Frame Construction

What Is Frame Construction? A Complete Guide

Frame construction is common all over the world. In the United States, for instance, most wooden homes are constructed using this type of building. Frame construction typically starts with building a sill that is attached to the foundation.

Frame construction is a building technique that involves creating a supportive framework of joists, studs, and rafters and attaching other construction materials to this framework. With a skilled crew, you can accomplish this building style quickly.  

Throughout this article, you will also learn the following about frame construction:

  • What frame construction entails
  • Framing Systems
  • Platform frame construction
  • Balloon frame construction
  • Post and Beam Construction
  • Benefits of timber frame construction  
  • Benefits of structural steel frame construction

What Frame Construction Entails

When getting started with frame construction, you have to build a sill connected to the foundation. The next step entails attaching vertical studs on the sill. The studs should be spaced at equal intervals to create a network that attaches to the rafters and joists that make up additional stories or the roof. Construction experts may use cross-bracing or other techniques to support the frame.

Frame construction is more like creating the skeleton of a house and then attaching the other construction materials. After completing the frame, the walls and other features follow. As the builders add walls and flooring, the structure becomes progressively more stable.

Most contractors accomplish frame construction with wood that requires careful cutting to ensure that they retain the frame’s integrity. If the wood is not cured properly, twisting and warping may occur, pulling the structure out of shape and alignment. In areas where timber is expensive, metal beams can be used in frame construction, which may help cut down on the timber costs.

Builders have to address certain issues with frame construction. The spaces between the walls and the joists can be conduits for fire, allowing the fire to spread quickly from floor to floor. Wooden frame construction is vulnerable to certain types of damage, including rot. The builders design the studs in a way that the structure will still stand if one fails. However, if several neighboring joists fail, the results can be catastrophic.

In frame construction, a framework or a skeleton and not the walls carry the building’s weight. An essential factor in frame construction is the frame strength. In the past, timber-framed houses were common in Europe. Builders used brick or wattle and daub to fill the frame. In large contemporary structures, steel and reinforced concrete framing are common.

Framing Systems

There are three major framing systems: balloon framing, post and beam, and platform framing. Have you ever looked at the hurricane aftermath pictures and wondered why some houses had their roofs on, and others had no roofs? Well, it could be due to the framing systems used on the houses.

The framing system plays a crucial role in the structure that holds up the walls, floors, and roof. Framing systems use dimensional lumber and structural elements to support the wall or the sheathing materials that cover them. Framing construction is advantageous because it requires fewer materials to complete a structure. Frame construction is an ideal alternative to mass wall construction.

Platform Frame Construction

Platform frame construction, also known as western framing, is the most common framing method in residential construction projects. This construction method entails framing every floor or a conventional building or pole barn independently. Most contractors are familiar with platform framing. Platform framing is advantageous because it uses less wood than other framing options like pole framing.

Platform framing is the common standard for wood framing methods. In this framing method, every floor is framed as a separate unit by nailing the horizontal frame member to the top of the wall studs. The foundation supports one structure securely. The ground level then serves as the platform or the stage to build the next floor. The joists run perpendicularly to the sill plate and attach the joist header to the end of each joist.

Advantages of Platform Frame Construction

  • One of the leading benefits of using platform frame construction is that it saves on wood. With this construction method, builders can use shorter pieces of wood.
  • Since floor platforms enclose the stud spaces, builders do not have to use fire stoppings.
  • Platform framing makes construction easy and safer since builders use simple tools. The construction method requires low construction costs and less labor.

Disadvantages of Platform Frame Construction

  • With platform framing, the vertical studs are interrupted by joists and headers perpendicular to the direction of the load at the vertical structure lines. More shrinkage may result in these areas leading to problems with rigid siding materials like veneer.
  • Structural problems may occur after the completion of a building. These problems may occur if the headers and the joists shrink when the wood dries. If this happens, the siding material will also require more upkeep. 

Balloon Frame Construction

A popular myth states that George W. Snow, a Chicago carpenter, invented the balloon frame in 1832, and this invention revolutionized the construction practice. However, the oldest buildings in Chicago metropolitan suggest that neither Snow nor any other Chicagoan invented the balloon frame.

