The extent of timber frame in your structure is just one of the many factors contributing to the overall cost. Explore the tabs below to learn what else you must take into consideration.
Ah, the money! “How much do timber frames cost?”…
Or, “How much do timber frames cost per square foot?” Or, “How much more do timber frame houses cost than conventional houses?” Or, “About how much would a timber frame addition measuring 20′ x 36′ cost?” Whichever way the question is phrased, the new timber frame enthusiast is going to be dealing with the financial dimension of building a custom home with timber framing. Some companies will downplay the issue, giving simple formulas like “Timber framing in a home adds on average about 15% to the cost of the house”, or “The square foot cost of a timber framed home is usually around $X”.
We think these answers are worse than nonsense, and prefer to take a somewhat more circumspect approach. The addition of timber framing to a custom house isn’t going to break the bank. There are lots of ways that the warmth and character of timber framing can be included in a custom home project without having to mortgage your grandchildren’s future. But there are so many variables in the construction of any custom house — with or without timber framing — that the simple formulas and one-size-fits-all mentality actually do everyone a disservice — the builders, the timber framers, the designers, and, most importantly, you, the client. Here are some of the things that need to be considered when dealing with the all-important money question:
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Factors Affecting the Cost of a Timber Frame Home
With every new house, whether it’s a tract home in a development or a highly customized and highly designed home, there are countless factors that affect the final cost of the home. Timber framed structures are no exception. Here are some of the things that affect the cost of a timber frame:
- Timber Species
- Timber Species
- Extent of Timber Framing
- Complexity of Timber Framing
- Accessibility of the Job-site
It seems to be conventional wisdom that you solicit competitive bids whenever you are looking for construction services of any type. Occasionally, a client will make a sincere good faith effort to get an “apples to apples” comparison between bids coming from a select group of timber frame companies. We believe that in construction the “true” apples to apples comparison is an urban myth, plain and simple. There are so many things that affect the bid process, so many differences that are not apparent, that the elusive apples to apples competitive bid rarely, if ever, really happens. Here are some of the things that might affect the comparability of a set of competitive bids:
- Hand vs. Machine Carving
- Grade of Timber
- Kiln Dried vs. Green Timber
- Timber Frame Design
- Timber Sizes
- Quality of Joinery
Any new custom home construction or addition project has the potential to suffer budget over-runs and unforeseen cost increases. Maybe the biggest cause of exploding budgets is “scope creep”: a project is designed to meet a client’s budgetary requirements, then gradually added on to and expanded in scope. An extra foot or two here, some additional timbers in the foyer, raise the roof a little bit for extra second floor headroom, and so on and so forth. Before you know it, the project budget has grown by 10, 20, 30, 40 percent or more. Every architect, builder and timber framer has a moral obligation to his or her clients to help put the brakes on when the scope of a project starts to creep up. It’s not always what you want to hear (Who wants to be told that you can’t have something for the price you want to pay?), but it happens so often that it’s worth noting. This is human nature, so it’s going to be one of those areas that will require vigilance and discipline.
If you plan to use a bank or other financial institution to help fund the construction of your timber frame home you’ll be expected to establish the value of the home once completed. This is true pretty much across the board for custom home construction loans. The problem with timber frames for some banks is that they’re not common enough to be able to easily establish comparable values. For those banks this seems to be an insurmountable obstacle; for others it’s no problem at all. Make sure your bank or mortgage company isn’t going to throw you a curve once they find out that there are heavy timbers involved. Sometimes the discovery occurs late enough in the process to cause some real anxiety.
If you walk up to a farmer’s market stand and ask for five dollar’s worth of tomatoes, an unscrupulous salesperson might be tempted to hand you four dollar’s worth and keep the 20% for himself. You’d have to trust that person implicitly to treat you fairly and honestly.
The same thing would apply in an analogous situation with a contractor. You wouldn’t go to a builder and say “I’d like $350,000 worth of custom timber frame home, please,” but you ultimately should be able to trust your builder and timber framer with your budget number. And you should be able to rely on him or her to help you stay on track, budgetarily speaking.
In our experience, timber framing can add anywhere from a few dollars a square foot on up to the stratosphere. We’ve done projects at every level. In our area — with our economic conditions and typical construction costs — budgeting around $175 per square foot (for the whole house with some timber framing) wouldn’t be unrealistic. Anything below $150 for a custom home with anything more than a few token timbers would be. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 a higher overall quality and greater extent of timber framing become possible.
Hopefully, this information is useful for rough budget purposes. When it comes to fitting a timber frame into your overall construction budget, find a timber framer you feel you can trust and have an open conversation about your budgetary constraints. Most of the timber framers we know will make an honest effort to give you as much of what you want as possible for the money you can spend. Timber framers, by their very nature, want to timber frame. The cooler the project, the better.