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Framing, in construction, is the fitting together of pieces to give a structure support and shape. Framing materials are usually wood, engineered wood, or structural steel. Building framing is divided into two broad categories, heavy-frame construction (heavy framing) if the vertical supports are few and heavy such as in timber framing, pole building framing, or steel framing or many and smaller called light-frame construction (light framing) including balloon, platform and light-steel framing. Light-frame construction using standardized dimensional lumber has become the dominant construction method in North America and Australia because of its economy. Use of minimal structural material allows builders to enclose a large area with minimal cost, while achieving a wide variety of architectural styles. Historically mankind fitted naturally shaped wooden poles together as framework and then began using joints to connect the timbers, a method today called traditional timber framing. Timber framing was superseded by balloon framing beginning in the 1830s in America which is made up of many lightweight wall members called studs rather than using fewer, heavier supports called posts, and was nailed together rather than using joinery. The studs in a balloon frame extend two stories from sill to plate. Platform framing superseded balloon framing and is the standard wooden framing method today. The name comes from each floor level being framed as a separate unit or platform.
Modern light-frame structures usually gain strength from rigid panels (plywood and other plywood-like composites such as oriented strand board (OSB) used to form all or part of wall sections) but until recently carpenters employed various forms of diagonal bracing to stabilize walls. Diagonal bracing remains a vital interior part of many roof systems, and in-wall wind braces are required by building codes in many municipalities or by individual state laws in the United States. Special framed shear walls are becoming more common to help buildings meet the requirements of earthquake engineering and wind engineering.
Wall framing in house construction includes the vertical and horizontal members of exterior walls and interior partitions, both of bearing walls and non-bearing walls. These stick members, referred to as studs, wall plates and lintels (headers), serve as a nailing base for all covering material and support the upper floor platforms, which provide the lateral strength along a wall. The platforms may be the boxed structure of a ceiling and roof, or the ceiling and floor joists of the story above. The technique is variously referred to colloquially in the building trades as stick and frame, stick and platform, or stick and box as the sticks (studs) give the structure its vertical support, and the box-shaped floor sections with joists contained within length-long post and lintels (more commonly called headers), support the weight of whatever is above, including the next wall up and the roof above the top story. The platform also provides the lateral support against wind and holds the stick walls true and square. Any lower platform supports the weight of the platforms and walls above the level of its component headers and joists.
There are three historically common methods of framing a house.
- Post and beam, which is now used predominantly in barn construction.
- Balloon framing using a technique suspending floors from the walls was common until the late 1940s, but since that time, platform framing has become the predominant form of house construction.
- Platform framing often forms wall sections horizontally on the sub-floor prior to erection, easing positioning of studs and increasing accuracy while cutting the necessary manpower. The top and bottom plates are end-nailed to each stud with two nails at least 3.25 in (83 mm) in length (16d or 16 penny nails). Studs are at least doubled (creating posts) at openings, the jack stud being cut to receive the lintels(headers) that are placed and end-nailed through the outer studs.
Wall sheathing, usually a plywood or other laminate, is usually applied to the framing prior to erection, thus eliminating the need to scaffold, and again increasing speed and cutting manpower needs and expenses. Some types of exterior sheathing, such as asphalt-impregnated fiberboard, plywood, oriented strand board and waferboard, will provide adequate bracing to resist lateral loads and keep the wall square. (Construction codes in most jurisdictions require a stiff plywood sheathing.) Others, such as rigid glass-fiber, asphalt-coated fiberboard, polystyrene or polyurethane board, will not. In this latter case, the wall should be reinforced with a diagonal wood or metal bracing inset into the studs. In jurisdictions subject to strong wind storms (hurricane countries, tornado alleys) local codes or state law will generally require both the diagonal wind braces and the stiff exterior sheathing regardless of the type and kind of outer weather resistant coverings.
A multiple-stud post made up of at least three studs, or the equivalent, is generally used at exterior corners and intersections to secure a good tie between adjoining walls and to provide nailing support for the interior finish and exterior sheathing. Corners and intersections, however, must be framed with at least two studs.
