There’s hardly a part of the process of building a timber framed home that’s quite as devoid of sex appeal as the contract. Yet, contracts are a vital part of the working partnership that you will have with a timber frame company. We think that, in the final analysis, the contract is a pretty simple thing: a statement of our commitment to you, and your commitment to us.


Below is some of the most important information about our contracts. Of course, if you’re thinking of working with us, we’ll be happy to let you have a look at a contract template so you know what you’ll be getting into. Our typical contract template doesn’t always satisfy a particular client’s requirements.If you see something in our contract that doesn’t fit in with your project management program, we’d be happy to discuss it with you and come up with an alternate contractual arrangement.


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Two Different Kinds of Contracts

Broadly speaking, we have two different kinds of contracts: one for the timber frame design, fabrication and erection; and one for architectural or construction document design services. When we write a timber frame contract, we’ve done a careful analysis of the elements that comprise the timber frame project as a whole, so we have a pretty good idea what all the project costs are going to be, and that we’re going to be able to make — and not lose — money.

A construction document or architectural design contract is a little different. We do try to give you a reasonably accurate estimate of the amount of time necessary to complete the drawings, but there are a number of variables not entirely within our control that ultimately determine how much time we’ll have to put into the drawings. For this reason, our design contracts are written specifying a dollar amount to be charged per hour of design work, and a retainer to be paid at contract inception.

Timber Frame Contracts — Our Commitment to You

We like our contracts to be all-inclusive. You probably do, too. No hidden additional charges, just one clear number for you to plug into your budget. Here is a list of the things that are usually included in our scope of services and spelled out in our contracts:

  • Timber frame design (not architectural design) and engineering evaluation, shop drawings sealed by a profession engineer licensed in your state
  • Handcrafting — no CNC machines “carving” your frame
  • All materials needed for the fabrication and erection of the frame
  • Material specifications: species, grade, condition (planed or rough-sawn, etc.)
  • Finish: oiled, stained, sanded, brushed, interior vs. exterior finish
  • Edge conditions, chamfered or not chamfered
  • Erection on your prepared site
  • Whether the pegs are cut off proud of or flush with the timber face
  • Steel and other custom hardware
  • Equipment and crane rental allowances (We make a good faith effort to estimate as exactly as possible the amount of money that we will have to pay to the crane company. If we go over that amount, we submit a bill for the overage to the client or GC (contracting party); if we’re under that amount, we refund the unused balance to the contracting party.)
  • Shipping of the timber frame components to the job-site
  • Our travel and per diem expenses
  • Consultations prior to and after the erection

We also always include in our contract papers at least one drawing — often more — of the timber frame design that we are contracting to erect. Anything that doesn’t show up on the drawing isn’t part of the contracted scope of the drawing. Sometimes we’ll show walls or other features of the structure like stairs — just for context. We try to make as clear as possible what’s included and what’s not.

Timber Frame Contracts–Your Commitment to Us

Your side of the deal isn’t just about the money, and when to pay it. When we give you a price quote to build a timber frame, we’re assuming that there are couple of things that you will do for us to make the process as efficient as possible:

Since we’re often traveling some distance to erect our frames, it becomes much more costly for us than for you or your contractor to supply some basic things that are needed for a timber frame raising. These are pretty modest things, like access to electrical power for our tools; bales of straw to spread on the ground to keep dirt from getting on the finished timbers; and 2x4s to brace the timber structure until the rest of the house is built around it. These last items — the straw and the 2x4s — we wouldn’t take home with us, and they can be re-used in the construction work that follows the timber frame raising.
We also ask that you assure us that a couple of things are in place before we get to the job-site: the foundation should be back-filled (all the dirt pushed back around the foundation walls); and that no other construction trades or work be allowed in the area of our crane operations. These are just safety and insurance issues — we don’t want to get hurt falling off a foundation, and we don’t want anyone else to get hurt working too close to our operations.
One really big, important matter is the readiness of the site to receive our timbers. We’ll work with you and your builder to clearly establish what needs to be in place in order for us to put your frame up. And we usually will do a site visit a week or so ahead of the scheduled raising just to head off any potential problems. Timely notification that the work is falling behind schedule is extremely important. Things like crane rental, trucking, lodging, and so on have to be arranged well in advance of the raising. Often, our crane and trucking subcontractors have other work scheduled right behind ours. Delays will have an impact on our other projects, too, pushing them back and inconveniencing other clients. So, the sooner we know the schedule is going to have change, the better for everyone. The accuracy of the work that precedes us is of paramount importance. A foundation or deck that isn’t level or square can wreak havoc with a timber frame raising, costing us time and money because of the increase in labor to make things work, and diminishing the overall quality of the erected frame.
Ah, the money. You knew this part would come. Timber frames — not just our timber frames — are a custom item. It’s pretty universal in the building industry that when it comes to custom items in construction, you pay pretty much as you go. When you sign a timber frame contract with us, our business manager will work out a payment schedule that allows us to bill you as the timber frame evolves, from the time we order timbers; to the receipt of the timbers and the start of fabrication; to delivery, erection and completion. To make sure you’re comfortable with the process, we send you digital photos all throughout. You’re certainly also welcome to come visit with your timbers at any time. And you can visit with us, too.

