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FAQ on Timber Framing

Why buy an old barn?

People who buy old barns generally have an appreciation for history. There is a warmth and certain feeling that comes from living in an old barn that just appeals to some people. At Green Mountain Timber Frames, we also build new timber frame homes – custom barn homes that offer a great feel as well. But the old timbers somehow offer an added dimension, a kind of sentimentality and coziness that feels like visiting your grandparents or stepping back into history. Is it the timbers talking?


How much does it cost to renovate an old barn?

When first approached by customers interested in buying an old barn or renovating a historic timber frame, we are often asked about the costs involved. When creating a proposal for a prospective client, we work hard to make timber frames affordable and to use every piece of wood the structure has to offer.


Today’s going rate to have experienced craftsmen take down, restore and erect an old timber frame ranges from $100-120 a square foot. This includes the cost of purchasing the vintage frame from its original owner. When you purchase a post and beam frame from Green Mountain Timber Frames, we provide all of the roof boards that come with the frame. Our prices also include the cost of installing the roof boards when we erect the frame, a bonus not often provided by our competitors.


What about insects?

One of our staff members performs an initial inspection on each vintage timber frame before we buy or sell it. At that time, we check for damage from insects and pests. We can usually tell if a frame has any active post beetle or ants. During the process of restoring the frame, we carefully inspect every square inch of the frame. Assuredly, any resident bugs will surface during this process. If we do find anything in the wood, we uses a variety of solutions depending on the problem, including Borax (BoraCare), washing and kiln drying.


Did you know that like teenagers, old barns can get acne? As time passes, barns, like people, outgrow the acne, but the scars remain. Such is the same with timbers that may have had attacks from tiny bugs in centuries past. On some vintage post and beam structures, you can still find the scars from past attacks, recollecting a small piece of history about those particular beams. But the bugs – like teen acne – are no more.


How do you insulate vintage barn frames?

To insulate the timber frames we restore and erect, we use insulated panels applied to the outside of the frame. These are also known as “SIP” panels. Alternatively, we insulate some frames by adding traditional framing (2 x 6’s) on the outside of the structure. Because of today’s expensive heating fuels, however, we usually recommend the SIP panels because they offer our customers a better bang for their buck.


Do you find old coins?

In the over 50 frames we have restored in our 20 years of focusing on vintage frames, we have found coins intentionally hidden in just three of the historic properties we have restored.


We found a 1696 Irish coin in a 1760s house, an 1802 coin in a 1770s house and an 1864 penny in a civil war era barn.


It’s always exciting when we find these treasures and we make sure to pass them along to the new owner of the barn house.


How can you tell if a barn is valuable?

Until 1900, timber frame construction was the only building technique that was used. The earlier frames in the New England region (1750s to 1860s) were often over-built, meaning the timbers used where bigger than necessary. These structures are the most valuable.


After our Civil War (1860s), construction started to change as smaller timbers were used. At this time, builders began to saw timbers rather than using the hand hewn technique. With the introduction of nails around this time, the way that buildings were constructed changed drastically and people started to build homes from smaller pieces of wood that were easier to work with. Traditional timber framing uses no nails and is thus a more complicated technique that became less popular after nails became prevalent.


The original timber frames required the help of an entire community to help raise the timbered building. Once builders started using 2 x 4 inch pieces of wood, individuals could build structures on their own for their family.


The value of a building, therefore, is assessed based upon the era in which it was built, the style of building used, the quality of the craftsmanship and the condition of the timbers.  An older structure in good condition with large, hand hewn frames will be more valuable than something built more recently using modern techniques.


What is the difference between timber frame and post and beam?

A timber frame is a specific type of post and beam structure. To be considered a timber frame, a building has to be constructed using traditional joinery methods. The posts are held together with wooden pegs, rather than nails. Using wooden pegs means that the constructor has to allow for pieces of wood to be housed into posts and beams using “mortise and tendon” joinery.


In contrast, there are many post and beam structures where the timbers are held together using metal plates.  A “post and beam” building may have old, hand hewn timbers but unlike with traditional timber frames, the way these beams are connected may be with more “modern” techniques.


How can you tell if a barn is built to last? Or how do you measure the integrity of a structure?

After operating for over 30 years in New England, Green Mountain Timber Frames has seen many historic structures. To stand up to the cruel New England elements, any timber frame that has endured for 250 years has shown its strength. A barn that can survive this test of time is a barn that is built to last.


With a lot of TLC, the barns we renovate at Green Mountain Timber Frames are ready to stand tall for another 250 years. The earlier the barn, the more integrity it has. The historic frames that we renovate are built from some of the finest wood on the planet. 250 years ago, trees had been allowed to grow for decades, untouched by human hand. In vintage wood, there can be 40-60 growth rings per inch. In contrast, the trees grown on today’s plantations have a mere 6 rings per inch, making for a much weaker wood.


We believe that any barn before 1890 is a barn worthy of saving.


How do we start?

Give us a call and we can discuss your “vision.”  You can let us know what size of space you are imagining – and details like whether you want it to have a cathedral section or a second floor. It can take time to find an antique barn frame that matches your ideas, so even if you haven’t quite purchased land yet, it’s not too early to start looking for a frame. We can help you find a vintage barn frame to suit your needs – and that’s a great place to start!

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