Nailing support for the edges of the ceiling is required at the junction of the wall and ceiling where partitions run parallel to the ceiling joists. This material is commonly referred to as 'dead wood' or backing.
Exterior wall studs
Wall framing in house construction includes the vertical and horizontal members of exterior walls and interior partitions. These members, referred to as studs, wall plates and lintels, serve as a nailing base for all covering material and support the upper floors, ceiling and roof.
Exterior wall studs are the vertical members to which the wall sheathing and cladding are attached. They are supported on a bottom plate or foundation sill and in turn support the top plate. Studs usually consist of 1.5 by 3.5 inches (38 mm × 89 mm) or 1.5 in × 5.5 in (38 mm × 140 mm) lumber and are commonly spaced at 16 in (410 mm) on center. This spacing may be changed to 12 or 24 in (300 or 610 mm) on center depending on the load and the limitations imposed by the type and thickness of the wall covering used. Wider 1.5 in × 5.5 in (38 mm × 140 mm) studs may be used to provide space for more insulation. Insulation beyond that which can be accommodated within a 3.5 in (89 mm) stud space can also be provided by other means, such as rigid or semi-rigid insulation or batts between 1.5 in × 1.5 in (38 mm × 38 mm) horizontal furring strips, or rigid or semi-rigid insulation sheathing to the outside of the studs. The studs are attached to horizontal top and bottom wall plates of 1.5 in (38 mm) lumber that are the same width as the studs.
Interior partitions supporting floor, ceiling or roof loads are called loadbearing walls; others are called non-loadbearing or simply partitions. Interior loadbearing walls are framed in the same way as exterior walls. Studs are usually 1.5 in × 3.5 in (38 mm × 89 mm) lumber spaced at 16 in (410 mm) on center. This spacing may be changed to 12 or 24 in (300 or 610 mm) depending on the loads supported and the type and thickness of the wall finish used.
Partitions can be built with 1.5 in × 2.5 in (38 mm × 64 mm) or 1.5 in × 3.5 in (38 mm × 89 mm) studs spaced at 16 or 24 in (410 or 610 mm) on center depending on the type and thickness of the wall finish used. Where a partition does not contain a swinging door, 1.5 in × 3.5 in (38 mm × 89 mm) studs at 16 in (410 mm) on center are sometimes used with the wide face of the stud parallel to the wall. This is usually done only for partitions enclosing clothes closets or cupboards to save space. Since there is no vertical load to be supported by partitions, single studs may be used at door openings. The top of the opening may be bridged with a single piece of 1.5 in (38 mm) lumber the same width as the studs. These members provide a nailing support for wall finish, door frames and trim.
Lintels (or, headers) are the horizontal members placed over window, door and other openings to carry loads to the adjoining studs. Lintels are usually constructed of two pieces of 2 in (nominal) (38 mm) lumber separated with spacers to the width of the studs and nailed together to form a single unit. The preferable spacer material is rigid insulation. The depth of a lintel is determined by the width of the opening and vertical loads supported.
The complete wall sections are then raised and put in place, temporary braces added and the bottom plates nailed through the subfloor to the floor framing members. The braces should have their larger dimension on the vertical and should permit adjustment of the vertical position of the wall.
Once the assembled sections are plumbed, they are nailed together at the corners and intersections. A strip of polyethylene is often placed between the interior walls and the exterior wall, and above the first top plate of interior walls before the second top plate is applied to attain continuity of the air barrier when polyethylene is serving this function.
A second top plate, with joints offset at least one stud space away from the joints in the plate beneath, is then added. This second top plate usually laps the first plate at the corners and partition intersections and, when nailed in place, provides an additional tie to the framed walls. Where the second top plate does not lap the plate immediately underneath at corner and partition intersections, these may be tied with 0.036 in (0.91 mm) galvanized steel plates at least 3 in (76 mm) wide and 6 in (150 mm) long, nailed with at least three 2.5 in (64 mm) nails to each wall.
