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Comparison between
Timber frame & Brick and Block frame

  1. Timber frame and brick and block are the two main forms of house construction in the UK. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, so the method you go for will depend on your own personal preferences.
  2. Both timber frame and brick and block houses have an outer skin (usually brick) and a cavity (usually 50mm). Where they differ is in the construction of the inner wall.
  3. With a standard timber frame this consists of a waterproof membrane, sheathing board, structural timber frame, vapour barrier and inner lining of plasterboard. The insulation is placed between the timber frame uprights, and its thickness matches the size of the frame (usually 90mm).
  4. With standard brick and block, the inner wall consists of aggregate block and an inner lining of plaster. The insulation is placed directly in the cavity, which is either partially or completely filled.
  5. The main difference between the two types of construction is how the loads of the house are taken. With timber frame, the frame itself supports the weight of the house, while with brick and block, both the outer brick and the inner block take the weight.
  6. The internal walls and floors also vary in construction. With timber frame, dividing walls are plasterboard stud partitions, and floors are typically of timber construction (although ground floors can be concrete). With brick and block, dividing walls are usually solid block, and the floors are typically of solid beam and block construction.
  7. A range of outer claddings can be applied to both timber frame and brick and block houses, including brick, stone, render, hanging tile and timber boarding. With timber frame the actual timber structure is often exposed as a design feature.
  8. Windows in timber frame houses are fixed to the inner timber frame, rather than to the brick outer skin, which results in a deeper external sill. This feature helps to distinguish between the two types of construction from the outside.
  9. With timber frame, only dry-lined plasterboard can be used for the walls and the ceilings, while with brick and block, wet plaster can also be used. With dry-lined plasterboard, wallpaper can be put up immediately, whereas with wet plaster you have to wait six months. Dry-lined plasterboard walls can sound hollow when you tap them, while wet plaster on masonry walls makes for an all-round heavier, more solid structure.
  1. Weight is important to good sound insulation - remember sound waves are vibrations, and it is hard to vibrate a heavy wall. Solid concrete walls offer an obvious advantage here, while lightweight plasterboard-finished walls require more care. Sound insulation can only be improved by suspending mineral fibre between the stud partitions, which will absorb some of the sound.
  2. Although solid concrete gives good resilience against airborne sound, such as music and voices, it offers little in resistance to impact sound, such as footsteps. Concrete floors are particularly prone to impact sounds, but laying a resilient layer, such as a carpet, onto the floor will guard against this.
  3. Time savings of 30% for a 2 storey house and 50% for 4 storey flats are typical. Timber frames can be erected and quickly made watertight in poor weather conditions that would halt the construction of a conventionally built structure.

    Timber frame is a dry construction method which helps to eliminate cracking of plasterboard. Lower maintenance in the first year after construction is a proven factor with volume house builders reporting a 75% saving on call-back costs after switching to timber frame. As timber frame is essentially a 'dry' form of construction, the long drying out period associated with 'wet' construction is avoided. Thereafter, costs are at least on a level with other forms of construction and some are lower than average.