Architectural Design Contracts

Once you’ve signed a contract for a timber frame, the design usually doesn’t change much. Not so with the architectural design. Homes usually get designed in an evolutionary manner. They rarely spring out of one’s mind fully formed. Even if the original concept doesn’t change, finalizing the design almost always involves a seemingly endless trail of small compromises that require constant adjustment and re-adjustment of dimensions, material choices, construction methodologies, and so on.

That’s why we have a separate contract for our architectural design services. We just can’t know for absolutely certain how much time will be needed to get from the bubble diagram to the full construction document set. There is a litany of things that influences the speed and cost of the design process:

Do you know what you want? If you’ve been nursing the idea of a timber frame home for a few years, chances are that your ideas are pretty well-formed. This sets the starting point a little higher, and saves time on the front end, making it easier to come up with conceptual designs that are closer to the mark right out of the gates. The most basic component of the early concept is what we call the “program”: how big is the house? how many rooms? where is the kitchen in relation to the great room? the master bedroom to the other bedroom? how many floors? If your ideas are well-formed and you know what you want, often the design drawings are only what’s needed to satisfy building department requirements. Result? Lower design costs.
Just about everybody changes his or her mind once their vision starts to take on tangible form. You just naturally will study floor plans and elevations and 3d visualizations to see if they match your ideas. The conceptual phase of the drawing preparation is meant to draw out and develop your ideas. But if you change your mind a gazillion times, the conceptual design phase will last longer — and cost more.
We’ve seen clients get construction permits and zoning approval with drawings that were hardly more than a collection of napkin sketches. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve seen rolls of drawings it took two grown men to lift (slight exaggeration). And just about everything in between. Obviously, the more complex and the larger the structure, the more time it’s going to take to document. The more punctilious your building officials are, the more time it’s going to take to keep them happy. The level of detail on the drawings is directly proportional to the time — and cost — of the drawing set.
Just like with building officials, so with contractors. Some can whip up a dynamite house with a simple set of drawings, and some want to see it all spelled out. A builder who wants everything be spelled out in great detail is going to need detailed — and costly — drawings. Often, the builder will insist on greater detail so that he can price his work more accurately. It’s hard to argue with this, but there are ways the GC can structure his contract to allow for all the variables. It’s often helpful for us to be speaking with your builder (if you’ve selected him or her) along the way so that we can calibrate our drawings to his or her needs. It’s also good for us to know the construction methods that your builder favors and feels most comfortable with.
So, for our design services, we bill by the hour and ask for a retainage up front, but we also try to keep you abreast of the amount of time we’re spending as we go. If we’ve estimated so and so many hours for the preparation of the drawings, it’s good to know how much of that time has been used up, and for what. We’re accountable to you for that information. One important assumption we make about our construction document preparation is that you are heavily involved in the design process. We don’t usually get involved in the selection of light and plumbing fixtures, and it’s not economical for us to be picking out paint colors, wall covering, blinds, and the like. Your builder may go shopping with you, or give you catalogs of products he often uses. He should give you an allowance for this type of thing, and charge you more if you go over the allowance. In any case, we aren’t going to tell you what to like, you’re going to tell us. That involves homework, but it saves you money.

Next: Warranty

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