Balloon framing is a method of wood construction – also known as "Chicago construction" in the 19th century – used primarily in areas rich in softwood forests: Scandinavia, Canada, the United States up until the mid-1950s, and around Thetford Forest in Norfolk, England. It uses long continuous framing members (studs) that run from the sill plate to the top plate, with intermediate floor structures let into and nailed to them. Here the heights of window sills, headers and next floor height would be marked out on the studs with a story pole. Once popular when long lumber was plentiful, balloon framing has been largely replaced by platform framing.
It is not certain who introduced balloon framing in the United States. However, the first building using balloon framing was possibly a warehouse constructed in 1832 in Chicago, Illinois, by George Washington Snow. Architectural critic Sigfried Giedion cited Chicago architect J. M. Van Osdel's 1880s attribution, as well as A. T. Andreas' 1885 History of Chicago, to credit Snow as 'inventor of the balloon frame method'. In 1833, Augustine Taylor (1796–1891) constructed St. Mary's Catholic Church in Chicago using the balloon framing method.
In the 1830s, Hoosier Solon Robinson published articles about a revolutionary new framing system, called "balloon framing" by later builders. Robinson's system called for standard 2x4 lumber, nailed together to form a sturdy, light skeleton. Builders were reluctant to adopt the new technology, however, by the 1880s, some form of 2x4 framing was standard.
Alternatively, a precursor to the balloon frame may have been used by the French in Missouri as much as thirty-one years earlier.
The name comes from a French Missouri type of construction, maison en boulin, boulin being a French term for a horizontal scaffolding support. Historians have also fabricated the following story: As Taylor was constructing his first such building, St. Mary's Church, in 1833, skilled carpenters looked on at the comparatively thin framing members, all held together with nails, and declared this method of construction to be no more substantial than a balloon. It would surely blow over in the next wind! Though the criticism proved baseless, the name stuck.
Although lumber was plentiful in 19th-century America, skilled labor was not. The advent of cheap machine-made nails, along with water-powered sawmills in the early 19th century made balloon framing highly attractive, because it did not require highly skilled carpenters, as did the dovetail joints, mortises and tenons required by post-and-beam construction. For the first time, any farmer could build his own buildings without a time-consuming learning curve.
It has been said that balloon framing populated the western United States and the western provinces of Canada. Without it, western boomtowns certainly could not have blossomed overnight. It is also a fair certainty that, by radically reducing construction costs, balloon framing improved the shelter options of poorer North Americans. For example, many 19th-century New England working neighborhoods consist of balloon-constructed three-story apartment buildings referred to as triple deckers.
The main difference between platform and balloon framing is at the floor lines. The balloon wall studs extend from the sill of the first story all the way to the top plate or end rafter of the second story. The platform-framed wall, on the other hand, is independent for each floor.
Balloon framing has several disadvantages as a construction method:
- The creation of a path for fire to readily travel from floor to floor. This is mitigated with the use of firestops, now called fireblocks, at each floor level.
- The lack of a working platform for work on upper floors. Whereas workers can readily reach the top of the walls being erected with platform framing, balloon construction requires scaffolding to reach the tops of the walls (which are often two or three stories above the working platform).
- The requirement for long framing members.
- In certain larger buildings, a noticeable down-slope of floors towards central walls, caused by the differential shrinkage of the wood-framing members at the perimeter versus central walls. Larger balloon-framed buildings will have central bearing walls which are actually platform framed and thus will have horizontal sill and top plates at each floor level, plus the intervening floor joists, at these central walls. Wood will shrink much more across its grain than along the grain. Therefore, the cumulative shrinkage in the center of such a building is considerably more than the shrinkage at the perimeter where there are many fewer horizontal members. This problem, unlike the first three, takes time to develop and become noticeable.
- Present-day balloon framing buildings often have higher heating costs, due to the lack of insulation separating a room from its exterior walls. However, this can be remedied through the addition of insulation, as with any other framed building.
In Canada and the United States, the most common method of light-frame construction for houses and small apartment buildings as well as other small commercial buildings is platform framing. In builder parlance, platform framing might also nowadays be called (only partly correctly) 'stick framing' or 'stick construction' as each element is built up stick by stick, which was also true in the other stick framing method, in the obsolete and labor-intensive, but previously fashionable, balloon framing method, wherein the outside walls were erected, headers hung, then floor joists were inserted into a box made of walls.
