Joiners' Quarterly

Changing Channels

Building for the New Millenium

Changes in our economic and resource supply are forcing us to redefine our concept of building in the coming millennium. Innovations in the building industry--even in the most conservative realms--are beginning to open up new opportunities which will allow us more latitude in our choice of materials and the way we build. Even the most strident conservatives will agree that something has to change if we, as a nation and a people, are to fulfill the need for practical and modest housing in the coming years.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize that we really are nearing the end of cheap subsidized lumber, and that it won't be too far in the future when a 2x4 will cost $10 or more. What does this mean? For one, it means that if we are to continue to use wood and timber to build homes, then we must use it a little more wisely--in places where it can be seen and appreciated.

Timber framing, which actually uses less material than a conventional frame, makes sense on a number of counts, however, two stand out: 1) it instills a sense of craftsmanship and pride within those who perform the work and who are involved in the process--owner and builder--something of significance which is too often lacking in our modern building environment; and 2) as a structural framework (which happens to be the dominant interior finish feature) it's able to accept a wide variety of non-structural, panelized or built-up enclosure systems. Many of the products that we currently use to enclose and insulate our buildings can be adapted to use more abundant fibers and natural materials; straw, clay, hemp, etc., without altering the basic physical characteristics or installation techniques. A timber frame provides a great amount of flexibility in what we choose to use and is ideally suited for panelized systems, which is the wave of the building products future.

A good percentage of people who are involved in building their homes are, unfortunately, not really involved, and they are hugely motivated by cost over quality. Their attentions are narrowly focused on the end product and not on the process. This needs to change if any real strides are to be made because it is the process which ultimately dictates the final cost, and more importantly, the ability to live comfortably in the finished product. By cultivating a building environment which includes the owner more intimately in the process, through hands-on input and informed decision making, it's possible to increase quality, build more responsibly, and actually reduce costs. What we hope to promote in JQ, and in our workshops and seminars, is the concept that being responsible need not be costly. In fact, the contrary is often the case, especially when considered over the long haul. Taking the time to learn about new products and technological advances in the building industry will allow you to make informed consumer decisions that may save you money and all of us the environment. In the last several issues of JQ we have published a number of articles and reports dealing with sustainable building issues, the use of natural materials to build healthy homes, and cost effective approaches to building. While our primary focus is developing and promoting the craftsmanship of traditional building, we are also committed to discovering new approaches, systems and strategies which make sense for these changing times.

Toward this end, we would like to hear from any of our readers who are experimenting with or developing alternative building systems using natural, and or sustainable materials and techniques. Let us know how they are working, sources for the raw materials, the successes--and failures--that you may have had. The more we know, the more useful information we can pass along.

Joiners' Quarterly
P.O. Box 249
Brownfield, ME 04010