Balloon framing is one of the earliest wood construction methods. It entails constructing light frames of wood around studs that run continuously from the top to the building’s bottom. Balloon framing starts with studs that run from the bottom to the top, and studs are added at the desired height.

Balloon framing was primarily used in the United States and Scandinavia, Canada. This method utilizes long framing members, also known as studs that run from the sill to the eve line. Intermediate floor structures are nailed to these studs. Heights of headers, window sills, and the next floor height are marked on the studs. Currently, balloon framing has been replaced by platform framing.

Advantages of Balloon Frame Construction

  • You can expect fewer problems after the completion of the building, unlike in platform framing. Cases of drywall cracking are rare with balloon framing, and you are assured of your building’s durability. Balloon framing may be ideal if you desire a tall chimney, vaulted ceiling, or a two-story open foyer. 
  • Balloon framing also offers more flexibility, especially in the window design. With balloon framing, it is easier to achieve arched or angled window tops. It is also easy to achieve large or vaulted windows with balloon framing.
  • Balloon framing also provides a more direct load path down to the building’s foundation. With balloon framing, trade workers enjoy more flexibility, mainly when piping, pulling wire, and ducting, because they do not have to work around or through the framing members. 
  • Due to the longer frames utilized in balloon framing, it is easy to achieve higher resilience structures. Therefore, balloon framing makes a structure more stable and able to withstand gusty and speedy winds.

Below is a video on ideas for remodeling balloon framed walls:

Disadvantages of Balloon Framing

  • In case of a fire, your building is likely to be destroyed much faster. This is because balloon framing provides an easy path for the fire to spread from one floor to another. If you want to reduce the extent of damage in case of a fire, you have to install fire stops on each level.
  • With balloon framing, there is no insulation between a room and the exterior walls. Therefore, you are likely to incur escalated energy bills in the future.
  • Compared to platform framing, balloon framing is more costly. Builders have to use longer construction beams, and this escalates the construction costs.
  • Walls constructed using the balloon framing tend to be very heavy. Therefore, to erect these walls, more skills, labor, and specialized equipment are required. The heavy walls also make construction more complicated and risky.
  • Balloon framing does not provide a working platform for working on the upper floors, unlike platform framing. It is hard for workers to reach the top of the walls under construction. In balloon framing, scaffolding is important to reach the walls’ top because the walls are usually several stories above the working platform.

In many areas, balloon framing has been outlawed by the building codes due to the fire danger. However, balloon framing is gaining popularity, but builders use steel studs since they are fire-resistant.

Post and Beam Construction

Post and beam construction is a building technique that relies on heavy timber instead of dimensional lumber. Post and beam construction has its roots in Asia. Currently, this building technique has spread to many parts of the world. This building technique results in durable structures as evidenced by structures constructed in medieval times, which are still standing.

After harsh conditions like earthquakes and hurricanes, post and beam structures often remain standing. Due to their lack of load-bearing walls, it is easy to erect post and beam structures. This building technique is highly customizable in terms of doors, windows, and horse stalls, which can be added in any part the owner deems necessary.

Despite the many benefits of post and beam, this construction method is rare due to a lack of understanding by contractors and high material costs. In a way, the post and beam construction is similar to timber framing because both methods lean towards exposed timber’s conspicuous appearance. With large timber in the post and beam, fewer support beams are required to create exceptional open interior spaces.

The critical difference between post and beam construction and timber framing is how the individual woods are joined. Timber frames rely on wood joinery instead of steel joinery. Post and beam structures are joined with metal connectors and fasteners. Post and beam construction is advantageous because it requires reduced skilled labor costs.

Post and beam construction also has some disadvantages. If moisture condenses on the steel parts that join the beams together, it may lead to rust, and the surrounding wood might decay. Post and beam can be more expensive than timber framing, depending on the complexity of the metal plates used. The use of dissimilar materials, metal and wood, causes looseness in the joints over time. 

