American timber house master arrives to South Korea with the Building Code in his hand: SM Architecture

신태섭 기자l승인2021.04.22l수정2021.04.22 16:38






▲ SM Architecture / CEO Lee Sung-mu

(PowerKorea) Whether city or country, most people, or South Koreans, live and work in a building or a house made of concrete and steel. There has been a move that some people left city to a country to live in a timber house. And some more people made it as their holiday house where they release their urban stress in nature on weekend. It is natural people want to live in a house made with natural materials such as timber and clay as we are part of nature. The timber house market is booming in the US and the price of timber is in sharp rise, which means the demand for eco-friendly house is high.

Trees in North America are strong and durable due to the harsh weather. Long history of using these strong and durable timbers to build houses brought advance to timber housing technique and was resulted in American Building Code. All builders in America are strictly following this code to build rational and stable American style timber houses.

Lee Sung-mu, CEO of SM Architecture, has 15 years of experience in building timber houses in America. He is a holder of General Constructor license and ran Kevin’s Construction co. and Handyman Kevin Hoouse Clinic before back in South Korea in 2013 with the Building Code at hand to spread American style timber house.

American carpenters built a number of timber houses in Gyeonggi Province in early 1990 and it was the start of the American style. The style was passed down through Korean carpenters with some localization to meet the weather conditions. Regretfully, Lee points out, “the some localization” rather were about saving the cost and the shorter length of building and it was resulted in loss of identity. 

The Building Code in the US is strict. The inspector visits at least 7 times from groundbreaking to completion of a house to check every single element such as reinforcing rod, walls, electricity wires, and gas and sewage pipes that they were installed according to the code. Without the OK sign of the inspector, the building cannot make a progress to the next level. 

General constructor on site especially must have more than 15 years of experience in the field to supervise all building procedures. The constructor even checks the height of the threshold and outlet and interval and depth of the screw on the wall whether they are done according to the code. Thanks to its strictness and excellence, the American Building Code is used in New Zealand as well as some other advanced countries. 

American timber houses are excellent in seismic design, insulation, eco-friendly materials (95% of the whole materials used), durability and fire resistance. Lee again points out that South Korea seems to value more of length of the building and the cost saving in the name of “flexibility”; the flexibility that means “moderately” but not “strictly”. In fact, it is hard to see a public inspector at construction sites in South Korea. 

“Funny to say this but Korean nails are the best in the world and Americans use Korean nails; but back in Korea, I found Koreans use imported Chinese nails” says Lee, adding “It is also interesting to see that Korean builders tend to stick to the way they have done even if I asked them to follow “the manual”. Thankfully, some builders started to see the different results after completion and they acknowledge their habitual fault.”

If Korean and Japanese timber houses use 4 pillars in square to build up, American timber houses connect 5 surfaces on stud pillars up to the ceilings which makes recovery easy after twist from earthquake. Japanese experts proved at a test that the American style showed more than 30% stronger durability. 

SM Architecture is strictly following the Building Code and timbers, as well as most of the materials, are imported from North America. The inside walls, however, use red clay and diatomite earth as silk wallpaper and bond make toxic gas when in fire; also used is excellent Korean underfloor heating. Since launching of the business in South Korea in 2014, not a single complaint has been made; so the 5 year warranty of SM Architecture has never once been used yet.

It is notable that in America, the builder’s profile, works and number of stars given by clients are open to the public with the addresses and contact numbers of the 3 latest houses built. And SM Architecture CEO Lee puts his name on every timber house he builds like American builders.

“A true master carpenter is the one who takes care of every single detail from the groundbreaking to completion. And a true master carpenter is hard to see under contractor-subcontractor system in South Korea. As the captain of SM Architecture, I will make myself a role model and I will prove it from the house owners themselves who actually will live there.”

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