They certainly give that wow factor, but let’s explore the full facts about oak framed houses to put you fully in the picture.
We examine the build options and look at why oak frames are so desirable, before investigating their pros and cons, their costs, and the source of oak used in the UK building industry.
We then feature examples of some beautiful oak framed buildings from leading specialist firms.
Build options and desirability
Building with an oak frame and featuring exposed beams gives a house immediate character, and the style works well with traditional or modern houses. A living, breathing building material, oak’s aesthetic qualities add warmth and ambiance to a home.
Being a strong, durable material means that an oak framed house can offer design flexibility. It’s ideal for creating large, glazed spaces and is a popular choice for many self-builders. Oak can create an eco-home with the correct insulation system to achieve the required airtightness levels. Newly cut timber is used to build the frames as it’s flexible.
Oak frames shrink as they dry out, which is known as the seasoning process. While it takes many years, most shrinkage happens in the first two years when the timber develops cracks and settles. The jointing and pegging will minimise this and the structure becomes stronger as a result. An oak frame could last for over 200 years – typically, if a house is oak clad externally it will last 2-3 times longer than treated softwood.
Oak framed building techniques
The oak frame can be exposed internally and externally if desired. The main internal walls, floor joists, roof members, and trusses can be exposed, with insulated render panels placed between the timbers. Alternatively, an oak frame can be hidden within the structure.
Oak frame suppliers may use machine cutting or a traditional handmade method. While computer cutting is more accurate and allows for complex designs to be created, it gives the wood a slightly different appearance. Oak is, of course, a traditional UK building material, and houses with timber frames have been built here for centuries, with many houses constructed with timber from dismantled ships.
Advantages of oak framed houses
- Resistant to insects and fungal invasion
- Almost maintenance fee
- Sustainable providing that it’s correctly sourced
- A wood that ages well
- Great for large open spaces – interesting structural design is possible due to the strength of oak, as a frame can support the whole house, so there is no need for internal load-bearing walls.
- Fast to build in pre-constructed kit form, as the frame can be constructed offsite which reduces the effects of bad weather delaying the build, unlike a brick-and-mortar building.
Disadvantages of oak framed houses
- They can be challenging to light internally
- It may be necessary to design around beams
Is oak frame expensive?
Buying oak can be a costly exercise. It can cost in the region of £1,696-£2,120 per m2, but it can be £1,000 per m2 according to Homebuilding.co.uk’s oak frame guide which says that the frame’s build cost can be between 18-33% of the total build cost.
How long do oak framed buildings last?
Oak is an extremely durable wood, and an oak frame house could last for over 200 years. The oak frame building technique is centuries old and there are many examples of houses built in this way still standing and showing no signs of falling down!
Sources of oak
Most oak used in the UK for building with comes from sustainable forests in Germany or France, where replanting schemes are carried out. Trees are harvested at around 80 years old. English oak is more expensive and because it doesn’t tend to grow as tall and straight, is better for making furniture than building houses.
This is newly felled timber with a high moisture content which makes it easier to work with. After around five years it becomes too hard to machine – the skill of the craftsman is in knowing how it will shrink and create the joints, so they get tighter as the timber hardens.
To achieve this, the pegs fixing the joints are tapered and the holes between the timber are often offset, allowing the shrinkage to bring them together so that the joints become tight. Glazing and joinery also take into account the shrinkage process.
Here are some fantastic designs from five oak frame specialists to inspire you.
Hereford-based firm Oakwrights offer a bespoke complete design service and create village houses, barns, and other oak homes in a contemporary or country style. They provide concept design, and pre-planning advice and will help obtain planning permission.
This is an eco-friendly firm that uses oak, sustainably sourced in France and Germany from managed forests, making it low impact, carbon neutral, renewable, sustainable, and energy efficient.
Border Oak is a family-run business that in 1980 revived traditional green oak framing which had gone out of fashion over the last 200 years. They design traditional and contemporary oak framed houses and invented the high-performance Oak Frame Infill Panel, which makes an exposed oak frame waterproof and thermal while allowing natural movement.
Border Oak has been creating sustainable designs for over 40 years and specialises in the self-build sector. Their constructions are highly insulated, passive solar orientated, and use natural materials and low embodied energy processes.
Border Oak uses ethically procured timber and all its designs are bespoke, created by an in-house architectural team. They offer a complete design service and all their frames are made by hand.
Oakmasters have built oak framed buildings for over 30 years, from contemporary to traditional styles. Oakmasters use cutting-edge technology along with traditional methods and have excellent environmental credentials. They focus on oak frame kit manufacture only and use green oak from certified sawmills.
Welsh Oak Frame has over 20 years of experience in designing and building bespoke oak framed buildings UK-wide. Their in-house design team can create a unique design based on your brief or adapt their earlier designs to suit. Welsh Oak Frame creates complete houses, extensions, garden rooms, orangeries, and holiday homes which can be built from 100% oak or a hybrid of softwood and oak.
The Welsh Oak Frame team will visit your site to understand the plot as part of the design process, looking at the landscape and any planning constraints. The company can progress your oak framed house anywhere up to the dry shell stage, then hand it to you and your builder to finish.
Westwind Oak designs and builds traditional and contemporary oak framed buildings, including houses, extensions, outbuildings, and commercial buildings. Westwind Oak uses traditional carpentry techniques alongside modern design and finishing principles, using timber from sustainable sources.
They can design to help lower your home’s carbon footprint and supply structurally insulated panel systems (SIPS) to clad and insulate. They build across the UK and Europe.
Hopefully, these stunning designs have provided you with ideas about just what can be created from an oak frame structure.
If you have built – or now live in – an oak-framed house, perhaps you would like to share your thoughts and experience to help our readers.
If so, please write in the box below.