Self Build Construction Systems. Should I build a Timber frame home? – Interview with Fleming Homes
Timber frame is an increasingly popular choice for self-builders. There are many benefits to building your dream home with a timber frame. It provides factory standards and fast build times, making it a very desirable construction system for those who wish to build their own home.
According to a Homebuilding & Renovating 2017 market report, the number of timber frame (43% – 35% Timber frame plus 8% SIPS) self builds in the UK was very close to those made with masonry (46%). An important reason for this is that more self-builders prioritise energy-efficiency of their future homes that can be achieved with Timber frame and SIPS. There are several leading companies that specialise in manufacturing Timber Frame kits for self-builders in the UK.
We asked Sarah Mathieson, the Managing Director of one of those companies – Fleming Homes – the company with over 30 years’ experience in the design and manufacture of bespoke self-build timber frame house kits – to answer some questions about the services their offer and the process of working with self-builders.
WHAT IS YOUR ROLE AND HOW CAN YOU ASSIST IN THE SELF BUILD PROCESS?
As Managing Director of Fleming Homes, I am keen to meet as many self-builders as possible to understand the challenges currently being faced and to get a sense of what the most significant hurdles and barriers to Self Building are. That’s why you will often find me on our exhibition stand at some of the UK’s most popular Self Build shows.
At Fleming Homes, we believe that timber frame structural systems offer self-builders the opportunity to build their homes with confidence. When I’m at the shows, I try to help self-builders to understand the many benefits of choosing timber frame. I also work closely with the team here to ensure that our products and services meet consumer needs.
WHAT ARE THE STAGES AND TIMELINES OF A TYPICAL SELF BUILD PROJECT WITH FLEMING HOMES?
The stages and timelines of a typical Self Build project with Fleming Homes varies depending on the level at which the customer chooses to engage with us. We are ultimately flexible; we recognise that every self-build project is individual (along with the self-builder) so the self-builder can access as much or as little of the support we offer as suits them.
At the outset, we offer a design service and timescales will very much depend on the responsiveness and decisiveness of the client. Once we have received a design brief, we usually turn around an initial sketched design within 2 weeks.
Once a design is finalised, we offer a planning service. This process to the submission of the planning application takes 6 weeks and then the self-builder will need to allow around 8 weeks for local authority approval. Our building regulations/warrant service follows this and similarly takes 6 weeks before an 8-10 week local authority approval timeframe (subject to the LA).
Once the self-builder is ready to move to the construction design stage, we estimate a 6-10 week lead time for construction design and manufacture. Our erection service sees a typical 4-bedroom home erected to wind and watertight in 2 weeks. (NB timescales are subject to change).
YOU HAVE YOUR OWN IN-HOUSE ARCHITECTURAL DESIGNERS BUT YOU ALSO COOPERATE WITH EXTERNAL DESIGNERS. HOW DOES THIS INFLUENCE PROJECT DEVELOPMENT?
The Fleming Homes design service is distinct from the process of engaging with an architect. If the self-builder wants to build a typical family home and has a clear idea of what they are aiming to achieve we can help them bring their ideas to life on paper quickly and simply.
If, however, their aspiration is to push the design envelope with a design-led dwelling using latest materials, or they have a particularly challenging site we would always recommend they seek out the services of a good architect.
A large proportion of our clients come to us having already completed the design process with an architect. In this case, we simply take the architectural designs through to construction design. Our construction design team liaise closely with the architect to ensure we have everything we need to move to the construction design phase.
TIMBER FRAME IS CURRENTLY ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR CONSTRUCTION SYSTEMS AMONG SELF-BUILDERS IN THE UK. WHAT DO YOU THINK THE REASONS ARE FOR THIS?
There are multiple benefits to timber frame including, speed, quality, flexibility, thermal efficiency, sustainability, ease, and value. Speed is a big consideration. This is achieved through offsite manufacture which delivers a number of advantages. Time is an important factor; the kit can be manufactured concurrently rather than sequentially – enabling ‘just in time’ delivery to site upon completion of foundations.
With just a couple of weeks to erect a kit, a timber frame build schedule can factor in follow on trades quickly thereafter leading to significant time efficiencies. The factory environment delivers consistency of process, leading to improved quality and therefore a more predictable product as a consequence.
Another major benefit of timber frame is the ability and ease of achieving very high levels of thermal insulation. This is mainly due to the fact that the dwelling’s core insulation layer is housed within the structure.
