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5 Places to Spend, Not Scrimp, When Building a Post & Beam Home

When building a home it is important to have two things in mind: a budget and a detailed plan, while understanding you’re likely to amend both as you go through the build process. It is easy to go over budget when building a home or home addition. That’s why I wrote an earlier post called, “Building A Post and Beam: 5 Tips to Keep Costs Down“.

However…as important as it is to save when building a post and beam, there are five things I spent (not scrimped) on when building my post and beam carriage house, and I’m here to tell you it was the right decision.  Sometimes it really is better to spend, not scrimp.  Here are the things I am sooooo happy I didn’t downgrade in order to shave some money off my total construction costs:

1. WINDOWS!!! Sorry for the caps lock and exclamation points, but I really can’t emphasize how important my Anderson 400 windows are to the overall look, comfort and energy efficiency of my home.

Most post and beam homes, especially those done in the barn-home style, have at least one room (usually a great room or a master bedroom) with a cathedral ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows.  Windows, as most of you already know, can be far less insulatory than walls.   Imagine a time you’ve felt cold sitting by a window.  Now image living in a house that has a wall made of cheap windows with a low R-value.  I’m shivering at the thought (literally).  The windows in my home are the Anderson 400 series; well insulated, well constructed, and well worth the money.  By downgrading to smaller windows, I may have saved about $3,000 (for my whole carriage house) but the comfort and energy efficiency of my home would have decreased (as my heating bill increased).

Floor-to-ceiling windows in a post and beam home

Is that snow outside? Good thing those are high-quality, well-insulated windows.

2.  Doors and door hardware.  Most timber frame homes are made with a high quality kiln-dried Douglas fir, giving the home a solid look and feel.  The doors shouldn’t sound hollow and the door hardware  (the parts of the home that you touch and move fairly often)  should feel like something substantial and solid when you grasp the knob.  You know the type of door…the “wood” appearance is a little too plastic and the hardware doesn’t look or feel weighty.  Since timber frame is all about quality construction, cheap doors and knobs stick out like a sore thumb.

Douglas fir interior doors

The home owners wisely opted to forgo southern yellow pine interior doors. Instead, they choose Douglas fir interior doors that more closely matched the Douglas fir timbers of their post and beam home.

3.  Insulation.  Boredom alert!  Just kidding.  I like the pretty aspects of home design – paint colors and fabrics and furnishings.  I’m the type of person who zones out immediately when someone starts talking about insulation, so I’ll make this short.  Insulation is important.  Very important.  I have foil-backed polyisocyanurate insulation in my True Wall (R-28.4) and True Roof panels (R-34.7) and my heating and cooling bills are almost nothing.  I never feel a draft.  And if I’d downgraded to a less expensive insulation, I would have only shaved $1,500 off my total construction costs. Enough said, but I’m sure you get the point!

Polyisocyanurate insulation

Polyisocyanurate insulation, shown here on the factory cutting board, is the highest quality insulation available on the market. It’s found in the True Wall and True Roof panels of my Yankee Barn carriage house.

4. The Heating System.  Seriously consider a forced hot water or radiant hot water heating system in your post and beam home.  Even though forced hot air can be less expensive, hot water is the better choice;  here’s why.

Post and beam or timber frame homes have a lot of wood on the interior.  Even though most post and beams are made from a high quality soft wood such as kiln Douglas fir, the beams will still be sensitive to changes in heat and humidity  in the air.  Wood, even kiln-dried wood, is like a sponge and it will absorb the moisture in the air.  When the air dries, the wood will also dry out, making a “popping” sound as it contracts.  Forced hot air heating systems circulate very dry, hot air.  Some home owners who have forced hot air heating systems reported the popping noise as so loud that they thought gunshots were being fired in the house!  This not only scares the heck out of you when you’re sleeping, but also results in “checking” (cracking) in the beams.

Cracked timbers

These beams show slight “checking” (i.e. cracking), which is typical and not too much of a structural or aesthetic problem. The photo below, however…

Badly cracked beams in a timber frame

These beams are badly, BADLY cracked. This is not typical, and obviously was the cause of something more severe than an overly arid forced hot air heating system.

5.  Fixtures and faucets.  The reasoning behind spending, not scrimping, on fixtures and faucets is similar to the reasoning for #2 (doors & door hardware).  Timber frame homes cost more per square foot to construct than stick built homes, but people like the sturdiness, quality and longevity that epitomizes post and beams.  Every fixture in the house that you touch/manhandle/twist/turn/swing/flip/switch should feel just as sturdy as the beams that hold your house up.

The kitchen in an Adirondak post and beam home

This Adirondack post and beam home’s kitchen has high quality faucets that complement the rugged sturdiness of the heavy timbers.

If you have three bathrooms and spend an extra $300 on your sink and tub faucets in each, that’s only an extra $1,800 to your overall construction costs.  Upgrading your kitchen fixtures and key lighting fixtures to higher quality materials can be done for less than $2,000.

Should the day come when you sell the house, potential buyers questioning the quality (and therefore price) of your home because they’ve been influenced by flimsy faucets, toilet handles or light switches would not be  a good thing.  Spend the money up front.  Take it from one who knows; you’ll be glad you did!

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. Liked your comment on the humidity factor for the “cracking” in the posts and beams. If one were to install a forced air heat/cool system, would it therefore make sense to spend the little extra and attach a humidifier to the HVAC system? Would that tend to not dry out the home?

    Also, when insulating the steep roof area, is that Polyisocyanurate insulation,which appears to be about 3″ thick,be enough to allow for the appropriate amount of insulation? I always heard that you want between R-30 to R-49 in the roof area.

    Thanks,

    Geoff

    1. Hi Geoff, I went right to the source, Andrew Button, President of YBH, for the answers to your questions. Here’s what he said: #1 – Yes, it definitely makes sense to spend the money for a humidifier, it also makes the dry winter season much more tolerable. #2 – Our lowest roof R-value is 44 with 7 inches of Polyiso, and options of 9” & 11” creating R-values of 55 and 66.
      Hope this helps. Thank you for contacting us! BeamBabe

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