    Timber frame construction allows for the easy concealment of wires and pipes resulting in a neater finish to the buildings. Services can be easily accommodated in the floor zone when eco-Joist floors are utilised
  4. Isolating two structures is also important for good sound insulation, as it breaks the sound path. Cavity walls in both house types perform this function. Floors constructions can also be isolated with the use of a floating floor system. The two parts are separated by mineral wool, which gives resistance to both impact and airborne sound. A timber floor construction is lighter than a concrete floor, so to achieve the same levels of sound insulation, additional layers of board can be fitted to increase the total weight.
  5. An airtight structure is also important for good sound insulation. It is pointless spending money on sound insulating either a timber frame or brick and block house, if the sound can pass around a partition via an poorly sealed window, door or service duct.
  6. Both timber frame and brick and block houses have to comply with energy efficiency targets set out by the Building Regulations. The minimum U-value (insulation level for each component of the build) required for exposed walls is 0.45 W/m2K.
  7. A standard brick and block house offers a U-value of 0.43 W/m2K. Whereas a standard timber frame outperforms the mandatory ratings, achieving a U-value of 0.41 W/m2K. The latter can be improved to 0.29 W/m2K by increasing the frame size from 90mm (standard) to 140mm (enhanced), which increases the space for insulation. This gain is at comparatively little extra cost.
  8. For brick and block to match the same levels of thermal insulation achieved by an enhanced timber frame, insulated dry-lining with vapour check has to be included in the wall construction, increasing costs considerably.
  9. Timber frame builds are lightweight, have little thermal mass and the insulation is close to the inside of the house. The combination means that they respond quickly to changes in temperature, so when the heating is switched on, the house heats up quickly, and when the heating is switched off, the house cools down quickly.
  10. Brick and block builds are heavy, with a high thermal mass. When the heating is switched on, the plaster and inner block slowly absorbs the heat. Although the house takes longer to warm up, it also takes longer to cool down once the heating is turned off. Brick and block is therefore a good choice for families with someone at home for most of the day, while timber frame is suited to families who are out for most of the day.
  11. As long as the same wall, floor and roof insulation levels are specified, there will be no difference in the overall energy usage between timber frame and brick and block. This is only one part of creating an energy efficient house, with windows, doors, and heating specification playing an increasing important part.
  12. It is generally accepted that a timber frame house is quicker to construct than a brick and block house. In good conditions, a timber frame house can be built in around 15 weeks, and a brick and block house in 18 weeks.
  13. A timber frame house is usually wind and watertight by week five of the build, so while the bricklayers work on the outside, work can begin on the internals. By contrast, a brick and block house is not normally wind and watertight until around week nine or 10, so work on the inside starts later in the build programme. This is slowly improving with several block manufacturers developing systems that make it possible to build a house up to first floor level in a day.
  14. Representatives of both timber frame and brick and block agree that there are no measurable differences in cost between the two constructions if designed to minimum Building Regulations standards. What ultimately determines build costs are individual specifications, build route, labour and plot details.
  15. If high thermal insulation standards are specified, timber frame can be significantly cheaper, whereas if good sound insulation is a priority, then brick and block is easier on the finances.
  16. If timber frame is chosen for its quick build time, savings can be made on the interest on money borrowed for building, storage and rented accommodation. That said, with timber frame a large amount of money is required earlier on in the project to pay the kit manufacturer. With brick and block, build costs are spread over a longer period of time. Whatever method of construction decided upon, the Accelerator mortgage offered by the Self Build Advisory Service can help with finances and cash flow during the build, by providing funds at the beginning of each stage, rather than the end. With growing concern for the environment and global warming, it is in everyones' interests to keep energy demands as low as possible.
  17. Building energy efficient, well-insulated homes to reduce fuel consumption and running costs is essential. However, what many self-builders do not realise is that even before a house is built, the materials used in its construction have a Product Energy Requirement (or PER), which refers to all the energy (expressed in kilowatt-hours) that goes into producing and transporting a product.
  18. Timber has the advantage here as it is produced by natural means - sun, water and air, so its energy requirements are all in the extraction and transportation of the logs from the forest.
  19. A timber frame wall in a typical three-bedroom detached family house has a PRE of around 7,450kWh, while a concrete block wall in the same property requires 1.7 times more energy, with a PRE of around 12,816 kWh.
  20. Benefiting Builders
  • Reduced project cost - greater predictability, better control, faster pace leading to lower project cost.
  • Faster build - 30% shorter construction time than brick and block.
  • Faster return on investment.
  • Flexible design. Suitable for many different building types and layouts, the timber frame method accommodates a wide range of external finishes and claddings.
  • Minimal neighbourhood disruption.
  • Not weather dependent - a typical house can be weather tight in less than 5 days.
  • Brickwork is removed from the critical path - other trades will be working before the brickwork is complete.
  • Reduced drying-out time - internal finishing can be completed sooner.
  • Better build quality - each unit is an engineered solution with the consistency and accuracy of CAD/CAM factory technology - less dependency on site skills - lower call back costs.
  • Improved safety on site, from reduced handling.
  • Reduced waste. Structural materials are factory prepared so there is less need for excess material on site, reducing waste and loss through theft and creating a tidier, safer site.
  1. Benefiting Home Owners
  • Owners benefit from a house which, externally, looks like any other but which feels warmer and comes with lower heating bills and less maintenance.
  • The cost of timber frame is 1/6 less than brick and block frame
  • Timber Frame houses are quiet. They conform to or exceed current Building Regulations.
  • There are no problems getting mortgages for timber frame homes. Most lenders do not differentiate between timber frame or any other standard form of modern property construction.
  • Timber Frame houses meet all current fire regulations. Independent fire tests have shown that timber performs better than other structural materials like steel or concrete which tend to buckle and collapse. Timber, however, chars predictably, giving a slow and controlled loss of structural integrity.
  • Timber Frame is recognised by the NHBC and Zurich Municipal for guarantee purposes. Insurance companies generally draw no distinction between timber frame and brick and block construction provided the external roof covering is also of tiles, natural or mineral slates or concrete.
  • Timber frame houses are durable. Softwood timber frame houses built in the 19th century are still going strong. There is no reason why they will not last as long as any other type of housing.