Go­ing against the grain pays off at builder’s home

Builder Mark Al­mond prac­tised what he preached when he built his tim­ber-framed home. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

HELP­ING to build houses in the Rocky Moun­tains in the mid1990s proved in­spi­ra­tional for Mark Al­mond.

The land­scape was breath­tak­ing, not least be­cause of the al­ti­tude, but what re­ally blew him away were the con­struc­tion tech­niques em­ployed by Amer­i­can builders.

In­stead of brick and breeze block, they used a tim­ber frame to cre­ate the core of the prop­erty be­fore in­su­lat­ing then cladding it.

“This method is big in Amer­ica, Canada and Scot­land and I could im­me­di­ately see the ben­e­fits both for the builder, the home owner and the planet,” says Mark.

“You’re us­ing a sus­tain­able prod­uct and from a con­struc­tion point of view you can erect a frame very quickly and work on it in all weath­ers even sub zero tem­per­a­tures, which you can’t with brick and block.

“It’s also eas­ier for the trades to put the ser­vices in but best of all you can put a lot more in­su­la­tion in a tim­ber-framed home.”

He came back to Bri­tain a con­vert though many of his fel­low builders failed to share his en­thu­si­asm at first, even though costs were on a par with brick and block.

“They didn’t trust it be­cause it had a bad press years ago when houses here were built us­ing poor qual­ity frames.

“I re­minded them that The Sham­bles in York is still there and that the ma­te­ri­als now are much more so­phis­ti­cated.”

To prove his point Mark built his own five-be­d­room home in York in 2005.

The prop­erty has a tim­ber frame that was man­u­fac­tured and built on site. It was packed with three times more in­su­la­tion than the av­er­age house be­fore a breath­able vapour con­trol bar­rier was in­stalled and the struc­ture clad in ma­sonry on the out­side and with plas­ter­board on the in­side.

The roof has a quilt of eco wool in the rafters that is topped with multi foil and slates.

The house was built with Ger­man pas­siv haus ideals in mind, which means it is con­structed care­fully to en­sure there are no draughts and leaks. This air-tight­ness com­bined with the in­su­la­tion and dou­ble glaz­ing keeps warm air in and cold air out.

Mark, who spent a year on the project tack­ling most of the work him­self, also in­stalled a wood burn­ing stove and un­der­floor heat­ing on the ground floor and en­sured the air­ing cup­board was in the mid­dle of the first floor, where it acts as a ther­mal store, which ra­di­ates heat.

There are just three small ra­di­a­tors in the house and they are in the bath­rooms.

“The key is to make a house air tight but also make sure the en­ve­lope can breathe so there are no con­den­sa­tion prob­lems,” he says.

As well as hav­ing a warm, com­fort­able home, Mark, his wife Leanne and their three chil­dren, Lois, 9, Lexi, 7, and Dax, 5, have also ben­e­fited fi­nan­cially. Their fuel bills have been halved since they moved from their pre­vi­ous old prop­erty

“More builders have started us­ing tim­ber frame and it is very pop­u­lar with self-builders but I just can’t un­der­stand why ev­ery builder isn’t em­brac­ing it,” says Mark.

“The raw ma­te­rial is more ex­pen­sive but the labour is cheaper be­cause a tim­ber frame house doesn’t take as long to con­struct so they cost about the same as a brick and block house, but they come with enor­mous ben­e­fits in­clud­ing mak­ing it far eas­ier to achieve in­su­la­tion stan­dards re­quired by build­ing reg­u­la­tions.”

Ar­chi­tect Nick Mid­g­ley, who works with Mark on res­i­den­tial de­sign and build projects, agrees:

“Tim­ber frame has come on in leaps and bounds over the last 30 years and is po­ten­tially the best way to build highly-in­su­lated homes. Tim­ber con­struc­tion is noth­ing new in Scan­di­navia, Ger­many and North Amer­ica where peo­ple think of do­ing noth­ing else to give them­selves qual­ity and flex­i­bil­ity of de­sign, and of course su­per in­su­la­tion val­ues.

“The UK cur­rently pro­duces some of the best en­gi­neered tim­ber such as stress grade, shrink and squeak proof beams and joists and lam­i­nated long span beams that look so good they can be left ex­posed and equal the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of steel.

“When you stop and think about how we have been build­ing with bricks and mor­tar cav­ity con­struc­tion since roughly the turn of the last cen­tury, it has not adapted to our mod­ern re­quire­ments and in­su­la­tion needs.

“Brick cav­i­ties are daft re­ally, bal­anc­ing two skins of wet brick and mor­tar inches apart with a cav­ity then of­ten filled up again with low grade in­su­la­tion that if we are not care­ful lets the damp track into a dwelling.

“With tim­ber frame you can use high tech su­per per­form­ing in­su­la­tion made from re­cy­cled plas­tics, sheeps wool, min­eral or re­cy­cled glass and it is easy and clean to in­stall. In fact this of­ten why self-builders go the tim­ber frame route as there are so many easy jobs that some­one with ba­sic DIY skills can tackle to pull build costs down.”

It was the de­sign ca­pa­bil­i­ties that first led Nick into tim­ber con­struc­tion.

“Tim­ber frame frees up the de­sign of plan lay­outs and vol­umes, big spans and open­ings, such as bi-fold slid­ing doors, which are re­ally pop­u­lar at the mo­ment. It also makes it cheaper to build open roof and dou­ble height spa­ces.”

Mark, while preach­ing the gospel of tim­ber frame and work­ing on be­spoke homes for clients, has branched out into a new area.

He is aim­ing to make con­ser­va­to­ries more com­fort­able and us­able year round.

His Con­serv Roof Renu sys­tem in­volves installing a fab­ric screen un­der the poly­car­bon­ate or glass roof, then bat­ten­ing, in­su­lat­ing and ven­ti­lat­ing be­fore board­ing and skim­ming to cre­ate a ceil­ing.

The cost is from £1,000 up­wards de­pend­ing on the size of the struc­ture.

“It’s a very sim­ple and ef­fec­tive idea and you can lit­er­ally feel the dif­fer­ence once it’s done. A lot of peo­ple can’t af­ford an ex­ten­sion but they have a con­ser­va­tory that they can’t use for half the year. This sys­tem makes it into a us­able space.”

He is also har­bour­ing plans for a grand de­sign.

“I’d like to build an­other house for my­self us­ing tim­ber frame, prob­a­bly some­thing more con­tem­po­rary with Ra­tionel win­dows and a heat re­cov­ery sys­tem. It’s a very ex­cit­ing time to self-build.”

Mark in his en­ergy ef­fi­cient home in York which is built us­ing a tim­ber frame with high lev­els of in­su­la­tion, us­ing the prin­ci­ples of Ger­man pas­siv haus de­sign,. Tim­ber frames are com­mon in Amer­ica and Canada.

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