Cost Benefits of a Traditional Timber Frame

In 2007, when I began building Oak frames in Wales, I knew there was something amazing about what I was working on.  At the time, I was drawn to the craft and heritage aspect of creating things that will be admired forever.  As I’ve gotten older and wiser, the economic benefits of commissioning and building things that look beautiful and perform financially are equally as important as the other traits.  

These benefits are also important to anyone considering a traditional timber frame for their building. So for now, let’s ignore the environmental, quality, craftsmanship, and aesthetic benefits that go hand in hand with timber frames and look at it from a pure numbers point of view.

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Timber frame master Chris Nance training in England, circa 2008
The author Chris Nance and some green Oak frames in Wales, 2008

Cost vs Return of Traditional Timber Framing

The frames are expensive, right?” It’s true, like anything that’s high quality a Traditional Post and Beam Frame or Feature Truss is a significant investment. It’s handcrafted, custom-designed, and of the highest quality both in materials and workmanship. 

As with any investment, returns are a key consideration.  What do you get when you commission a Traditional Timber Frame?  An heirloom, a legacy, a beautiful home, barn or building for sure, but also an asset that will increase the appeal and value of your building and will continue to do so over the life of the structure. 

We’ve had several projects commissioned as part of property developments that were subsequently sold following the completion of the build.  In every case, the sale of the property was significantly higher than the build cost. Speaking to the clients, the reason they consistently gave was buyers being swayed by the massive wow factor of the timber frame. 

From my own personal experience, almost every time we buy a house, we’re basing it on first impressions that we develop over a very short inspection period. Picture it; You’re out looking for a new home. You spend your Saturday going to open homes, all beautiful custom homes in a set price range, and then you walk into one with a Traditional Timber Frame… This is it!!

Does the fact that they’re asking (for example) for $300k more than the other homes you looked at really matter at this point?  This $300k return is because the Wow factor from the traditional timber frame added $300k to the sale price, not because the timber frame added $300k to the build cost.

What does all this mean in the cost v return equation for a traditional timber frame? At worst the frames cost will be covered by increasing the appeal and therefore value of the home. More often though, the investment of a traditional timber frame provides a return on investment that far exceeds the initial cost of the frame itself.

Photo looking up at the grid like pattern created by the exposed timber rafters andd beams
The majestic roof framing of a Sydney Extension. This project sold for $400k above the build price.

Why Does a Traditional Timber Frame Add So Much Value to a Building?

In Australia, Traditional Timber Frames are exceptionally unique. Even compared internationally to other Oak timber frames or post and beam timber frames, what we at TTF design and build here, using timeless Australian timbers and styles that fit our environment and architecture is incredibly rare. 

Even custom-built homes nowadays often tend to have a similar look.  Builders rely on the same range of materials and architects often follow particular styles or fashion trends in design. This leads to custom homes that might have a layout specific to your needs, but visually don’t look that different to the rest. 

A traditional timber frame is typically exposed, creating stunning visual feature pieces that leave everyone who sees them blown away by the appeal.  The uniqueness and visual appeal alone mean that the house or barn you build with a traditional timber frame becomes equally as unique and appealing to live in and on the market. 

So where is the value in a Traditional Timber Frame? Well if you’re planning to live in it forever, then the value is in knowing that you’re house is a work of art, and you can live in it and admire it.  It’s in knowing that the building was built to last, will hold timeless appeal, and most importantly will provide a sense of pride and connection to the structure.

If you’re interested in your house as an investment then the value is much more tangible.  Commissioning a timber frame is a significant cost at a time when you’re already spending a lot of money on the build in general. We’ve now seen time and time again, that the prices homes or properties with our frames in them sell for are significantly more than the build costs. 

"A dream home" - The unique design and visual appeal of a stunning timber barn style home

Financial Advantages for Commercial Buildings

Over the last few years, we’ve noticed a huge increase in the demand for commercial spaces like Wedding Venues, Accommodations, Restaurants and other venues and public places. Visual appeal, mood, and ambience have become crucial elements for these spaces looking to attract modern Australian consumers. Many are seeing the tremendous potential of being unique. 

The barn trend in a residential sense has been going on for a while now. The timber barn as a venue is now becoming even more popular. Barns, of course, have been an integral part of country life for centuries, so it’s nice to see them moving back into trend as a commercial and public venue. 

The return on investment for a timber-framed building when it comes to commercial spaces is quite different to a residential home. The aesthetics and impact are very important, but so too are the sizes and capacity of the building. Wedding venues tend to need 100+ guests, so making sure the building can accommodate that is important. 

Our timber-framed barns are of course amazing for this. The very nature of a barn means they are visually stunning and grand and also generally big enough to accommodate even the most lavish country wedding or party.  

External aesthetics too are important for venues. With a lot of our residential projects, the visual impact of the timber elements and design are not often on show both inside and out. With a barn however, the visual appeal and opportunity to glamorously landscape and decorate both inside and out creates huge potential for commercial vendors.

Financially, the numbers make sense too.  Building a conventional public building will tend to cost upwards of $3500/m2. When you look at a 300m2 wedding venue, this comes in well over $1m.  Due largely to the complete, structural nature of a traditional timber frame, barns featuring our frames tend to cost around $2500/m2. The barn pictured below saw it completed for around $800k. 

It doesn’t take that many glamorous events to start making those numbers look almost as appealing as the barn itself.

A Traditional Timber Frames barn in use as an event venue
Be it a barn dance or a wedding, the rustic charm and elegance of a barn is only one of the countless benefits of these types of buildings.

Design is Key to a Successful Investment

Building a timber-framed barn, house, restaurant or venue is a major investment. Getting the best advice on design, layout, and the many options and details can have a significant effect on the finished costs, looks, and functionality.  

With a heavy timber frame design it’s important to seek someone with experience and understanding of how a venue works, how the house will be lived in, or the particular theme you want in the restaurant. A good designer can highlight these desires and avoid wasting resources in less important areas. 

Custom designing the particular build around the budget, aesthetics, venue requirements etc, takes skill and experience. Poor decisions or inexperienced design and detailing can have significant effects, especially when you’re building with an eye on the returns. 

We’ve designed and built over 100 unique traditional timber frames here in Australia for a variety of buildings including luxury homes, accommodation, venues, working buildings, and public spaces. The design process is something we’re consistently fine-tuning and we’re very proud of the results we’ve been able to achieve for our clients

When done right, the advantages of building with exposed traditional timbers can be overwhelming. When commissioning a Traditional Timber Frame, you’re getting a unique piece of craftsmanship that draws on our individual skill, creativity and passion and like any piece of fine art, the value is infinite.

About the author

Chris Nance

Chris Nance is known as a man with a passion for timber craftsmanship and making beautiful things. After extensive training in the art of traditional timber framing under Alan Ritchie in the United Kingdom, Chris returned to Australia and founded Traditional Timber Frames in 2009. Chris has since offered traditional framing courses and trained multiple craftsmen, establishing a team of dedicated and highly skilled professionals.

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