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Construct home like Europeans

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Dear Jim: I saw magnificent post-and-beam houses in Europe, many of them hundreds of years old. I plan to build a home and I was wondering if this construction method is still used? Is it energy efficient?v — Marita F.

Dear Marita: New post-and-beam house construction is very much alive and well in the United States. There is a growing number of post-and-beam manufacturers across the country, from ones that produce just the framing components, to others that offer 1,500- to over 4,000-square-foot complete home packages.

The reasons for the increased interest in this time-honored house construction method are many: high energy efficiency, open expansive floor plans, beautiful exposed ceiling beams, floor-to-wall windows, lofts, etc.

People often think of a post-and-beam home as being a big box with a barn-like appearance. To the contrary, a post-and-beam home looks like any other and can be as plain or as ornate and contemporary as your budget and tastes allow. With the strong framing, you actually have more design flexibility.

The high energy efficiency is a result of the thick wall and ceiling foam insulation, very little air leakage, stable (no settling) joints, and the open floor plans for passive solar. Without the need for interior supporting walls, your room layout and interior design is unconstrained. The basic post-and-beam design consists of massive vertical wood posts and horizontal beams to create the house framing. The exterior walls, which need not support any weight, are often made of thick foam insulation core panels. These can be finished with brick, siding, stucco, stone, etc.

Unlike old European craftsmen, today's manufacturers use computer-aided design and manufacturing processes to produce even better quality framing components. They are designed to fit together perfectly. Most manufacturers have many standard plans that can be modified to your needs with their computer.

Two of the most common framing woods used are white pine and Douglas fir for their high strength-to-weight ratio. They are milled smooth at the factory. Laminated fir beams are even stronger for long spans. For an unusual look, some frame builders select beams with twisted graining and exposed knots.

Although a post-and-beam house is not an inexpensive building method, there are post-and-beam modular kits available. The separate room, extension, deck, etc. modules are designed to be assembled by two inexperienced do-it-yourselfers. As your budget allows, you can add on more modules over time.

On the other end of the spectrum are post-and-beam house packages with hand-fit mahogany (plantation-grown) stairways, waffle doors, ornate joinery, etc.

Write for (instantly download — www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 716 — list of 16 post and beam house (and modular kit) manufacturers, 6 floor plan layouts and exterior diagrams and detailed house package specifications for the plans. Please include $3.00 and a business-size SASE. James Dulley, Deseret News, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244.

Dear Jim: I read a recent newspaper article stating that you can determine the proper furnace size needed with a do-it-yourself worksheet. How accurate are these worksheets, and do contractors use them? — Joan H.

Dear Joan: There is no accurate do-it-yourself furnace sizing chart, so do not waste your money. Only a contractor, after doing an inspection of your home, can accurately analyze the heating needs with a computer program.

The only rough estimate you can make yourself is to record the amount of time that your furnace runs at various outdoor temperatures. By comparing this to an on/off-time chart, you can roughly determine if it is oversized.