A timber frame house is a building system made of individual timber components which are then joined together. Usually, this is a network of panelised walls and floors. With timber studs carrying the vertical and horizontal loads and transferring them to the foundations.

A timber frame could be a smart choice for your self build as the method comes with many advantages. It’s particularly suitable if you are looking for excellent thermal performance using sustainable materials. You will also benefit if you are looking for a quicker build, or if the ground conditions on your plot are a concern. There are lots of factors that you’ll want to consider and to help you get started, we’ve shared our best advice below.

11 Advantages of Timber Frame Construction

Timber frame buildings are typically more energy efficient. Compared with those built using other construction methods such as masonry.

Here are 11 benefits of timber frame construction:
  1. Fast Build Time
  2. Reduced Onsite Labour
  3. Low Waste Volume
  4. Weathertight
  5. Reduced Thermal Bridging
  6. Excellent Thermal Performance
  7. Load Bearing
  8. Slim Profile
  9. Controlled Budgeting
  10. Sustainability
  11. Factory Quality
Closed-panel timber-frame construction is an offsite method of construction, which means the panels are prefabricated in our factory before being assembled onsite. This gives rise to an extremely rapid construction time; the whole superstructure can be up in as little as two to three weeks.
These timber frame systems are supplied as part of a package which, alongside the timber-frame superstructure, often include other components including internal walls and the structures of the floors and roof. All of this will be overseen by a Contracts Manager, which means everything should run smoothly and there will be less for you to have to organise, reducing your stress. This will allow you to focus on other aspects of your self-build project.
Reduced time onsite not only reduces site labour, it also lowers the environmental impact and disruption to local residents that a building site might incur. There is significantly less waste at a timber-frame construction site than at a masonry one, because the bulk of the manufacturing does not take place in situ, but in the factory. This means there is a low volume of waste onsite requiring removal, which is not only better for the environment, but also saves you money on hiring multiple skips for waste removal.
Within our timber-frame kit we offer an optional Weathertight Package to make the self-build process even easier. This will deliver the superstructure to a secure, weathertight stage, allowing internal works to begin sooner and ensuring a single point of responsibility for the entire build up to this stage.
Thermal bridging, also known as cold bridging, is the name given to points of heat loss in a building envelope, usually focused on junctions where two components are joined together. Thermal bridges within a building affect its thermal efficiency, and a poorly insulated structure will mean higher energy bills and a lower overall thermal efficiency.

With masonry construction, there are joins between every single block, offering innumerable opportunities for heat to escape. Conversely, a timber-frame panel is a much larger surface area with far fewer junctions, and we use a continuous insulative lining to reduce instances of thermal bridging.

Kingspan ULTIMA™ demonstrates a level of performance that far exceeds SAP guidelines, achieving thermal bridging values of 0.03-0.04. SAP calculations help to define the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) of your home, which in turn is used to help determine the value of a home, so achieving such excellent thermal values is hugely beneficial. With Kingspan ULTIMA™, your EPC will measure on the high end of the scale, adding value to your property should you desire to sell it in the future.
The excellent energy performance of timber-frame construction is not limited only to thermal bridging, either. Timber frame has a lower embodied energy than other mainstream construction methods like masonry or steel. This means that far less energy is required for its cultivation, extraction, and processing into a building material.

Houses built with timber frame achieve lower U-values compared to brick builds of an equivalent wall thickness, significantly lowering heating costs and the home’s carbon footprint.

Closed-panel timber frames are inbuilt with insulation, and this consideration of thermal performance at the minutest of levels is known as a fabric-first approach, offering lower rates of thermal bridging and achieving excellent airtightness levels. Not only will these lower your fuel costs and help achieve a comfortable internal environment, it will also contribute to your home’s overall energy efficiency.
Closed-panel timber frames are lightweight, composite panels, allowing for taller ceilings and larger spans. This will give you greater flexibility, particularly regarding open-plan areas, allowing for more freedom when designing. As the frames are designed and manufactured to fit the specified dimensions of the design, architectural drawings can be precise, making your dream home a reality.
Another key advantage of timber-frame construction is its slim wall build up. Closed-panel timber frames have insulation built into the panel itself, whereas a material like brick and block requires many more layers of insulation to surround it. The result is a timber-frame wall that is thermally efficient and slim; to reach the equivalent level of thermal performance, a masonry wall would have to be significantly thicker.

