Is a timber-framed house energy efficient?


It is well known that wood is one of the most sustainable and environmentally sympathetic construction materials available, due to its ability to absorb carbon dioxide while growing, its adaptability as a product, and its recyclability. It is also a type of a biofuel. In fact, wood is the friendliest material we can use when it comes to preserving our planet.

However, if you are contemplating a new build, you may also be wondering how energy efficient a timber frame home would be? It’s one thing building a house that imposes little damage to the environment, but if you are going to need to consume ridiculous amounts of fuel to heat it, it will be counterproductive. The answer is, yes, a timber-framed house can be very energy efficient if it is designed, built, and insulated well. In this article, we explain why.

Excellent thermal performance and insulation

  • Wood itself exhibits naturally low thermal conductivity (high heat-insulating ability). In a timber-framed house, the low thermal mass of the frame (the ability to absorb, store, and release heat) reduces the amount of heat that is absorbed considerably. This means that the house will warm up in a much shorter space of time and stay warm for longer.
  • Wood’s structure consists of tiny air pockets, which limit its ability to conduct heat and, therefore, help minimise the energy needed for heating and cooling a timber-framed house. When compared with steel, wood boasts better insulating properties by far.
  • A timber frame also allows more space for insulation than a brick building and, as we are all aware, a better insulated home will need less energy to heat and cool it, which typically leads to less fossil fuels being used. There will be no need to continually heat the house as the heat will not escape through the walls and roof. Plus, in the summer months, insulation has the opposite effect of keeping a house cooler. This is because the structure will not allow heat from the outside to enter, reducing the need to turn on a fan or increase the need for air conditioning units.
  • Once the timber frame of a house is erected, the building is straightforward to insulate – more so than a masonry cavity wall. The gaps between beams can easily be accessed and filled with insulating material with an inner stud wall attached over them. The void will be filled with insulation to ensure zero air gaps.

Airtightness and design

Advances in design technology and computer aided manufacturing mean that high specification joints and precise measurements are achievable. The result? An extremely accurate and airtight structure. Of course, the thermal efficiency and insulation will be compromised if air can seep out of the structure, so keeping a structure airtight is pivotal to trapping heat in and using as little energy as possible. Perfect foundations for a timber-framed house are vital for achieving precision – if the foundation is not level and stable, the design just will not work effectively.

Here at National Timber Buildings, we have in-house designers who will be happy to create the perfect timber-framed home for you. Once your architect has drawn up your plans and you have everything passed through planning, that’s the perfect time to get in contact with us. Our modern structural techniques also means that we can sometimes avoid using steel in your project which will help reduce costs.

Our structural engineers will prepare drawings and calculations based on your architect’s plans for your base work, followed by detailed production drawings and structural calculations for our factory and production team. This ensures strength, safety, and compliance with building regulations. Our experienced erection teams can normally complete an entire house including internal wall frames and cladding within a week or two! We will leave your frame wrapped and watertight ready for roofing, windows, and doors. You even have a choice of cladding – either solid wood or fibre cement.

Design is an important process when it comes to any timber-framed building. While timber-framed buildings cannot structurally benefit from solar gain (additional heat from the sun), this can be tackled during the design stage. Incorporating double glazed windows where maximum sunlight falls will let you exploit this heat. Orientation of the structure is also important to receive as much sunlight as possible in the first place – the more natural light you have, the less energy you’ll need to use for internal lighting, so make sure you discuss this with your architect. Likewise, if there is a landscape feature or another building that could overshadow your house, ensure this is also considered in the initial phases of your project.

You may also want to consider how local climate may affect energy consumption in your home, as well as how you can incorporate high thermal mass surfaces such as internal stone walls within your home.

Timber and sustainability

Like we said at the start of this article, timber is sustainable and a great renewable building material to work with. Timber is grown commercially quicker than it is used, with the majority of timber supplying countries having policies in place to re-grow the timber that is felled. If new trees are planted to replace those harvested for construction and other uses, it will continue to be widely available.

Our sawmill at National Timber Buildings boasts a ‘four in one’ policy where, for every tree felled, four trees get planted as replacements. Plus, because the timber is used close to where it is produced, we use little energy in transporting our timber materials

It truly takes little energy to convert trees (wood) into timber used in building. This means that the embodied energy in timber is low. In fact, it is the lowest of almost all common building materials.

We also mentioned at the start of our article that wood absorbs and stores carbon dioxide while growing. Without this absorption, this carbon would otherwise be adding to the greenhouse gases that are collecting in the earth’s atmosphere and heating-up the planet’s surface (the greenhouse effect). The timber used in your home’s structure will store carbon for as long as the house stands, or the timber is used.

With over 40 years knowhow in the manufacture of timber-frame buildings, we are in a unique position in terms of experience and buying power to be in the timber frame home arena. We can provide the highest possible quality at the lowest possible prices.

Plus, having established our dedicated oak joinery workshop over the years for our traditional oak carriage barns, we are able to combine oak into your home structure too if requested. This will give it that much loved “quintessentially English” feel.

Timber-frame construction has become an increasingly popular choice in the housing market because of the ease in fitting plumbing and electrics after the frame is erected, as well as the high level of energy efficiency that can be achieved. If a timber-framed home is on your project list, give us a call once everything is approved by planning and we’ll take it from there.