How to Choose the Right Timber Frame Supplier for your Project
Timber frame specialist Mike Cruickshank explains how to find the best timber frame manufacturer for your build
Timber frame expert Mike Cruickshank explains how to choose between suppliers, compare quotes and get value for money
Search timber send ings requesting them Google frame your to find manufacturer, a house quote, your draw- local receive and bingo a quote — that job falls done! within Ah, budget if only it was that simple. In reality, there are numerous pitfalls to avoid when choosing a timber frame manufacturer for your self-build project. Everything starts with your budget. At this point it may only be a per square foot/metre total build cost (including a minimum 10% contingency), but you should now be hardening up on the costs for all elements of the build by obtaining quotes and fine-tuning your budget spreadsheet as you go. If you’re aiming to build in timber frame, the frame will be a substantial percentage of the overall build cost and its specification will impact on other costs like joinery, heating, renewable technologies and so on, so it should be one of, if not the first, element you focus on. Bear in mind that not all timber frame suppliers supply the same product — far from it. Some will only supply the structural shell (external walls, loadbearing partitions, floor joists and roof trusses), while others will supply a comprehensive package. The latter could even include: the structural shell plus underslating felt, counter/ tile battens, fascia, bargeboard, soffit, windows, external doors, non-loadbearing partitions, all thermal/acoustic insulation, flooring, plasterboard, stairs, internal doorsets, window sills, architraves, skirting, door ironmongery, all the nails/screws/glue required to assemble the timber frame and sometimes SAP calculations and an Energy Performance Certificate, which building control will require. Some suppliers offer a supply and erect service, whereas others are supply only and you, your project manager or contractor will have to arrange the erection. Some offer a closed panel system (where the insulation is factory fitted in the external wall panels and sometimes in the roof panels prior to arriving on site) and some only supply an open panel system and roof trusses arriving an (requiring open on panel the site) system insulation and some and roof only to be trusses supply supplied to decide and fitted on what on site). package You you will want have supplied and if you want a supply and erect price or supply only. Another very important consideration at this stage is how airtight you wish the house to be. Do you want it to comply with the Building Regulations’ minimum standards or do you perhaps want to meet Passivhaus standards? You’ll need to advise the manufacturer what your aspirations are, as this will impact on the specification and, in turn, cost. If you feel that setting a specification is too ‘ technical’ for you then your architectural consultant should be able to assist you with this. I would always recommend speaking to someone who has, in the recent past, carried out a self-build near you, too. If you pass a site where a timber frame is in the process of, or has been erected, then pop in and find out as much as you can about the project. Self-builders love talking about their new home and are always willing to pass on their experiences with a manufacturer and other tradesperson/suppliers, be they good or bad. The Structural Timber Association (STA) is the trade body that represents the vast majority of the UK’S timber frame manufacturing companies; its website (structuraltimber.co.uk/selfbuild) is a great resource as it allows you to search for members that supply to the self-build sector (see page 165). If you search using your postcode it will even give you a list of the nearest members. It’s worth noting that some timber frame manufacturers supply nationwide; some local regions. (What’s more, some also supply other timber-based construction systems such as SIPS [structural insulated panels], glulam and cross-laminated timber.) I would strongly suggest that your preferred manufacturer is an STA member, as members have to meet certain accreditations and quality standards before being accepted.
“When choosing between suppliers, don’t just discard the most expensive quote — it could well be that the company has quoted for a high spec or included elements others have not”
Choosing You rowed have down done Between the your manufacturers research Suppliers and nar- that you want to quote for your project to maybe three or four companies. Next you need to send your drawings (ideally plans/sections/elevations to a scale of no less than 1:100) to each of the manufacturers, together with as detailed a specification as you can. The more detailed the specification, the more accurate a quote you will get. Quotes will typically take two to four weeks to produce and on receipt you need to analyse them all in great detail as no two will be exactly the same. Don’t just look at the price quoted and discard the most expensive one, it could well be that the particular com- pany has quoted for a higher specification than the others or included for elements the others have not. You need to be comparing ‘apples with apples’ — take your time in doing this and use your architectural consultant to check over the quotes, too. If you are in any doubt about what has been included for or the specification of any particular element, phone the manufacturer and get them to clarify matters. You should now narrow down the manufacturers to two, arrange a meeting at their factory with the business development manager or estimator responsible for your project. Run through the quote in detail and ask to be shown the materials they have quoted for. Always ask if they have any suggestions that would save costs, as fairly minor changes to the plans/ specification can quite often result in substantial cost savings. Many manufacturers have show- rooms feel the where various you materials. can see, touch Request and a tour of their factory too, as this will give you a better overall ‘feel’ for their operation. Ask if there are any projects they have recently supplied that the clients would be willing to allow you to go and view. This can give you the opportunity to get an unbiased view of the manufacturers direct from the client. You should also find out what their lead-in times are for the various deliveries involved, as you, your project manager or building contractor will need to know what they are to effectively programme the works. A lot of work is carried out by the manufacturer early on in the process by designing the timber frame, procuring materials and then manufacturing the timber frame, so don’t be surprised if you are quoted a 10 to 12 week lead-in time for the structural shell element from when you place an order.
Paying Payment at in detail, for terms Your including should Timber also the initial be Frame looked deposit the manufacturer will be looking for on signing an order and stage payments thereafter. It is not unusual for manufacturers to ask for payment 14 to 21 days prior to the various elements being delivered to site, so you or your legal agent need to be satisfied that the manufacturer is on a secure financial footing. If you have any doubt then your legal agent may suggest using an escrow account or a vesting certificate which would ‘ring fence’ any monies you pay to the manufacturer should they get into financial difficulty. If you follow the above steps, one manufacturer will have impressed you above all others with their customer service levels, competitive price, quality of product/materials, professional/ helpful ‘can do’ attitude, good reputation and testimonials from previous customers; cially sound they company. will also They be a are finan- the manufacturer you should, with confidence, place your business with. One final piece of advice: never accept the first price offered by your preferred manufacturer. It’s worth asking for a discount or an upgraded specification for the same price.
Mike Cruickshank Property investor Mike Cruickshank is an expert in timber frame construction, having spent 26 years with one of the UK’S leading timber frame manufacturers.
Work on Site After being manufactured under factory conditions ( top left), the frame is delivered to site. Here, the internal partition walls of a self-build ( left) are being installed on site; while timber frame panels for the external walls are craned into position ( below).
Manufacturing Timeline Prefabricating the timber frame allows for speedy on-site construction. The image ( below) shows work in progress at the West Midlands-based factory of Timber Innovations, a member of the Structural Timber Association.