In contrast, in platform framing a floor box and joists making up the platform is built and placed on a supporting under structure (sill plates, headers, or beams) where it sits flat and gets fastened down against wind lifting with galvanized metal tie straps. Once the boxed floor platform is squared, leveled and fastened then subfloor, walls, ceilings, and roof are built onto and above that initial platform, which can be repeated floor by floor, 'without the slow downs and dangers of fastening and leveling rough-sawn joists of a new floor together to the walls from ladders extending one or even two stories up.
Generally, the flooring ('platform') is constructed then the walls built on top of that layer, then another atop that, and so forth making for quick efficient labor saving construction methodologies and those have quickened further as technologies such as joist hangers have been developed to speed and enhance the technology. The methods and techniques have become so common and pervasive that even Skyscrapers use a modified form of platform framing techniques and indeed the same tools and technologies once construction builds the initial structural skeleton. Once the platform floor is laid down, the builder's crew can with chalk line, rule and pencil directly transfer an outline of the exterior and interior walls, their openings and relative locations with ease and precision from the plans or builders blue prints.
As the survey group lays down the notations and chalk lines, a carpenter crew can follow behind and lay down 2x4 'bottom plates' and tack them to the floor box. The topmost wall plates are cut only to the outside dimensions of the walls. Butting two other two by fours against these cut to size and fastened bottom plate allows the crew to rule across all three with square and lay out studs, cripple studs, and openings for that particular wall. The two loose studs are then quickly flipped on edge after openings are cut in, and studs added on the marks with quick reliable end nailing through the respective top and bottom plates. A few minutes later the whole wall section can be levered up and aligned in place and braced for later application of the top plates and adjoining walls.
The method provides builders options and flexibility such as when and where there is a floor-level opening (doorway) the next wall section can be aligned and fastened in place separately with the top plate added then used then a lintel and cripple studding added, or the entire wall could have been cut and joined at the top all along and lifted up as one entity. In the end, the outside walls are plumbed and fastened together with 'ell-configured reinforced corners' that provide nailing wood in the interior angles and strength to the building forming in effect wide posts at each corner and fastened lastly by overlapped top plates which stagger their joints from the ones capping each plate by which the studs are end nailed together. Each wall from top to bottom ends up with a doubled plate, studs, and a doubled plate, where structurally the doubled plates spread the weight of the roof and loading across the studs of the wall, ultimately to the foundation.
Overall, the framed structure sits (most commonly) atop a concrete foundation on pressure treated wood 'sill', or 'beam'. When on concrete, the sill plate is anchored, usually with (embedded) 'J' bolts into the concrete substrate of the foundation wall. Generally these plates must be pressure treated to keep from rotting from condensing moisture. By various standards the bottom of the sill plate is located a minimum 6 inches (150 mm) above the finished grade (the surrounding ground) per standard builders practices, and frequently more dependent upon building codes of the relevant jurisdiction's local building codes. In North America, building codes may differ not only state to state, but town to town, the tighter specification applying at all times. This distance, together with roofing overhangs, and other system factors, is most often selected both to prevent the sill-plate from rotting (due to the invasion of splashed water) as well as providing a termite barrier. The latter is particularly (more or less) important than anti-rotting considerations depending upon the geographical location.
Alternatively, the room, room extension, deck or even a house can be built above concrete columns U.S. builders call piers some others call pilasters, another of many term misuses common to building trade parlance. In such cases, the pier (column) is usually required to rest on bed rock or extend well below the zone of average freezing soil depth (the same as a foundation) locally, and frequently is required to also have flared out or mushroomed bottom of greater surface than that the pier top (these are called 'big foots' in the building trade, and building suppliers carry PVC molds to conserve concrete which allow a builder to satisfy area requirements and the building codes). Rigid pressure treated 'beams' (usually doubled or tripled up wider types of 2x boards) are attached to the piers using galvanized metal brackets and serve the same function as sills in foundation supported framing.
