New article on Heartwood

A new article on Heartwood and a house we built 35 years ago. The first solar electric house in Berkshire County and a double envelope design. No one builds these designs anymore because the fire codes deemed them a hazard, but they were very energy efficient.

Here’s what happened to make double–envelope houses fall out of favor:

The basis of the design is a house within a house. There is an attached sunspace on the south side (a greenhouse or solarium) that has a slatted floor over a crawl space. Air heated by the sun travels up and into a plenum formed by a framed attic floor and a separate frame for the ceiling of the room underneath. These two frames are 12″ apart and span the entire width of the sunspace. There is also a double north wall, each frame again separated by 12″, that heated air drops down as it cools into the crawl space under the house. This space acts as a heat sink before the air returns through the slatted floor into the sunspace to be reheated. If it’s too sunny excess heat can be dumped from vents at the top of the sunspace. If it’s cloudy or at night the crawlspace starts to warm the air being cooled in the sunspace and the cycle reverses. So even in the coldest times the inner house only needs to be heated as if the outside air was the temperature of the crawl space, usually around 45-50 degrees. Also, the sunspace itself never drops below this temperature; the owners of this house have a fig tree in there that produces all year.

The double–envelope design first appeared in the Lake Tahoe area of California, and in the early 1980’s many were built because it worked so well thermally. However, fire officials and insurers worried that a fire starting in the envelope would become a raging inferno, and soon required that both interior walls of the plenum be covered by fire-rated materials like drywall, and that the plenum have automatic fire dampers. This made double–envelope houses much more expensive to build at a time when other super-insulation methods and materials were becoming popular.


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Straw Bale Panels for timber frames

Heartwood alumna Jane Strong is building her dream home – a timber frame, of course. But she has also pioneered the use of a new straw bale panel enclosure system from Canada.

Straw bale 1Straw bale 2Straw bale 3

Here are a some photos we took a few weeks ago at the installation

The company that makes the panels is Nature Built Wall Systems.

To read more about Jane’s adventure, see the article here from the Litchfield CT paper.

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Timber Grading course is full

Our Timber Grading course from April 7–9, 2014 is now full with 20 students. We will start a waiting list that will include notice of when the course will be offered again. Please fill out the Request Form on our website to get on this list, and include “Timber Grading waiting list” in the “Comments” box.

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Timber Grading course now open for registration

A Timber Grading course will be offered from April 7-9, 2014 at Heartwood, sponsored by the Timber Frame Engineering Council of the Timber Framers Guild. For details, see our website here.


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Two finished scribe projects from 2013

One the left (below) is the “Hobbit House” now at home pondside in Willamsburg MA, and on the right is the kiosk for the new Butterfly House at Project Native in Housatonic MA. Both projects were part of our 2013 Scribed Timber Framing course.

Hobbit House

Hobbit House

Project Native Butterfly House kiosk

Project Native Butterfly House kiosk


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Two tiny timber frames

Our framiPiemont-raisedng projects in recent years have been getting smaller, partly due to the “tiny house movement” and also to the fact that people may be coming to their senses after the building frenzy of the past few decades. When we plan our timber framing courses, we know how many joints we can layout and cut in a week based on the number of participants in the course. Since June’s course was full, and we had two small frames in the “pipeline”, we decided to tackle them both at once. Raising the first frame in mid-week gave everyone the chance to see how their work fitted and to understand how the joinery worked; the second project was completed even quicker.

The smaller frame (above) was a 9′ x 12′ cabin in the woods; the second frame (below) was a 10′ x 12′ addition to an existing house.


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Two chairs


Two completed chairs from our recent “Build Your Own Country Windsor Chair” course are shown here. On the left is Kirk Fox’s, and Heartwood apprentice Miwa Robbins built the one on the right.


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The History of Timber Framing


Jack Sobon discussing hewing axes

Jack Sobon discussing hewing axes

The History of Timber Framing: a 2-day course with Jack Sobon
Author, architect, timber framer and Guild founder Jack Sobon will again lead a two-day weekend workshop June 22 & 23 (Saturday & Sunday) exploring the history of our craft. This is the second year we have offered this course, that will include the evolution of traditional tools, how to identify the age of buildings by their architectural style and tool marks, and tours of historic buildings in our area.
This workshop satisfies core requirements for the Timber Framers Guild Apprenticeship curriculum. For more information and registration, please visit our website here.

Barn tour

Barn tour

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Course status April 29

Course status

Our June 24–26 Timber Framing course is now full, but we still have room in our August 19–23 class. We also have room in the following upcoming courses:
Intro to SketchUp for Timber Framers (May 30-June 1)
Concrete Countertops (June 1 & 2)
Advanced (3D) Concrete Countertops (June 7 & 8)

SletchUp model
Mike Beganyi’s SketchUp course is an intensive three days of learning to use this free, easy-to-use yet powerful 3-D drawing program. Mike has honed his presentation of this material over many years to suit all skill levels, whether you want to use the program for timber framing, furniture, cabinets or home design.

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A Sojourn to France

Heartwood Director Will Beemer (3rd from right, front row) is pictured with over 300 French compagnons timber framers at their recent meeting in Besançon. Will was invited along with two other Americans, Dennis Marcom from Bensonwood and Rick Collins from Trillium Dell Timberworks, to describe timber framing education and business in the USA. The French charpentiers have expressed an interest in expanding their exchange programs to America. This is an exciting opportunity for us since their tradition, going back to the Middle Ages, provides the most extensive training in traditional craft anywhere in the world.

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