By LeRae Haynes —
Zirnhelt Timber Frames designs, engineers, and builds sustainable hand-crafted timber frame homes, cottages, and commercial buildings, achieving balance between natural products and energy efficiency. The company’s staff builds complete homes from foundations through to finished cabinetry, or supply custom timber work and lock-up packages.
Zirnhelt Timber Frames is newly located at 150 Mile House next to Chemo RV and is owned by brothers Damon and Sam Zirnhelt, who grew up in Beaver Valley. The business was launched when Damon and Sam bought a portable sawmill to pay for their university degrees 21 years ago.
“We really like our new location,” says Sam Zirnhelt. “One of the greatest improvements is that it’s made life significantly easier for our employees and exceptionally convenient for our customers.”
“There is a sense of ‘home’ here for us,” he says. “My grandfather built Marshall’s store, and there is a pond out back where he lost his 22 rifle. My dad was born and raised right across the road and when we look over at the hayfield we see a timber hay stacker built by my great-grandfather.”
To date, Zirnhelt has built over 100 timber frame structures, the majority being custom homes. The brothers do everything from foundations to finished cabinets and tile work and have built in Alberta and throughout BC, the Gulf Islands, and in the Yukon. They also built a home in New Zealand, which resulted in a New Zealand carpenter moving to Williams Lake to join their team.
“Besides urban projects, we do a lot of remote building, including replacing the shelters and cabins on the Bowron Lakes canoe circuit and the new airport terminal at Anahim Lake, in partnership with the Cariboo Regional District,” says Sam Zirnhelt. “The terminal incorporates as many locally-made wood products as we could use. The insulated foundation forms are made in Canada with Woodcrete, which is very durable and has been used in Europe for many years. We’d love to introduce it here. We used every local species of tree for the panelling, the floors, and the cabinetry. The building looks like an old Hudson’s Bay fort, but it’s very energy-efficient. It has 15-inch thick walls that incorporate cross-laminated timber panels, cellulose and wood fibre insulation, and solid timber siding. They basically heat it with two baseboard heaters,” he said.
Environmentally sound construction is important at Zirnhelt Timber, according to Sam, who said he main object of green building is reducing energy consumption while maintaining exceptional durability and a healthy indoor environment. “The wall and roof systems in the past few years have become much more complex,” he says. “We’re using multiple layers in the walls that act as moisture retarders, thermal breaks and air barriers; conventional poly vapour barrier is no longer required. Many of our wall designs are consistent with the passiv haus standards, leading to very low energy use for heating and cooling,” he explains.
“’Natural’ and ‘green’ are not necessarily the same thing,” he adds. “What we’re trying to do is find the best combination of natural building products while still achieving a high level of energy efficiency and durability.”
He says they’re flexible with customers, balancing cost with energy efficiency. “We look at their location, environmental considerations, their budget, local energy costs, and what they’re going to use the building for. We find what’s optimal for them.”
People’s expectations about what goes into a building have gone up a lot in the past 10 years, and so has the response from building manufacturers, he adds. “We’ve also seen a steady movement toward more natural building products.
“One of the biggest challenges we have in sustainability is the availability of cost-effective materials. I would really like to see a significant increase in products manufactured here that now come from Europe, such as thermally-efficient windows and wood fibre insulation,” he says.
Zirnhelt Timber does a lot of building in the north and in the interior—they understand it. “Which way the snow comes off the roof matters,” Sam explains, adding that they do a ‘sunlight analysis’ so the building is oriented in the right direction and windows with the appropriate glazing and shading are in the ideal location to take advantage of the sun’s location in each season.
“We want every construction project to end with a great relationship between us and the client,” he says. “The size of our company gives us the opportunity to get to know each client and follow through from the beginning.”
For more information about Zirnhelt Timber Frames visit www.ZTFrames.com, email info@ZTFrames.com, or give the company a call at (250) 296-3499.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, songwriter, co-producer of “Pursicles,” and the community co-ordinator for Success by 6. She is also the instigator of a lot of musical shenanigans in Williams Lake including “Borderband” with kids and is a member of the “Perfect Match” dance band.