Using timber frame will free up much more internal room for you to enjoy. Shaving off inches from every wall may not seem significant, but can add up to an overall space saving of metres. One of the key methods in property valuation is assessing the amount of internal floor area; more space means the home is worth more.
With fully outdoor construction methods like masonry, the bulk of the work has to occur onsite, which can lead to problems with stopping for wet weather or relying on multiple deliveries of different components. These delays will have a knock-on effect, not only on your build schedule, but on your budget, and can lead to a lot of stress.

As timber frames are part manufactured offsite, this provides you with greater cost certainty because there are far fewer variables to contend with. This will allow you to set out an accurate build schedule from which it’s highly unlikely your project will deviate.

Even if there is wet weather onsite, timber-frame construction is a ‘dry’ form of construction, meaning work can continue regardless. As a customer, your economic risk factor when you opt for timber frame is far lower than other build methods.
All of the timber we use at Potton, from the wood we use in our timber frames to the chippings that make up our OSB, is sourced from sustainable forests. These offset tree loss by planting many more trees than are cut down, and are certified by an independent chain of custody, which checks them on a yearly basis to ensure the tenets of sustainability are being upheld.

Timber is also one of the few sustainable resources used in mainstream construction - the manufacture of bricks and concrete rely upon raw, finite materials. Timber has a significantly lower carbon footprint than, for example, steel, because it requires far less energy for cultivation, extraction, and manufacture. In fact, the sustainable forests act as carbon stores and create valuable ecosystems for local flora and fauna.
Compared to a fully onsite fabrication, with timber-frame construction the quality is much higher. Each frame is designed exactly to fit the specific house design, which is computer controlled, and then the frame itself is manufactured in our factory according to these dimensions. This means that dimensional accuracy and high quality are standard for timber-frame construction. Efficient, controlled manufacturing also results in less site waste and a more efficient use of material.

Why Timber Frame?

Join Potton's Self Build Director, Paul Newman, as he takes you through the evolution of timber frame construction, and its benefits for self build.

Offsite Manufacture, Onsite Build!

At Potton, our structural timber solutions are available for almost every type of building. Our established factory-based manufacturing process provides a high level of dimensional accuracy. So that you receive good quality components, to help your project run smoothly.

Offsite construction methods also help reduce the risk of accidents. As a lot of the work happens within a controlled factory environment. Particularly important on self-build sites, that tend to run without full-time site managers.

Top Timber Frame Myths Explained

Building with timber is a great solution for self-builders, but there are many myths that need explaining. We’ve put together this quick guide, to help you understand more about building with timber.

  1. Are Timber Frame Homes Stable?

In short, yes. The flexibility of timber-frame construction, means they are suited to gusty exposed locations. Whereas other construction methods might result in cracking. For this reason, timber-framed houses are often used in countries with seismic activity. So even if your plot is ravaged by coastal winds or Highland gales, a timber frame will be more than suitable.

  1. Is There a Fire Risk?

As timber frame houses are made from wood, it is natural to worry they would be more prone to fire. All buildings constructed in the UK have to adhere to Building Regulations. At Potton all our build systems adhere to current building regulations, with additional independent fire test certification.

  1. Will My Timber Frame House Rot?

Wood is a natural material. So, there can be concerns that timber-framed houses are subject to rot and infestation. However, all structural timbers are kiln-dried to reduce moisture content. Stress-graded to meet engineering standards, and pressure treated with a preservative. This protects against rot and fungal attack and ensures structural stability and durability.

The timber-frame panels used in the walls of your Potton home, will have several measures in place. Including membranes and vapour-control layers. To ensure the inside of your panel stays moisture free.

  1. Are Timber Frame Homes Cold?

Timber is a natural insulator, and can store heat more effectively than many of its counterparts. It can offer greater thermal effectiveness to the equivalent thickness of brick. All Potton homes are inbuilt with market-leading insulation. So your new home should feel warmer than what you're used to and be more energy efficient!