On top of these multiple layers of insulation can be added to the structural fabric of the house to increase its thermal performance. Ultimately, it is all of these benefits combined that lead consumers to conclude that there’s a great deal of value in choosing timber frame.
COULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR APPROACH TO BUILDING TIMBER HOMES? YOU SPECIALISE IN MANUFACTURING OPEN PANEL, PRE-INSULATED TIMBER FRAME HOUSES. WHAT IS THIS AND WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES?
In its typical form, we use a traditional system of timber frame manufacture which comprises a prefabricated panel made up of 140mm timber studs at 600mm centres with OSB sheathing, factory-fitted rigid insulation and a reflective breather membrane.
In practice each one of the homes we manufacture is bespoke, so panel design and specification is adapted to suit the requirements of each individual project. The efficiencies achieved through the pre-fabrication of an open panel system within a factory environment deliver enhanced quality assurance and also positively impact onsite construction schedules.
FLEMING HOMES STATE THAT EACH FRAME PANEL YOU MANUFACTURE IS CHECKED RIGOROUSLY IN TERMS OF QUALITY ASSURANCE. COULD YOU DESCRIBE THIS PROCEDURE?
Our quality processes are multifaceted. Firstly, our panel fabricators take great pride in their work to the extent that each panel is tagged and signed by the maker. Our quality supervisor then implements regular inspections to ensure our products meet the highest standards.
As part of our ongoing commitment to quality, our construction design team also conduct daily panel checks where they will inspect a multitude of factors spanning both materials and assembly. This includes cross-checking the panel against the drawing, checking the size of the timbers, and checking the moisture content of the timber as well as a long list of other factors.
This process gives us real confidence in the quality of our timber frame systems which meet international quality standards via ISO 9001:2015.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST ADVANTAGES OF TIMBER FRAME HOUSE IN COMPARISON TO OTHER CONSTRUCTION METHODS?
Speed of construction is one advantage influencing several other factors. There is the fact that the self-builder can schedule works ‘just in time’ as noted above. The certainty of achieving the wind and watertight stage in just two to three weeks also provides added confidence in scheduling follow on trades, again keeping up project momentum against project timescales.
There are inherent cost savings associated with this compared to more traditional methods where slippage is easier to incur resulting in additional costs.
YOU OFFER SEVERAL DIFFERENT INSULATION OPTIONS FOR YOUR HOUSE KITS. THIS ALLOWS SELF-BUILDERS TO REALISE EVEN THE MOST AMBITIOUS LOW ENERGY PROJECTS. IS ENERGY EFFICIENCY A PRIORITY FOR YOUR SELF BUILD CUSTOMERS AND DOES THIS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE GEOGRAPHICAL AREA, FOR EXAMPLE, ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND?
While energy prices have fallen in October 2019 in line with Ofgem’s new price cap, consumers are still aware that, as an energy analyst, Andrew Capstick alludes, households on standard tariffs are almost certainly still being ripped off.
As such it is not usual to find a self-builder whose goal is to achieve a home that delivers minimal energy costs. Highly insulated timber frame homes are well-positioned to support this aim and with lower embodied carbon than other composite materials, it’s also a more sustainable choice.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES IN PRICE BETWEEN TIMBER FRAMES AND OTHER CONSTRUCTION SYSTEMS?
Comparing different building methods in terms of cost is complex, largely due to differences in procurement models, and on-site operations.
Where we tend to highlight the cost benefits of timber frame is in relation to the build programme. Efficiencies achieved through offsite construction, speed of erection, reduced waste, and increased quality assurance all contribute to overall value.
WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO SELF BUILD, HOWEVER, ARE UNSURE HOW IF THEY SHOULD APPOINT A MAIN CONTRACTOR OR SELF-MANAGE THE PROJECT?
How a self-builder chooses to manage their build will influence cost significantly. When it comes to build routes, the more hands-on you are prepared to be, the more you will save. Choice of build route will be influenced by a variety of factors not just cost. Working full time in a demanding job, juggling a busy household, family commitments, or health factors may all play a role in shaping decision making. Probably the most important element to consider if thinking of self-managing, is your level of project management skills.
If you are one of those people who aren’t particularly interested in the detail or who is terribly indecisive, then hire someone to manage the build for you! On the other hand, if you’re a good communicator, know how to negotiate effectively, can remain calm under pressure while spinning many plates, and consider yourself a problem solver, then maybe self-managing is the way to go. If you do opt to self-manage, choosing a great team of contractors and suppliers who can support you through the process becomes key!