By Dan Simms
Updated Jan 12, 2023
When most people think of a house, they don’t actually picture the pieces that allow it to stand up. The frame of a house is what gives it rigidity and keeps it standing, even through extreme weather.
In this guide, we’ll be discussing exactly what house framing is, what it’s made of, how it’s constructed, and much more. By the end, you should have a good idea of how house framing works to support the structure and keep you and your family safe inside.
House framing is the skeleton of a home that runs behind all of the internal and external walls, supports the roofing shingles, and attaches the home to the foundation. It’s what cabinets and wall decor is attached to through the sheetrock, and it’s what your floors, ceilings, and walls are affixed to.
House framing’s primary purpose is to provide support for the other building materials in your home. These include doors, windows, floors, roofing materials, and more.
There are four primary materials that are used in modern construction for building framing. These include wood, steel, structural insulated panels, and insulated concrete forms. We’ll discuss each of these materials in the sections below.
Wood framing — also called stick framing and timber framing — consists of construction lumber that is nailed together and mounted to the foundation. Most wall studs and frames around door and window openings are made of 2x4s, while rafters, joists, and sill plates are usually made out of wider material, like 2x10s and 2x12s. Other parts of wood framing include roof sheathing, subfloor, and more.
Wood framing is comparatively affordable and easy to construct. However, wood is naturally prone to rot and moisture damage, and it can lead to some settling over time.
There are two types of stick framing: balloon framing and platform framing. Balloon framing is more commonly used in old houses and uses long 2x4s that extend up the load-bearing walls from the bottom to the top. Platform framing is more common and uses multiple sets of 2x4s: one for each floor.
Steel framing is more rigid than wood framing, so it doesn’t have the same issues with settling. Steel also isn’t prone to rotting or mold growth, making it a more desirable material in terms of durability and longevity.
Unfortunately, steel is more expensive than wood, so steel framing will almost always cost more for the same-sized home. Steel also conducts heat more readily, so it can contribute to lower energy efficiency and less comfortable indoor temperatures. Far more home builders are familiar with wood as well, so you might have difficulty finding a company that is experienced with steel house framing.
Structural insulated panels are prefabricated panels made from rigid boards and come fitted with foam insulation. They make construction on-site much easier, as the actual frame doesn’t need to be assembled from scratch.
Structural insulated panels are very expensive and prohibitively so for many people. However, they do make construction time much shorter, and they provide outstanding insulation.
Insulated concrete forms are made by constructing a lightweight foam form on site and then filling the form with concrete. This process reduces the construction time quite significantly and leaves you with a highly insulative house frame.
Unfortunately, insulated concrete forms are very expensive, so many homeowners building their homes opt for more affordable framing materials.
Wood framing is, by far, the most common type of framing in the United States. It’s preferred for its wide availability, ease of construction, and, most importantly, relatively low material costs.
Looking at a house frame without building materials covering it makes it look rather intimidating. There are lots of pieces that fit together to provide the structural integrity required for a safe building. In the sections below, we’ll discuss the types of lumber typically used for house framing and the parts of a frame that you can identify when looking at a standalone frame.
In most cases, lightweight and affordable softwood is used for house framing. Douglas fir and other pines, like spruces, are the most common options. These provide good rigidity and durability, and they are far more affordable than hardwood options.
Some homeowners choose redwood or cedars, as these resist movement in response to moisture. However, they are quite expensive. If moisture or humidity is an issue, most homeowners will opt for pressure-treated pine instead.
There are many different parts to a house frame that are required to support the various building materials that will be affixed to it or laid on top of it. We’ll include a brief list of the different house frame parts below.
Framing a house is a somewhat straightforward process if you know the steps to take and how to arrange the different pieces. In the sections below, we’ll briefly discuss how to assemble a house frame. Keep in mind that this process can be done as a DIY project, but it is best left to professionals if you don’t have carpentry experience.
Your first step should be to mount the sill plate to your foundation. This process can vary based on your location. Keep in mind that homes in areas that are prone to earthquakes typically require additional securing.
Floor joists can be installed if you have a crawlspace or basement foundation. These will serve to support the first floor above the under-home area.
If you’re installing floor joists, subflooring can then be nailed to the joists to provide even support for your flooring.
Next, you can construct your walls. Most construction companies will build entire walls — including studs, a bottom plate, and the top plate — and then stand them up and square them with the foundation.
During the wall construction, you should add openings for windows and doors, including window sills and headers. The bottom plate should be removed below all door openings.
Once the walls are raised, you can attach the double top plate.
If you’re not adding a second floor to your home, the tie beams and ceiling joists can then be attached using framing nails. The orientation will depend on your ceiling style.
Rafters can then be attached to your tie beams and joists. These will serve as the main support for your roof sheathing.
Finally, you can attach your roof sheathing and install your roof shingles. This process completes the house framing, although you’ll still need to add exterior wall material and roofing material.
Aside from the parts of the house framing we’ve mentioned above, there are quite a few terms that you should learn before beginning a wall framing project of your own. We’ll include these below with brief definitions.
The average cost to frame a stick frame house — traditional wood framing — is between $7 and $18 per square foot. For a 1,000-square-foot home, the framing alone would cost between $7,000 and $18,000. Keep in mind that the price can vary wildly depending on the framing method, the company, and the materials you choose.
The framing process for building a new home typically takes between two and four weeks. This can vary based on the builder’s availability and the weather where you’re building your home.
Before the framing process can get started, your home’s foundation must be poured. That process itself requires excavation, ground compaction, concrete pouring, and enough time for the concrete to dry.
While framing lays down the structural support for your home, the process after framing includes installing all exterior and insulative materials, as well as finishings, like floors, drywall, painting, kitchen and bathroom installations, and more. You’re likely looking at an additional month or two after framing is completed for your home to be finished.
Frame repair isn’t a common repair for homes. However, you might need frame repair if you notice a rotting frame, bowed or unplumb walls, warping floors, a sagging roof, or other movement in the exterior shell of your home.
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