Timber Framing - Disadvantages - Traditional or Historic Structures

Traditional or Historic Structures

In terms of the traditional half-timber or fachwerkhaus there are maybe more disadvantages than advantages today. Such houses are notoriously expensive to maintain let alone renovate and restore, most commonly owing to local regulations that do not allow divergence from the original, modification or incorporation of modern materials. Additionally, in such nations as Germany, where energy efficiency is highly regulated, the renovated building may be required to meet modern energy efficiencies, if it is to be used as a residential or commercial structure (museums and significant historic buildings have no semi-permanent habitade exempt). Many framework houses of significance are treated merely to preserve, rather than render inhabitable — most especially as the required heavy insecticidal fumigation is highly poisonous.

In some cases, it is more economical to build anew using authentic techniques and correct period materials than restore. One major problem with older structures is the phenomenon known as mechano-sorptive creep or slanting: where wood beams absorb moisture whilst under compression or tension strains and deform, shift position or both. This is a major structural issue as the house may deviate several degrees from perpendicular to its foundations (in the x-axis, y-axis and even z-axis) and thus be unsafe and unstable or so out of square it is extremely costly to remedy.

A summary of problems with Fachwerkhäuser or half-timbered houses includes the following, though many can be avoided by intelligent design and application of suitable paints and surface treatments and routine maintenance. Often, though when dealing with a structure of a century or more old, it is too late.

  • "slanting"- thermo-mechanical (weather-seasonally induced) and mechano-sorptive (moisture induced) creep of wood in tension and compression.
  • poor prevention of capillary movement of water within any exposed timber, leading to afore-described creep, or rot
  • eaves that are too narrow or non-existent (thus allowing total exposure to rain and snow)
  • too much exterior detailing that does not allow adequate rainwater run-off
  • timber ends, joints and corners poorly protected through coatings, shape or position
  • non-bevelled vertical beams (posts and clapboards) allow water absorption and retention through capillary action.
  • surface point or coatings allowed to deteriorate
  • traditional gypsum, or wattle and daub containing organic materials (animal hair, straw, manure) which then decompose.
  • in both porteaux en terre and porteaux du sole" insect, fungus or bacterial decomposition.
  • rot including dry rot.
  • infestation of xylophagous pest organisms such as (very common in Europe) the Anobiidae family particularly the common furniture beetle, termites, cockroaches, powderpost beetles, mice and rats (quite famously so in many children's stories).
  • Noise from footsteps in adjacent rooms above, below, and on the same floor in such buildings can be quite audible. This is often resolved with built-up floor systems involving clever sound-isolation and absorption techniques, and at the same time providing passage space for plumbing, wiring and even heating and cooling equipment.
  • Other fungi that are non-destructive to the wood, but are harmful to humans such as black mold. These fungi may also thrive on many "modern" building materials.
  • Wood burns more readily than some other materials, making timber-frame buildings somewhat more susceptible to fire damage, although this idea is not universally accepted: Since the cross-sectional dimensions of many structural members exceed 15 cm × 15 cm (6" × 6"), timber-frame structures benefit from the unique properties of large timbers, which char on the outside forming an insulated layer that protects the rest of the beam from burning.
  • prior flood or soil subsidence damage

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