  1. Will a Timber Frame Home Be Noisy?

A timber frame home will not be any noisier than a home built from bricks and mortar. The materials and insulation used within the walls can help its acoustic performance.

  1. Can I Get Insurance and a Mortgage for a Timber Frame House?

Yes. There are a number of mortgage and home insurance products available on the market. As, timber framed houses are widely used structural systems in the UK!

Building a Timber Frame Home Step by Step

  1. Building the Footings and Floor Structure

In most cases, your groundworker will use a traditional strip foundation approach. Digging trenches to the depth and width required by the foundation design. Then filling them with poured, ready-mixed concrete.
 
An initial two to three courses of blockwork are then laid. With openings for service entries or exits created by pre-cast concrete lintels. Next the ground floor structure is installed. Which is typically a beam and block floor. With pre-cast concrete beams to span between load-bearing walls. The gaps in between the beams are then filled in with concrete blocks laid flat.
In some systems the concrete beams are replaced with insulating polystyrene elements. In both cases, a damp-proof membrane will need to be incorporated into the floor. Insulation is then added,  and then a thin ‘slip’ membrane to separate it from the screed. The insulation and screed stages often happen after the building structure is erected.  And, for most our customer’s, the screed incorporates the underfloor heating pipes.

  1. Building the Walls

The substructure and ground floor works are completed with a ‘kicker-brick’ course of blocks, on top of the beam and block floor. These form a square and level surface on which the first part of the timber frame, the sole plates, are fixed. It’s critical that the sole plate is level and square as it sets out the rest of the building.

The ground-floor external wall panels are delivered as prefabricated elements. Complete with insulation and membranes from the factory. To erect the structure a crane is usually used to lift, position and manoeuvre each panel into place.

  1. The Floors

The floor joists are fitted to the top of the wall panels. For the first-floor deck we use chipboard with a permanent weather-proof coating. This is then glued and nailed into position on top of the joists. The process is repeated for additional storeys. Then the roof structure sits on top of the wall plates on the external walls.

We always use metal open-web joists for the structure of the floor. Metal webs simplify the positioning of services compared to solid timber or I-joists. They also enable wider spans to be constructed before additional beams.

  1. The Roof Structure

We use a variety of roof structures. Which one we choose for your project depends on your specifications and design. In particular whether the roof space is being used as living space or not.
Roof structures are either trussed rafters, attic trusses, loose cut roof or panelised roof systems. For example Kingspan TEK® structural insulated panels.

  1. Making the Build Weathertight

The whole timber frame is wrapped in a breather membrane. To stop water entering and to allow moisture to escape. Depending on how rigorous the airtightness needs to be, joints between panels and window openings might be sealed with specialist tapes and seals.

Once the structure is up, the roof should be ‘felt, battened and tiled’ as quickly as possible. Next come the windows and doors, after which the structure is effectively weathertight. Once the building is weathertight work can carry on inside and outside the building. This is a major advantage as tradespeople can start to complete their parts of the build.

  1. First-fix Carpentry Works

With the house weathertight, internal works can begin. Starting with first-fix carpentry work. Which is preparation for plasterboarding, electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation works. Once the first-fix carpentry work is completed, other trades can follow on. So the property is ready for plasterboard dry-lining.

We recommend the use of tapered edge taped and jointed plasterboard, but many customers prefer to skim. In practice, the difference is minimal as long as the team applying the skim coat are tidy in their work.

  1. Finishes

The glamourous bit, not to be rushed! The construction process ends with second-fix electrics, plumbing and carpentry. This is where all the surface elements of the house are installed. From kitchen units, light and power sockets to bathroom taps and staircases. The house is then ready for tiling, painting and decorating and the fitting of flooring!

Understanding the build process will help you decide which materials are best for your self-build. At Potton we specialise in timber frame and SIPs build systems, that have many advantages and benefits for the self-builder.

The Build Process Explained

Join Potton's Managing Director, Mark Stevenson, in this Self Build Academy catch up video discussing the process of a Potton build. You don't need previous experience to self build, but this video will give you a good idea of what happens an when.

