Can a timber frame home stand the test of time?
One of the questions we are asked most frequently by self-builders is ‘do timber frame homes last?’ When you’re fulfilling a life-time’s ambition to build the home of your dreams it is understandable that you’d want it to stand the test of time and to be passed on to generations to come. The perception that timber frame is a relatively new building method and that it is vulnerable to a range of external factors (e.g. pests) leaves some self-builders grappling with the question of timber frame’s durability compared to other structural systems.
In reality, timber frame is a well-established building method. In Britain archaeologists have identified traces of timber-frame homes from over 10,000 years ago and it has been used widely around the world for its benefits and inherent strengths. Here are some examples that really do prove timber frame’s longevity.
Bethlehem House, built in Schwyz around 1287, is an impressive two-storey residential property constructed with timber for a well to do Swiss family. Avoiding a fire which swept through the town in 1642 razing 47 houses, Bethlehem House remains standing in excellent condition. It was continually lived in up until the 1960s and can be visited today as a museum.
Across the Atlantic the oldest known wooden structure in North America is the famous Fairbanks House in Dedham Massachusetts. It was built around 1637 for Jonathan and Grace Fairbanks and their six children. Home to eight generations of the Fairbanks family over 268 years, it is still standing and like Bethlehem house, it is now a historic museum.
Even older, but still in use as a residential property, Fyfield Hall in Essex is a timber frame home dating back to 1167-1185. With its aisled hall built from timbers felled in the twelfth century, it has recently been up for sale and is a tremendous example of an historic timber frame home.
All three of these houses have been loved, well lived in and passed down through families. The common denominator in all homes that stand the test of time is quality detailing. At its simplest, a piece of timber that exists within a stable environment free from moisture, fungal decay and infestation will last forever. If these principles are satisfied through quality design and detailing then a timber frame home will do the same.