History of Timber Frames in the UK

Timber framing has a rich and enduring history in the UK, dating back to ancient times.

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A brief history of UK timber frames

Old house made with traditional timber frames

Using timber in construction has been a significant part of the country's architectural heritage, with its influence spanning various periods and architectural styles.

During the medieval period, timber framing began to be exploited for its decorative qualities, with timbers used to enhance the decorative effect of dark wood set into whitewashed walls. Until the 17th century, England had an abundant supply of oak, the most common material used for timber frames due to its hardness and durability. However, by the Jacobean period, wood for timber framing was in short supply in England due to its extensive use for building, heating, and making charcoal. The introduction of cheap, readily available bricks after the Tudor period provided an attractive alternative to half-timbering. Despite falling out of fashion during the Victorian era, timber frames have seen a revival since the 1970s in the Western world, with modern oak frames being a solid part of the vernacular tradition of the country.

The most significant period of timber building in England and Wales was between 1200 AD and 1700 AD, during which a sophisticated prefabricated building system provided the majority of buildings throughout the cities, towns, and villages. Oak was the predominant timber species used for structural purposes, known for its strength, durability, and long grain. Timber framing enjoyed widespread popularity until the Victorian era, after which it fell out of fashion due to the high demand for wood in shipbuilding. However, since the 1970s, there has been a renewed interest in timber framing, with architects studying traditional designs and replicating them in modern construction.

In summary, timber framing in the UK has evolved over the centuries, from its early use for structural and decorative purposes to its decline and subsequent revival. The enduring appeal of timber frames lies in their historical significance, architectural versatility, and eco-friendliness, making them an integral part of the country's construction heritage.

Timber frames today

Cabe timber Joists 02

In modern-day UK, timber frames are widely used in construction, particularly in new home builds. Modern timber frame structures are precision-engineered, strong, and durable, accounting for around 23% of new home builds in the UK. In Scotland, timber frame is the technology of choice for 85% of the housing market, and it is being promoted to broaden its appeal in England as well.

Offsite timber frame construction allows homes to be built faster and to a higher sustainability standard compared with traditional construction methods, making them more cost-effective to build and live in. The use of timber frames in construction offers several advantages, including excellent sustainability properties, support for the climate change agenda for Net Zero, improved quality through offsite manufacture, clean and quiet construction processes, reduced build programs, and compliance with regulations.

Modern timber frame systems in the UK have been developed from North American and Scandinavian methods and bear little resemblance to traditional timber framing. These systems are precision-engineered and designed to carry the loads imposed by the floors and roofs before transmitting them to the foundations. Open panel systems, for example, are structurally engineered panels that form the inside load-bearing leaf of the external wall, while closed panel systems offer various U-values depending on the configuration.

The revival of timber frames in the Western world since the 1970s has led to a renewed interest in this construction method. Architects have studied traditional designs and attempted to replicate them in modern construction, leading to the use of timber frames for new house builds and other construction projects. The durability and strength of hardwood timbers have contributed to the preservation of impressive medieval timber frames that are still standing today.

In conclusion, timber frames are extensively used in modern-day UK construction, offering a sustainable, cost-effective, and durable alternative to traditional construction methods. Their precision-engineered design, sustainability properties, and compliance with regulations make them a popular choice for new home builds and construction projects in the UK.

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