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Post and beam houses attractive, energy efficient

Dear Jim: We are planning a new home. What do you think about post and beam houses? We like how they look, but we are concerned about energy efficiency. Are there different building methods for these houses? — Kerry L.

Dear Kerry: Post and beam construction is an excellent method to build a residential house. Most of the many-century-old homes and buildings in Europe used post and beam construction. Nearly all commercial and industrial buildings use post and beam construction, but with steel instead of heavy wood timbers.

With typical stud construction, the walls that enclose the house also provide the structural strength. With true post and beam construction, large timbers are used to support the structure and the walls are used just to enclose it and provide the insulation.

Some hybrid post and beam building methods use heavy posts integrated into stud-framed support walls. Others use a strong center post which supports beams that run out to the walls.

Post and beam construction is popular for homes throughout our country. There are many smaller companies that build them within only a relatively small radius of their headquarters. Others are national manufacturers with offices throughout the country. Don't ignore the smaller companies because the building quality depends upon workmanship more than the company size.

As you commented, post and beam houses are attractive. The exteriors do not generally look different from other homes, but the indoors are unique. Nearly all post and beam homes leave the heavy timbers exposed indoors. They also often include design features such as tall cathedral ceilings, lofts, large fireplaces, etc.

Post and beam houses are energy efficient because of their basic design. The exterior walls can be designed for high insulation levels instead of for load-bearing strength because the posts and beams support the house. The large size of the posts and beams also adds thermal mass to the house. This is particularly helpful with passive solar designs and in hot climates.

With the superior strength of the posts and beams, there is very little settling of these houses after they are constructed. This minimizes the amount of air leakage which may develop over time, particularly during the first several years. If your builder uses long foam core panels for the walls, there are fewer joints to open up even if the house does settle.

You can select among several typical types of wood for the structure. White pine is strong, lightweight and reasonably priced. Douglas fir is commonly used and has a rich reddish appearance. Oak is heavier and one of the most beautiful woods, but it is more expensive and tends to twist and check as it ages. This does not impact its strength and it adds to its beauty.

The following companies offer post and beam houses: Habitat Post & Beam, (800) 992-0121, www.postandbeam.com; Pan Abode Homes, (425) 255-8260, www.panabodehomes.com; Timberpeg, (800) 636-2424, www.timberpeg.com; Topsider, (800) 941-9801, www.topsider.com; and Yankee Barn Homes, (800) 258-9786, www.yankeebarnhomes.com.

Dear Jim: I have seen commercial air conditioners and chillers that operate on steam. Since they are powered by heat and not electricity, why can't solar heat be used during summer to cool homes? — Preston H.

Dear Preston: Any heat source can be used to power an absorption cycle air conditioner. It is not as efficient as a standard compressor system, but companies often have waste heat (steam) from boilers.

Many solar collectors would be required to produce enough hot water to operate a system to cool a home. The high initial cost would limit its economic feasibility for most homes where electric utility power is available.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Decatur Daily, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.

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