built with architectural styling and features and a generic home is not significant more money, but thoughtful planning.
With this thought in mind, we created this article to walk through a few of the options to integrate more timbers into your upcoming project. Several different construction techniques were applied to the same back patio build. These options start with using only a few timbers and progress to building a full timber frame back patio.
Option 1 – Using Solid Timber Posts and Beams
If budget is a major consideration but you want to avoid building a “cookie cutter” home then this easy update is a no brainer. Porches and patios will almost always have posts and carry beams that help support the roof structure. Instead of using treaded wood posts or engineered wood beams, choose to use solid wood beams. This will instantly upgrade your homes’ character and require less labor than installing something that needs to be wrapped with another material. Another easy feature to consider is cladding the ceiling in a wood product or adding a decorative corbel at the roof peak (like the image below). This upgrade costs very little money and might become your favorite accent of the patio.
Simple patio using solid timber posts and beams
Option 1 Build Diagram
Details of building using solid timber posts and beams
The technical build aspects to this option are not much different than a standard stick framed home:
Start with a solid timber post and carry beam
After the post and carry beams are set, the engineered trusses can be set on top of the carry beams.
The engineered trusses will be topped with roof sheathing and then the final roofing material.
The exposed soffit material will be installed on the underside of the engineered trusses.
The engineered trusses provide more than enough space to install insulation and wiring, if necessary.
Option 2 – Post and Beam with Exposed Timber Trusses ("Hybrid Approach")
The most iconic part of timber construction is the exposed timber truss. Your eyes will immediately be drawn up to study the timbers crafted with traditional joinery techniques. Timber trusses can transform your porch from a simple structure to architectural artwork. The above building technique is perfect for individuals wanting significant architectural timber features but not necessarily a full timber frame. Timber posts and beams, as well as timber trusses, are visible but the other components required in a full timber frame such as the ridge beam, purlins, or common rafters are not present. If you are concerned that a full timber frame might feel to “wood heavy” then this hybrid technique might be the perfect option.
Patio using solid timber posts and beams with exposed trusses
Option 2 Build Diagram
Details of building with solid timber posts and beams with exposed trusses
This hybrid building technique allows the timbers to carry the loads while engineered wood products allow for longer spans between structural timber members. Here's the build process:
After the timber posts and beams are installed then the timber trusses can be set. Spacing between trusses typically ranges between 8-12 feet.
Depending on the loads and span between trusses, over framing between trusses is completed using 2x material or TJI joists.
The over framing members can then be decked and roofed with the finished roofing material.
The space between over framing can be used to run electrical and add insulation, if needed.
The exposed soffit material will be installed on the underside of the over framing material.
One pro tip for super planners – have a dado run along the top of the timber truss rafters to receive the soffit material. This will allow soffit material to be slid into the timber trusses and prevent a caulked seam or additional trim pieces between the timber trusses and soffit material.
Option 3 – Full Timber Frame
The benefit of building with beautiful materials is that all of the structural components will remain exposed and serve as your finished materials as well. No cladding, wrapping, or hiding of materials is necessary. This characteristic makes a timber frame truly unique in the realm of the various building techniques. Most building systems rely on artificial materials manipulated for maximum efficiency and mass production ability. A timber frame stands out because it stands for the opposite. Natural materials that are hardly processed from their prior life as a majestic tree. Seeing and feeling the structure in this manner provides the occupants a sense of peaceful strength. This approach is the most expensive of the three approaches discussed but the feelings and architectural interest it provides is definitely something to strive for in your home. The most surprising aspect to a timber frame is that it can be adjusted to fit almost any architectural style. The three S’s (size, shape, and surface) will determine the appropriateness for each architectural style.
Patio using timber framing techniques
Option 3 Build Diagram
Details of building using timber framing techniques
Since the timber frame structure is basically “what you see is what you get” the technical build diagram is pretty straight forward.
The timber frame will start with posts and carry beams, just like in our previous examples.
The timber trusses will then be set, typically 8-12 feet apart. In addition to the timber trusses, the roof structure will need additional timber members.
The first option for additional timber members is to use common rafters in-between each truss. This option is typically accompanied with a ridge beam as well. Using common rafters and a ridge beam will result in the tongue and groove decking being run horizontally.
The second option for additional timber members is to use purlins that will run horizontally between the timber trusses. These purlins are typically spaced 4-6 feet apart. Using purlins across trusses will result in the tongue and groove decking being run vertically, from the soffit to the ridge.
In both cases the 2x tongue and groove will be installed from the top side of the structure.
If electrical or insulation is needed then over framing above the T&G can be added. Depending on the finished roofing material additional roof sheathing may or may not be required.
These three examples are just the beginning of showing how nuanced building with timbers can be. In order to achieve your dream home, it is important that you understand these options or work with experienced professionals that understand these options. Your team of professionals (designers, engineers, architects, or draftsmen) need to work together to understand your vision, start with the end in mind, and work together to bring your project's potential to reality in the most efficient manner.
At Northern Timber Crafters we are happy to work with your selected professionals towards this goal or help point you towards these professionals if you need assistance. “Nothing done well is insignificant” is one of our mantras and this is extremely true in the planning and design phase of your home.
All build options from this article to compare side-by-side.