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solid vs box beams

If you plan to build a custom home in the future, there is a good chance you’ll be faced with the decision whether to incorporate solid beams or box beams (aka wrapped beams) into some feature spaces throughout your home. Below are a few points you’ll want to consider when making this decision.

Aesthetic

With solid beams, you can specify if you’d prefer a rustic, antiqued look or a clean-lined, more transitional aesthetic. One of the biggest advantages to using solid beams in spaces that call for very long beams is that you will never see a seam anywhere. With box beams, a timber/beam manufacturer or trim carpenter must piece together planks that only come in certain lengths, typically measuring up to 14' - 16'. A very skilled carpenter and painter can carefully mask the seam by matching the grain and staining, but if you look closely, the seam is usually still visible. The mitered edge seams, however, should be able to be completely hidden if you’re working with an experienced, high-quality manufacturer or carpenter.

Box beams generally lend themselves better to a clean-lined, more transitional design aesthetic. They are also the beam of choice when you’d like the finished beam to be painted instead of stained because you don’t have to match graining and can choose a more cost-effective wood species. If you want to achieve an antiqued, hand-hewn look, there is usually not cost-savings associated with choosing box beams over solid beams. In the case where you’re designing a building a custom home from scratch, people who want antique-looking beams usually opt for solid.

Application

Solid beams are often not an option in renovations or remodels because the existing structure was not engineered to support the extra weight of solid timbers. Box beams can be utilized in most renovations, as they are decorative only and never structural. Solid beams, however, can be decorative or structural. Douglas Fir is the species of solid timber that is most known for its structural strength. Sometimes box beams can be used to wrap structural components like a steel I-beam or Glulam, in which case box beams can be custom-milled to match solid beams. This is also useful when plumbing or electrical chases must be concealed inside a particular beam.

Especially in areas with a humid climate (like Houston, Texas), box beams should only be used for interior applications, while solid beams can be used indoors and outdoors. Moisture and temperature changes in Houston’s humid climate can cause expansion, cupping, and separation at the ends and edges of box beams.

Price

The most economical choice when it comes to interior decorative beams is to go with painted box beams. If you’d prefer stained, you can still save money by going with box beams built by a skilled trim carpenter, but be sure to consult with your custom builder to confirm they are very experienced at mitering edges and masking seams well. If you’re hoping for a rustic antiqued aesthetic, your best bet is to choose solid timbers even though it is among the most expensive beams option.

Box Beams: Example Photos

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Solid Beams: Example Photos

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The best thing to do when you’re considering solid beams vs. box beams for your custom home is to talk with your architect, interior designer, and custom builder. Your custom builder will be able to advise you on pricing and availability of solid timbers and wrapped beam planking as well as on the capability of their trim carpenters to achieve a solid beam “look” in a box beam application. As is often the case, your chosen custom builder should be a trusted resource, advisor, and advocate for you and your family along this journey.

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Marie Sims
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Marie Sims

As a veteran team member of Sims Luxury Builders, Marie enjoys sharing what she’s learned with the world. If you have any questions about building or renovating your own custom home, give her a call today!

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