For centuries, oak has been used to create beautiful, characterful buildings that last for centuries. Tim Crump, founder of Herefordshire-based Oakwrights, tells Giles Kime how his company has not just revived the art building in oak — it is also using it to create the world’s most energy-efficient homes.
Oak has been a sought-after ingredient in high quality buildings since the Middle ages. Why, in the 21st century, does it remain so popular in house construction?
Not only is English and European oak incredibly durable, it also has huge aesthetic appeal, both when it’s new and also as it ages over successive centuries. When used for domestic buildings, oak creates a feeling of comfort and warmth that is as attractive in medieval hall houses as it is in modern barns.
What are the environmental benefits?
While oak is growing, it absorbs CO2 that it retains for as long as the building stands – often for centuries. This makes oak one of the most environmentally friendly building materials available. Green oak harvested from a sustainable source is effectively carbon neutral. Each cubic meter used as an alternative to most other building materials saves 0.8 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere.
Can oak be used to construct buildings that are as energy efficient as modern materials?
Oakwrights not only has the most advanced oak framing workshops in the UK but also a state of the art production facility for the manufacture of super thermal breathing wall and roof panel systems. We strive to manufacture all elements within a controlled environment in our workshops that increase quality and save both time and money on site.
Oakwrights recently built the first PassivHaus in the UK. What‘s the significance of this?
A passive house requires 90% less fuel for heating compared to an average four bedroomed house. PassivHaus Certification is the highest level of thermally efficient house you can build and certification is complex and challenging to attain. Needless to say, Oakwrights is incredibly proud of this achievement.
The four bedroom house we built combines a post and beam oak frame that lends a distinctive character to the interior with the Oakwrights Natural and breathing Wall/Roof encapsulating system that gives a highly insulated, virtually airtight home which costs just £126 to heat for a year (it also faces the North Sea!). In rural Herefordshire, Oakwrights is currently building the second oak framed house to be officially Passivhaus certified.
How did your background as a craftsman give you an insight into the possibilities of oak?
As a young carpenter in Herefordshire I spent my time repairing historic oak frames, an experience that gave me a full understanding of how oak frames work and also the opportunities this wonderful material create. It demonstrated how it’s possible to design and build homes that will last for generations. When I moved from repairing oak framed buildings to designing and creating new green oak buildings, Oakwrights was born.
What type of oak do you use?
We use two types of oak; Pedunculate Oak (Quercus Robur) known as English oak and Sessil Oak (Quercus Petraea) both of which are native to the UK and Europe. Whenever possible, we use homegrown oak but most of what we use is from France where it is plantation-grown to provide the long straight timbers with very few knots that we require.
Does Oakwrights just create individual houses?
Historically, Oakwrights has focused on building bespoke one off houses on individual plots. However, we are now expanding into custom-built houses on multiple plots. Customers buy the plot and have the opportunity to create a bespoke home designed for family life, always keeping a close eye on the budget. This is a relatively new concept in the UK but is gaining popularity due to the opportunities it creates.
Other than constructing houses from scratch, what other structures does Oakwrights build?
We also apply our skills and experience to building oak framed garages and garden barns along with sun rooms, orangeries and additions to existing houses. An oak frame addition gives great character, adds value and creates a wonderful space in which family and friends can gather. Also increasingly popular are our two or three bay garages with living space above that can be used as accommodation, home office and studios, as well as useful extra storage space.
What is the process involved in designing and constructing an Oakwrights building? And how much client involvement is required?
Most of our customers will start the oak frame journey after seeing a picture of one of our houses in a magazine such as Country Life, or after visiting a friend’s home. We can offer building plots that we have on sale in different areas of the country or carry out an appraisal of the customer’s own plot or house that they want to replace. We have our own in house architectural team that can turn customers’ dreams into reality.
Once planning permission has been granted, an experienced oak frame designer with a huge depth and breadth of knowledge will produce the oak frame design. In our workshops we use a combination of cutting edge CNC machinery, along with good old fashioned carpentry skills to turn oak beams into a beautiful oak frame. We still use the carpentry marks that our forefathers used hundreds of years ago to mark each individual oak beam. It is these marks that tell the carpenter where each timber fits within the frame.
For you, what is the most enjoyable part of this process?
Without a doubt, it’s assembling the oak frame on site; there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing it rise from the foundations to create a full oak frame structure within a few days. As a carpenter, standing back to see a frame standing on a site within our beautiful countryside, knowing that it will be a home to families for generations, gaining more character for centuries, is a feeling that gives lasting satisfaction.
Oakwrights — www.oakwrights.co.uk, 01432 353353