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"Post and beam houses are efficient, super-strong and uniquely attractive"

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Dear Jim: We want to build our dream house. We want a strong one to resist tornadoes, storms ... other disasters. We thought of the post and beam houses in Europe which are centuries old. Can we build a new house this way? - Ron C.

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A: Thousands of new post and beam houses are built every year in the United States and they are becoming more popular, partly because of the reason you mentioned. They are also extremely energy efficient and have unique interiors with beautiful exposed wood beams, high ceilings, etc.

Manufacturers of post and beam frames for your specific house plans are located across the country from Maine to the Carolinas to Texas to Washington. They often will send one of their construction advisors to your building site. One company's actual motto is, "Have chisel, will travel".

Post and beam houses use very heavy wooden vertical posts and horizontal beams to form the basic structure of the house. These support the walls, floors, ceilings, and roof. The frame members are often made of white pine or Douglas fir for strength. Laminated glulams (engineered lumber) can be used for long open horizontal spans common in passive solar houses.

People often get timber-framed homes confused with post and beam homes. Timber-framed homes are an expensive, but beautiful, subset of post and beam homes. With timber framing, all of the joints are hand-fit and ornate. Standard post and beam homes use much simpler, yet equally strong, joints.

A typical post and beam house often uses 6x6-inch vertical posts and 6x8-inch horizontal support beams. The floor joists and cathedral ceiling rafters are also made from 6x8-inch lumber. All the framing member are delivered prenotched and color-coded. When one of these houses is completed, your children can jump rope indoors and you won't hear any dishes rattle.

You have several wall construction options because all the weight of the house is supported by the posts, not the walls as in a standard stick-built home. One efficient method uses premade 2x6 wall panels filled with fiberglass insulation. The exterior of the panels (up to 12-feet long for fewer air leaks) uses plywood sheathing with foam insulation bonded to it.

Another wall finishing method uses foam core panels. These are less expensive than SIPS (structural insulated panels) because they need not be as strong with the post and beam frame for support. These are available in extremely high insulation levels and are airtight and very quiet indoors.

For the simplest construction, smaller modular post and beam house kits are available. You can configure one in many floor plans and sizes and add on more modules at a later time. Everything to enclose the shell is included in the kit.

Instant Download Update Bulletin No. 774 - list of 16 post and beam house (and modular kit) manufacturers, six floor plan layouts and exterior diagrams and detailed house package specifications (posts, beams, exterior walls, insulation, house wrap, roof, windows) for the plans (sizes range from 1,700 sq. ft. to 3,200 sq. ft.), and a frame wood selector guide.

Dear Jim: I am confused. I am having a new efficient furnace installed, but they are installing one with a smaller heating capacity than the old one. I am worried it will not keep the house warm. What should I do? - Paul W.

A: You can get a quote from another heating contractor and compare the sizes recommended. Often, when you switch to a high efficiency furnace, a smaller capacity model is installed.

The heating capacity of a gas furnace is rated by how much gas it consumes, not how much heat it produces. Since a new one is more efficient, a smaller capacity model can produce as much heat as your larger old one.

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