Timber Frame vs SIPs

Many people are beginning to move away from masonry as the default self build option. With alternative building methods experiencing a boom in popularity. Many have a shorter build time, prioritise sustainability and are more energy efficient. Two methods that have these benefits are timber frames and SIPs (structurally insulated panels). Both are timber-based systems, easy to erect and offer similar thermal performance levels. Learn more about timber frames and SIPs  

When deciding upon a build system, keep in mind these 5 important elements:
  1. U-Values
  2. Wall Thickness
  3. Construction Speed
  4. Cost
  5. Trusted service, when comparing suppliers
Thermal-Efficiency
U-values are a way of measuring heat loss, in this case through a wall system. The lower the U-value, the better the heat retention and the greater the energy efficiency.

Building regulations requirements for U-values have become very complicated in recent years. And will vary depending on other factors in the construction. Generally, walls need to have a low U-value for energy efficiency.

All materials and systems on offer claim to provide U-values of around 0.15. There is some variation, some get down to 0.11, others up to 0.2.

Potton's Timber Frame Build Systems

Potton offers two main build systems, Kingspan ULTIMA™ and Kingspan TEK®. Each with their own benefits, and each with differing U-values. As illustrated in this Thermal Characteristics Comparison table below.
  Kingspan ULTIMA™ Kingspan TEK®
Build System Timber Frame SIPs
U-Value (with brick cladding) 0.15 - 0.13 0.18 - 0.10
When comparing build systems, it is important to look at the total thickness of the wall. This is critical given the need for a higher amount of insulation in the structure.

Potton’s Structural Insulated Panel system, Kingspan TEK®, utilises either a 142mm or 172mm thick panel. This is in addition to the external choice of cladding, giving a wall thickness of under 350mm. This will make a big difference if you’re building on a small site. Such as an urban location or where the planning department insists on a small footprint. This could have an impact on the useable floor area of the rooms.

Kingspan ULTIMA™ wall systems also offers similar levels of wall thickness.
All modern timber frame systems involve a degree of off-siting. Taking work away from the site and into a factory setting. This is generally considered a good thing. A factory is controllable, programmable, accurate and dry. All factors which can speed up the process.
 

What Are the Types of Timber Build Systems?

  • Closed panel timber frame. For example Potton's Kingspan ULTIMA™
  • Structural Insulated Panels known as SIPs. For example Potton's Kingspan TEK®
Extreme ‘modular’ style closed panel systems could come with window units, electrics, heating, and plumbing systems pre-fitted then delivered to site.

There is no question that the move towards panelisation speeds up the amount of time on site. So it not only reduces live ‘build’ time but also ensures your project doesn’t fall victim to the usual delays. Such as weather, limited working hours during winter, tradesmen on site, and so on.

This is one of the main reason that timber systems are popular in Northern climates. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that closed panel and SIPs systems can take 3-4 weeks to manufacture.
For most people, cost is a significant factor when deciding which building system to use. That’s understandable, but there are some other vital factors to bear in mind.

Are You Comparing Similar Build Systems?

There could be differences in specification. For example the type of insulation, membrane and quality of timber. Are all the wall system components included in the price?

What Are the Labour Costs?

Many companies recommend approved fitters. Which could mean that different installers will charge different labour costs.

And lastly, but most importantly,

Remember the Big Picture

Wall systems can account for 15-25% of the overall cost of construction. It’s an important part of your build and worth investing in a quality item that will perform and last. You can easily replace a bathroom but replacing your walls is a different story!
Buying a timber frame is one of the most significant purchases you will make for your self build project. Which is why it’s important to look for a supplier with a good level of customer service. They should be able to provide:
  • A team of professionals, with complete support and advice
  • Experienced and proven success within the self build process
  • A tailored experience to your bespoke project
  • Established company. To give you peace of mind and reassurance that your investment is in good hands.
Will they be able to:
  • Store a timber frame system for an extra week if there is a delay to your groundwork?
  • Be here to help through the process, to reassure you that everything is running smoothly?
  • Give you confidence as an established company in delivering build systems with success?
  • Provide good references through previous clients?