Like nearly everything in the modern era, home construction and architecture has become more complex over the last few decades. In the middle of the 20th century up to the early 21st century, housing construction became increasingly regulated and complicated, and a site layout plan for new construction projects in a residential area could rival the complexity of any urban office building. But more recent trends have seen builders and homeowners take a “back to the basics” approach and seek homes of a simpler design.
One such trend involves the simplest of home building methods– a technique that dates back for centuries and was the standard building from the Neolithic period up to the Industrial Revolution. That technique is timber frame construction, and the recent desire for simplicity has seen a revival in this method of home building. Over the last five years, timber framing has been reborn and reinvented to fit the needs of the modern homeowner, and the style is again alive and thriving in the world of modern architecture and home building.
The Basics of Timber Framing
Unlike most modern homes that are built using light frame construction, also known as stick building, timber frame construction requires little more than some heavy timbers, simple planning and hard work. This technique uses several heavy timbers that are carefully fitted together with joints– usually mortise and tenon joints– and secured using basic wooden pegs. Timber framing could be used to build anything from a simple single-family home to a complex Medieval cathedral.
The History of Timber Framing
For as long as humans have constructed homes from wood, timber framing has been an essential part of the human story. The first uses of this construction style date back several centuries, and different variations of this same technique were used around the world. While the specifics of these variations depended upon the culture, the resources available and the time period, timber framing was one of the first solid techniques for building homes out of wood in many different geographical areas.
The popularity and wide use of this style of building came from two major advantages that it offered: simplicity and durability. Unlike most modern homes that are only expected to last a few decades, homes in past periods would be handed down through generations and would be expected to last– with regular maintenance and repair– for as long as the family could stay in the area.
While the simplicity of old timber framing was one of the main benefits, that does not mean that it was easy to build or quickly constructed. Building one solid home could take months or even years of sawing, fitting and lifting, and this generally required help from the entire community. But this stayed the most common style of building until the 19th century when Americans began to expand further west and required easier, faster ways of building. The Industrial Revolution meant that metal nails and light boards could now be mass-produced and readily available, and light frame construction quickly took hold.
The Revival of Timber Framing
From the mid-19th century on, almost every wooden home and small building was built using lighter timbers and modern light frame building. Then in the 1970s, as people became more aware of energy consumption and the use of natural resources, builders began to look for a newer, better way to build. Little did they know that that new way to build would actually be the old way that had been used for centuries.
The revival of timber framing started small, with a group of dedicated builders in the Pacific Northwest who created homes with this classic technique. As environmental consciousness grew and the benefits of timber frame construction were demonstrated to a wider audience, the trend began to grow. Over the last few years, many homeowners– especially young people– have jumped on board with this new/old trend, and the future for timber framing could nearly as bright as the past.