Benefits of Timber Frame Construction

There are several benefits of timber frame construction. Sustainable timber is one of the ideal construction materials. Some of the reasons why off-site contemporary timber houses are on the rise today include:

Timber Is a Natural Material

Timber is among the few natural building materials that provide numerous advantages. Since timber is non-toxic, it will not leak chemical vapor into the building. Timber is safe to touch and handle. It takes minimal energy to convert the wood in the trees to timber used for construction. Of all the standard building materials, the embodied energy in timber is low.

Timber Is Sustainable

For thousands of years, people have been using timber in frame construction since it is ecological and sustainable. It is a renewable building material. As long as new trees are planted to replace the ones felled, timber will continue to be available. Since timber is available worldwide and used close to its source, timber frame construction promotes local economies. 

Provides Great Insulation

Since timber is a natural insulator, timber frame construction offers excellent insulation and helps reduce energy bills. Wood has thermally insulating properties. A well-insulated house will require less energy for heating, which means you will use less fossil fuel.

Easy to Construct

Timber frames are easy to construct because timber is versatile and can be used in a wide range of ways. Timber is light, and this makes it easy to install, even with simple tools. Less energy is needed in timber frame construction compared to other forms of construction. Different tree species are available, and builders can access the timber of different textures, colors, and different functionality.

Endless Design Possibilities

With timber frame construction, there are endless design capabilities. There are no limits in terms of size and design. You will also enjoy the unrivaled technical and physical properties of a timber frame home. Timber is a durable material, and most well-constructed wooden structures last for hundreds of years. Compared to other building materials, timber structures are easy to maintain.

Shorter Build Time

You will enjoy a quicker build time with timber frame construction. The builders can pre-cut, modulate, and build a timber frame in precision to make the build time much quicker. Timber-framed buildings are easier to erect than stone and brick buildings. A quicker build time will help to save time and money. Timber frame construction also requires less specialized and expensive labor.

Benefits of Structural Steel Frame Construction

For many builders, structural steel has always been a versatile building material. Steel provides numerous benefits, which is why many architects and contractors are shifting towards structural steel frame construction over other materials like wood. There are many misconceptions about using steel frames in buildings. Some of the key benefits of steel frame construction are:

Quicker Build Time

Time equals money and is particularly important in the construction industry. Many clients like to have projects completed ahead of time and within the set budget. If you want to complete a building on time without exceeding your budget, structural steel frames are the solution. You can have the steel parts prefabricated to the specific design of your building.

Steel Is Lightweight

If you compare the steel density with that of wood, steel is heavier. However, the type of steel will determine the weight. For instance, a steel I-beam is lighter than a wood beam design. Light steel reduces shipping costs, decreases labor requirements, and simplifies the structural support systems. With all these advantages, steel frame construction can reduce your construction costs.

Steel Is Eco-Friendly

Usually, steel frames are made using recycled material. In addition, every steel frame is recyclable, and this makes steel an eco-friendly material. Steel is the world’s most recycled product since more than 80 million tons of steel are recycled every year. The steel industry has reduced CO2 emissions by 35% since 1990.

The industry has also reduced the energy intensity per ton of steel by 28%. Using a comfortable and airtight steel frame helps you ensure that your structure is sealed.

Lower Maintenance Costs

Steel frames require lower construction costs. Since the material is durable, it requires fewer maintenance costs throughout a building’s lifetime. Steel prices are lower than they were some years back due to the high demand for steel in the construction business. The construction costs are lower since steel is versatile and easy to mold into different designs.

Resists Harsh Conditions

Steel is insect and pest resistant. This material is immune to the degrading effects of insects and pests. Unlike the wooden framework that requires intense wood treatment to prevent pest damage, steel is resistant to pests. Steel is also resistant to harsh weather conditions and moisture. You can make steel rust-resistant by treating it with hot zinc coating or additional powder treatments.

Summing Up

In frame construction, the weight of a structure lies in the skeleton’s framework. Therefore, the most critical factor in frame construction is the frame’s strength and resilience. Poor frame construction or use of inferior materials could bring an entire building down. However, with the right procedures and building materials, framed buildings are easy to construct and durable.


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