Frame Technologies’ MD, Simon Orrells, is the face of our timber frame company and the first person you will meet when starting your relationship with us. With more than 30 years’ experience in the self-build industry, he has seen and done it all, and is always up for a challenge.
Here, we’ve asked Simon Orrells a few questions about his career, his most memorable projects, and his advice for people thinking of building their own home.
How long have you worked in the timber industry?
Over 30 years.
How did you get into the industry?
I started working for a timber frame company in the factory in the 1990s. I soon realised that my favourite part of the process was being onsite, creating the builds and meeting the clients.
What made you focus on self-build?
Self-build is the most rewarding market. You get to build premium homes for clients who want to achieve low energy, lifetime homes and want to invest in the quality and value of the product. It’s especially great dealing with the people that are actually going to live in the house and working with them through the process to build their dream.
Plus, no two houses are the same. We’ve worked on some truly stunning homes, many of which have quirky details that come with all kinds of weird and wonderful challenges for us to work around.
What is your favourite part of a project?
Without a doubt, the best thing is delivering the project onsite and seeing the faces of our clients when their dream becomes a reality. It’s a fantastic feeling being part of the team that has made it happen, particularly when there have been challenges along the way that we have been able to resolve for them.
Tell us about some of your most memorable projects:
Building the ‘Hen House’ was a great project. It had everything against it in terms of offsite construction, but it was delivered on time – against all odds! The site was sloping, with very restricted access off a busy road, and little to no onsite storage, but it was still built in eight days. I was able to bring in my technical experience and site knowledge to assist. And for these types of project, it really is all about communication and planning – and having a can-do attitude!
Another fantastic one was building a Yoga retreat centre. It was a dodecahedron, fully vaulted building with 12 sides and no internal load bearing walls. The client arrived with some scribble sketches and asked if it was possible and could we develop the design. We managed to come up with a design and the project went into full design and engineering. There were definitely some challenges, but that’s what I love.
The project was delivered to site and erected – the floor went down as floor cassettes and the wall panels went in, then we used stainless steel tie rods to tie the building and generate the vaulted element, before fully sheathing the roof. It wasn’t a big build, but it was very interesting to work on and proves what we are about: ‘if it can be drawn, it can be built’.
What has been the most challenging project that you’ve worked on?
One of the most challenging projects was a three-bedroom detached house in Devon that was down an alleyway with only pedestrian access. We did two site visits and came up with a plan which had to be like a military precision in terms of timings.
Because of the limited access, we had to consider the size of the panels and components in the design. But, as we have full control of that part of the process, we can make them any size.
On the day of the deliveries, we arrived onsite early and put up road closures. The first delivery came in at 9.00am, and by 1.00pm all the ground floor panels were erected. The floor and roof trusses arrived on time at 2.00pm and were carried onto site by 4.00pm. By this point, all materials were on site and we were able to open the main road again – the locals were mesmerised! On day two, the floor was decked, and the first-floor panels were erected, and on day three, the roof was erected. The project was signed off with the client by 10am the next morning.
This project proved again that if you have the right plan in place, timber frame can be built anytime, any place and anywhere.
What do you think will be the next biggest trend in self builds?
I think there will be an even further drive to build heatless homes and zero carbon. Lots of people want to build their own home and play a part in the process. As this level of energy efficiency is achievable and self-builders can control the quality and specification of the building, we will only see interest in this increase.
More people are realising that it’s not only more energy efficient but also more cost efficient to build a sustainable home than to buy a house that is built to a cost and costs the earth to heat – literally and figuratively!
What’s the best piece of advice you could give someone thinking about building their own home?
Do your research and try to visit previous projects and the factory of the timber frame company that you are going to work with.
I also advise anyone thinking of building their own home to visit the National Self Build & Renovation Centre (NSBRC) in Swindon. It’s a fabulous centre of building technology.
Are there any self-build myths you’ve come across that you’d like to debunk?
‘Timber frame is expensive’
It’s not. This is especially not the case now that more people want a sustainable, energy efficient, quality controlled quick build. Timber frame will deliver all day long. Some old forms of construction, which are built onsite rather than in a factory-controlled environment, are falling by the way side and actually proving to be more expensive.
‘Timber frame is noisy’
Again, this is not true. If timber frame is built to the specification and design, it performs better for noise than most other forms of construction.
‘I want to build a traditional looking house so cannot use timber frame’
Wrong! You can clad a timber frame in any form of cladding, so you can make it look modern or very traditional with stone or brick cladding.
‘You cannot extend an existing old property using timber frame’
Yes, you can – and because it’s quick to build, it has limited disruption.