My Grandparents half-timbered home (Fachwerk) in Dettelbach was built in 1560. My uncle discovered it by chance when renovating it. Of course it has plumbing and electric for decades, it’s just the ceilings are really low and walls are crooked. The town has strict architectural guidelines. I am intrigued about the building process of those medieval half timbered homes. I did some research and I like to explain how the Fachwerk was built
My Grandparents Fachwerk
I was intrigued by Fachwerk growing up, and always wondered how they were built back in the Middle Ages
Fachwerk, building materials with History
Since the early Stone Age period, clay, wood and straw belonged to the basic building materials in Central Europe. The building constructions and the roof consisted of wood, and clay was used for the structure of the walls, straw for the roof covering.
The oldest half-timbered homes in Germany date from the 14th century. While there are only a few buildings from this period, many houses have survived from the 18th and 19th centuries, small homes to big mansions.
Since the 15th century half-timbered houses were often built with masonry ground floors, so to speak as a foundation and upper floors made of wood. This had a decisive advantage, the upper wooden structure was protected against rising dampness.
The Guts of Fachwerk House from around 1600’s in Veitshöchheim
In the countryside the framework was a prevailing method of construction even into the 19th century. In many cities, however, it was displaced over time by stone and concrete blocks, as they were considered more distinguished and less fire endangered
Wood – a Support Function
Almost every region developed its own framework, but the basic concept was the same everywhere. The process and connection of the wood with each other always took place according to the system of scaffolding construction.
For this purpose, the craftsmen first erected a three-dimensional latticework of vertical uprights, as well as horizontally and diagonally clamped timber, so-called bars and struts.
The half-timbered construction method was granted a long life. Even castles, like the Zollernschloss in Balingen (or Gießen and Coburg), were built this way in the 16th and 17th century
The compartments, were then stabilized with wickerwork of thin branches and plastered with a mixture of straw and clay. Instead of the wickerwork, logs (split wood) or planks (thick boards) could be clamped in the compartments and spread with clay. Also fillings of broken up bricks were installed by the craftsmen.
This would give the wall some stability, the wooden frame resting on the floor or a wall, in which all the posts were clamped. In this way, the medieval houses could now also grow in height. Each floor was based on its own threshold, so it was a self-contained unit. This meant that up to five stories could be stackedd and each stabilized.
Bacherach am Rhein: Altes Haus and Burg Stahleck below:
Clay, a “dirty” building material
Clay is a mixture f different coarse sedimentary rocks, silt and sand as well as water. The soil occurring minerals provide for the regionally different coloring, for example a high proportion of iron and copper causes a red-brown color of the clay. For an optimal binding power, the clay must not be too “fat”, ie: the clay content should not exceed ten percent. Otherwise walls and floors would break and endanger the stability of the house. For this reason, the clay was always mixed with straw or sand. At the same time, the weight of the building material was significantly reduced.
Clay was the preferred method to build the medieval house, this building material was easily available. With a few exceptions, almost every village had its own clay pit, mostly located directly under the humus layer. Clay could also easily be mined and processed. As a building material, it has been used very widely, for floors, ceilings, walls, as plaster, but also in the furnace construction and for the roofing.
Below Miltenberg am Main. The oldest Guesthouse “Zum Riesen” anno 1300 on the right
Clay was readily available in the Middle Ages
To build with clay, it was not always considered a particularly popular construction for the Patricians (noblemans). Because the raw material was cheap, easy to process and could be used by anyone, the earthy material had a bad reputation.
In order for clay not to be considered cheap, they often tried to conceal their use, for example by plasters and colored house paints, under which the half-timbered construction disappeared. In the process, cubes were often painted to simulate a stone construction.
Below Fachwerk in Rüdesheim am Rhein
Thanks to the high straw material, half-timbered homes have an excellent heat and impact sound insulation. Besides that, the homes have a reputation to prevent pest infestation on the truss framework.
Today we know that Clay is an optimal, and at the same time a very ecologically valuable building material. It is frost and fire resistant and contributes to the moisture regulation of the interior.