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Stick-built construction vs pre-fabricated wall panels

Is it better to create an extension or build a new house using pre-fabricated wall panels or onsite construction (stick build)? Both have their place, but sometimes using panels isn’t possible.

Timber Frame Grage
Stick built frame

We have recently completed a timber frame extension, which is a perfect example of how the advantages of onsite construction far outweighed the advantages of panel construction. On arrival on site, we discovered the slab was totally out of level and not parallel. If we had turned up to panel build this extension it would have been impossible. However, we were able to construct this building by adjusting stud sizes to enable the roof line to be perfectly level and parallel with the existing building. Although sometimes, it is possible to pack panels to achieve the desired level height, in this case, it was too far out of tolerance.

Stick built frame

Advantages

There are a number of advantages for construction on-site as opposed to panel building.

  1. If your extension/build is in an area where you have limited space for storage or difficult access for deliveries, then panels are not for you as they take up a lot of room and as they are delivered by lorry need good access.
  2. If you’re cladding your extension/new build with finished brickwork, ideally you’d want to gauge your levels to have a full brick underneath any apertures, e.g. windows. As it is not known how much the soleplate will need to be packed to be level prior to starting on-site, this would throw the panels gauging completely out. This would then leave the brick layer with the added problem of trying to make good this finishing. You would not have this problem with stick building.
  3. If you decide you want to change an internal partition slightly once construction has begun you can do this with stick building, as long as it’s not a load-bearing wall. This isn’t possible with panels.
  4. As we’ve been building timber frame houses for over thirty years doing both stick building and panel building, we’ve found that there isn’t much difference in construction time between the two. Quite often we’ve found that panels are made out of square, which means we need to adjust the panels adding time and cost to the construction.
  5. a) In theory stick building should be cheaper as the timber frame manufacturer would need to cover the costs of his factory e.g. rent, utilities, staff, which would be reflected in the price of the kit.
    b) Quite often you would need multiple deliveries to site with panels, whereas with stick build it would be one delivery.
    c) With panels you would need some type of plant machinery to unload and construct the timber frame, especially if it’s two stories.

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