The floors, walls and roof of a framed structure are created by assembling (using nails) consistently sized framing elements of dimensional lumber (e.g. 2×4s) at regular spacings (typically divisions of 4 and 8 feet, or such as 12, 16, 19.2, or 24 inches on center). The empty space formed between elements is called a stud bay in the wall and a joist bay in the floor or ceiling. The floors, walls and roof are typically made torsionally stable with the installation of a plywood or composite wood skin referred to as sheathing . Sheathing has very specific requirements (such as thickness and spacing of nailing). These measures allow a known amount of shear force to be resisted by the elements. Spacing the framing members properly usually allows them to align with the edges of standard sheathing. In the past, tongue and groove planks installed diagonally were used as sheathing. Occasionally, wooden or galvanized steel braces are used instead of sheathing. There are also engineered wood panels made for shear and bracing.
The floor, or the platform in this framing type's name, is made up of joists (usually 2x6, 2×8, 2×10 or 2×12 depending on the span, on edge, with larger joists supporting weight for a greater distance) that sit on supporting foundation walls, beams or girders within and at right angle to an outside members also on edge (the header, rim or band), forming a box. The joists will generally be installed across the shortest distance of the largest floor span rectangle. The 1 1/2" thick band allows through-nailing directly into the ends of the joists and 2" joist bearing on a 2x4 wall.
The floor joists are spaced at 12 in, 16 in, and 24 in on center, depending upon the live load needs of the design – the closer the spacing and the wider the floor joist dimension, the less the floor will flex. It is then usually covered with a 3/4-inch tongue-and-groove plywood subfloor. In the century past, 1x planks set at 45-degrees to the joists were used for the first subfloor layer, and a second layer of 1x planks set at 90-degrees to the floor cladding topped that as the second subfloor layer. In that same era, all flooring choices were a very short menu of choices between finished wood types or ceramic tiles versus today's extensive multipage menu of manufactured flooring types.
Where the design calls for a framed floor, the resulting platform is where the framer will construct and stand that floor's walls (interior and exterior load bearing walls and space-dividing, non-load bearing partitions). Additional framed floors and their walls may then be erected to a general maximum of four in wood framed construction. There will be no framed floor in the case of a single-level structure with a concrete floor known as a slab on grade.
Stairs between floors are framed by installing three 90°-stepped stringers attached to wall structures and then placing the horizontal treads and vertical risers (usually about 14 of each for an 8-ft. ceiling) upon the planes formed by the stringers.
A framed roof is an assembly of rafters and wall-ties supported by the top story's walls. Prefabricated and site-built trussed rafters are also used along with the more common stick framing method. Trusses are engineered to redistribute tension away from wall-tie members and the ceiling members. The roof members are covered with sheathing or strapping to form the roof deck for the finish roofing material.
Floor joists can be engineered lumber (trussed, I-joist, etc.), conserving resources with increased rigidity and value. They are semi-custom manufactured to allow access for runs of plumbing, HVAC, etc. and some 'common-needs' forms are pre-manufactured as semi-mass-produced standard products made on a per order basis, like roofing trusses. Such products have a post-order lead time from several weeks to several months.
Double framing is a style of framing used in some areas to reduce heat loss and air infiltration. Two walls are built around the perimeter of the building with a small gap in between. The inner wall carries the structural load of the building and is constructed as described above. The exterior wall is not load bearing and can be constructed using lighter materials. Insulation is installed in the entire space between the outside edge of the exterior wall and the inside edge of the interior wall. The size of the gap depends upon how much insulation is desired. The vapor barrier is installed on the outside of the inner wall, rather than between the studs and drywall of a standard framed structure. This increases its effectiveness as it is not perforated by electrical and plumbing connections.
Light-frame materials are most often wood or rectangular steel, tubes or C-channels. Wood pieces are typically connected with nail fastener nails or screws; steel pieces are connected with nuts and bolts. Preferred species for linear structural members are softwoods such as spruce, pine and fir. Light frame material dimensions range from 38 by 89 mm (1.5 by 3.5 in); i.e., a Dimensional number two-by-four to 5 cm by 30 cm (two-by-twelve inches) at the cross-section, and lengths ranging from 2.5 metres (8.2 ft) for walls to 7 metres (23 ft) or more for joists and rafters. Recently, architects have begun experimenting with pre-cut modular aluminum framing to reduce on-site construction costs.
