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.
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.