In the design of timber structures, the mechanical resistance in fire conditions has to be ensured among others. In the European standards, Eurocodes, the reduced cross-section method is given to determine mechanical resistance of timber structural elements in fire conditions. The reduced cross-section method is based on an effective cross-section that is determined by two key parameters, namely the charring depth and the thickness of zero-strength layer where the latter accounts for the reductions of the stiffness and the strength of timber due to elevated temperatures. Although, the thickness of zero-strength layer of 7 mm is only prescribed for the ISO 834 standard fire exposure longer than 20 min in the Eurocodes, the same value is often used for non-standard fire exposures as well, which might not always be correct. Thus, in the present paper the thickness of zero-strength layer is investigated for a timber beam exposed to 44 different parametric fires by means of advanced numerical models and a simple design method. A hygro-thermal model and a mechanical model are applied to determine the temperature field over a timber beam cross-section and the mechanical resistance of the beam during fire exposure, respectively. The simple design method is based on the reduced cross-section method. The obtained results show that the thickness of zero-strength layer varies between 8.4 mm and 30.5 mm, which are substantially higher values than the value of 7 mm suggested in the Eurocodes for the standard fire exposure. The results also indicate that the thickness of zero-strength layer is not a constant value and should be written as a function of the parameters defining a parametric fire curve. Alternatively, the effective cross-section could be simply determined by finding the combined thickness of zero-strength layer and charring depth at temperature of about 90 °C.