Wall panels built of studs are interrupted by sections that provide rough openings for doors and windows. Openings are typically spanned by a header or lintel that bears the weight of structure above the opening. Headers are usually built to rest on trimmers, also called jacks. Areas around windows are defined by a sill beneath the window, and cripples, which are shorter studs that span the area from the bottom plate to the sill and sometimes from the top of the window to a header, or from a header to a top plate. Diagonal bracings made of wood or steel provide shear (horizontal strength) as do panels of sheeting nailed to studs, sills and headers.
Wall sections usually include a bottom plate which is secured to the structure of a floor, and one, or more often two top plates that tie walls together and provide a bearing for structures above the wall. Wood or steel floor frames usually include a rim joist around the perimeter of a system of floor joists, and often include bridging material near the center of a span to prevent lateral buckling of the spanning members. In two-story construction, openings are left in the floor system for a stairwell, in which stair risers and treads are most often attached to squared faces cut into sloping stair stringers.
Exterior finishes for walls and ceilings often include plywood or composite sheathing, brick or stone veneers, and various stucco finishes. Cavities between studs, usually placed 40–60 cm (16–24 in) apart, are usually filled with insulation materials, such as fiberglass batting, or cellulose filling sometimes made of recycled newsprint treated with boron additives for fire prevention and vermin control.
The part of a structural building that goes diagonally across a wall is called a T-bar. It stops the walls from collapsing in gusty winds.
Roofs are usually built to provide a sloping surface intended to shed rain or snow, with slopes ranging from 1 cm of rise per 15 cm (less than an inch per linear foot) of rafter run (horizontal span), to steep slopes of more than 2 cm per cm (two feet per foot) of rafter run. A light-frame structure built mostly inside sloping walls which also serve as a roof is called an A-frame.
Roofs are most often covered with shingles made of asphalt, fiberglass and small gravel coating, but a wide range of materials are used. Molten tar is often used to waterproof flatter roofs, but newer materials include rubber and synthetic materials. Steel panels are popular roof coverings in some areas, preferred for their durability. Slate or tile roofs offer more historic coverings for light-frame roofs.
Light-frame methods allow easy construction of unique roof designs; hip roofs, for example, slope toward walls on all sides and are joined at hip rafters that span from corners to a ridge. Valleys are formed when two sloping roof sections drain toward each other. Dormers are small areas in which vertical walls interrupt a roof line, and which are topped off by slopes at usually right angles to a main roof section. Gables are formed when a length-wise section of sloping roof ends to form a triangular wall section. Clerestories are formed by an interruption along the slope of a roof where a short vertical wall connects it to another roof section. Flat roofs, which usually include at least a nominal slope to shed water, are often surrounded by parapet walls with openings (called scuppers) to allow water to drain out. Sloping crickets are built into roofs to direct water away from areas of poor drainage, such as behind a chimney at the bottom of a sloping section.
Light-frame buildings are often erected on monolithic concrete-slab foundations that serve both as a floor and as a support for the structure. Other light-frame buildings are built over a crawlspace or a basement, with wood or steel joists used to span between foundation walls, usually constructed of poured concrete or concrete blocks.
Engineered components are commonly used to form floor, ceiling and roof structures in place of solid wood. I-joists (closed-web trusses) are often made from laminated woods, most often chipped poplar wood, in panels as thin as 1 cm (0.39 in), glued between horizontally laminated members of less than 4 cm by 4 cm (two-by-twos), to span distances of as much as 9 m (30 ft). Open web trussed joists and rafters are often formed of 4 cm by 9 cm (two-by-four) wood members to provide support for floors, roofing systems and ceiling finishes.
Platform framing was traditionally limited to four floors but some jurisdictions have modified their building codes to allow up to six floors with added fire protection.
- Light timber construction schools
- Log building
- Steel frame
- Tessellated roof
- Timber framing
- Termite shield
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