Getting The Right Type Of Home – Tip 8
Some builders will tell you that to survive the Queensland climate you need a solid house built from a tough material like concrete. There’s no doubt concrete is sturdy, and good block construction will stand up to cyclone winds. But does that mean traditional methods are less sturdy?
It does seem like this would be true. We all have some experience of breaking sticks, and structural timbers are basically big sticks. Won’t they break more easily than a wall built of concrete blocks mortared together? In fact no, they won’t. The thing about wood is that it’s a naturally resilient material. It will break eventually, but it will bend first.
Wood can soak up a lot of the energy of a wind by flexing slightly, which is something concrete won’t do. A block wall is rigid. It can take a lot of abuse, but eventually it will fail suddenly. If concrete does get stressed to its breaking point you’ll usually get massive damage, and the house will need serious rebuilding work at the minimum. Often it has to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Timber’s natural resilience means that even if something does fail the damage can usually be repaired quite easily.
Anyone that’s seen the effects of a cyclone will know that roofs are the weak point in any home. If you look at the shape of a roof and imagine a strong wind blowing over that, you can see it’s going to act a bit like an aeroplane’s wing. The wind over the roof causes a low pressure zone, and that creates a lifting force that can pull the roof right off.
With a timber frame house the roof is an integral part of the structure, not just a light framework sitting on top of the walls. Steel tie rods running right down through the walls to the foundations hold it securely in place. The result is a home that’s at least as cyclone-proof as one built from brick or blocks.
Wood is also a great material if there’s any chance of earthquakes. If you’re ever in San Francisco, look at the houses there: Almost all of them are timber frame. Until a few years ago that was the law – for houses it still is – and the reason is that wood can survive earthquakes much better than brick or concrete construction. A timber frame will flex and ride out the movement; rigid walls will crack, buckle and collapse.
Queensland isn’t sitting on a dangerous fault like San Francisco is, but we do get earthquakes here. While I was writing the first chapter of this book a magnitude 5.8 tremor hit the coast, and some buildings in Cairns and Townsville had to be evacuated. Luckily there was no serious damage, but I’m willing to bet there are a few people in concrete homes looking at new cracks in their walls and wondering how that happened.
So far we’ve just been talking about the weather’s effects on the house – but what about its effects on you? You have to live in it, after all. My experience is that you can live comfortably in either style of house, but it’s a lot easier and less expensive in a timber frame one.
A problem with concrete is that it absorbs a lot of heat from the sun, and that heat then travels right through the walls and gets radiated into the interior. On a hot summer day in Queensland, it can get pretty warm inside, because concrete walls are basically a sun trap. You can reduce the effect a bit by painting the walls a light colour that reflects some of the energy, but that’s only a partial solution.
The problem is, concrete walls are solid structures that can soak up huge amounts of heat, and that heat then naturally spreads itself through the whole depth of the wall. That leaves the inner surface of the walls warmer than the air inside your house, so heat radiates off them and the temperature in your living room rises. The only way to get it back down again is to switch on the air conditioning.
A timber house is completely different. Wood is a natural insulator, and on top of that the walls aren’t solid; they’re frames, with cladding on the inside and outside and plenty of empty space in between. That gives a good builder a lot of flexibility in how they insulate the home.
Traditional Queenslanders and other timber-frame homes have a lot of advantages over heavier construction methods. They’re better insulated, more pleasant to live in, more economical and better for the planet. I’m biased because I love the style of them anyway, but I really do think they’re the best kind of house for the Queensland climate. To read the full article, request a FREE copy of the breakthrough new book ‘How To Choose A Home Builder You Can Trust’
To Your Success,