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House Framing & Construction

From roof to foundation, this free in-depth mini-book, including drawings, explains house framing, building materials, and much more.

The “bones” of a house—how it is constructed and the materials are used to build it—determine how much integrity the structure will have in the years to come. Whether you are building from scratch, remodeling, or buying, it’s important to understand the basics of how a house is built.

Typical house framing is like the skeleton of a home, giving the building its structure.

Typical house framing is like the skeleton of a home, giving the building its structure. Photo: Don Vandervort

In this section of HomeTips, we take you from roof to foundation, offering in-depth discussion and diagrams of framing as well as buying guides for various building materials.

Building Materials

Houses have always been built from a variety of materials. Historically, these materials were derived locally from the area where the homes were built. Logs, adobe, thatch—whatever was available was used.

Today, thanks to mass transportation and the industrialization of building products, there is far more standardization. Lumber, steel, composites such as fiberglass, masonry such as concrete, and similar materials dominate home construction in North America and much of the world. The Building Materials Buying Guide will help you sort out conventional construction materials and help you make smart buying decisions. Hardware & Fasteners will inform you about the proper application of screws, bolts, and nails.[GARD align=”left”]

How House Framing Works

Arguably the most important element of a sound structure is a good foundation. Without a good foundation, it doesn’t matter how good the framing and materials are. If a foundation is not properly installed, it can lead to a raft of headaches down the road— from moisture damage and termite infestation to your house literally coming down around your ears! In House Foundation Types, you will learn about the relative merits of the various house foundations and why it is so important a foundation be properly installed.

House Framing Methods

If you are considering any remodeling project, knowing how your house is framed is a crucial consideration, as you will need to know which walls are load-bearing and which are not. Knowing how your roof and floors are framed is equally important if you plan on changing the materials for either. In House Framing Diagrams & Methods, we offer an illustrated discussion of the two types of house framing, as well as information about roof and wall framing.

 

House Framing & Construction

From roof to foundation, this free in-depth mini-book, including drawings, explains house framing, building materials, and much more.

The “bones” of a house—how it is constructed and the materials are used to build it—determine how much integrity the structure will have in the years to come. Whether you are building from scratch, remodeling, or buying, it’s important to understand the basics of how a house is built.

Typical house framing is like the skeleton of a home, giving the building its structure.

Typical house framing is like the skeleton of a home, giving the building its structure. Photo: Don Vandervort

In this section of HomeTips, we take you from roof to foundation, offering in-depth discussion and diagrams of framing as well as buying guides for various building materials.

Building Materials

Houses have always been built from a variety of materials. Historically, these materials were derived locally from the area where the homes were built. Logs, adobe, thatch—whatever was available was used.

Today, thanks to mass transportation and the industrialization of building products, there is far more standardization. Lumber, steel, composites such as fiberglass, masonry such as concrete, and similar materials dominate home construction in North America and much of the world. The Building Materials Buying Guide will help you sort out conventional construction materials and help you make smart buying decisions. Hardware & Fasteners will inform you about the proper application of screws, bolts, and nails.[GARD align=”left”]

How House Framing Works

Arguably the most important element of a sound structure is a good foundation. Without a good foundation, it doesn’t matter how good the framing and materials are. If a foundation is not properly installed, it can lead to a raft of headaches down the road— from moisture damage and termite infestation to your house literally coming down around your ears! In House Foundation Types, you will learn about the relative merits of the various house foundations and why it is so important a foundation be properly installed.

House Framing Methods

If you are considering any remodeling project, knowing how your house is framed is a crucial consideration, as you will need to know which walls are load-bearing and which are not. Knowing how your roof and floors are framed is equally important if you plan on changing the materials for either. In House Framing Diagrams & Methods, we offer an illustrated discussion of the two types of house framing, as well as information about roof and wall framing.

 

Roof Framing Basics

An illustrated guide to roof construction, including basic types of roofs and a roofing glossary

Roof Framing DiagramCocoDesign999 / Shutterstock.com

This roof framing diagram illustrates how a hip roof is built. This roof has horizontal battens for tile or metal.

Roofs are built in a variety of shapes.

Drive through nearly any neighborhood and you can see that roofs have many different shapes. Houses have gable, hipped, mansard, gambrel, flat, and shed roofs. Many homes combine roof types on one roof. It’s quite common, for example, to see a hipped roof with gable dormers.[GARD align=”left”]

Roof shape is one of the key factors in setting the architectural style of a house. Roof shape also dictates how difficult and costly a roof will be to build and how it will serve the house. For example, flat, shed, and, in some cases, gable roofs tend to be relatively affordable to build.

Gambrel and mansard roofs offer more head height for attic rooms. Shed roofs are usually the easiest type to connect to an existing roof when adding on.

Roof framing can be simple or complex, depending on the roof. Overhangs, hips, and dormers add greatly to the complexity of the framing.

Stick & Truss Roof Framing

Nearly all roofs are framed using one of two methods: standard “stick” framing or the newer “truss” framing.

A stick-framed roof is built one member at a time.

Stick-framed roofs utilize individual rafters that span from the top of exterior walls to the ridge.

Roof trusses are manufactured so they are ready to install.

Truss-framed roofs are built from triangular-shaped, premade truss units.

Gable and hip roofs may be built primarily of trusses; other roof shapes, particularly those with dormers or on houses with cathedral ceilings, attic rooms, or attic storage areas, are stick built. Stick framing creates a triangle between the rafters and ceiling joists. A collar beam adds strength to the triangle at the middle.

Stick framing combines roof rafters with ceiling joists.Dragana Gerasimoski / Shutterstock.com

Stick framing combines roof rafters with ceiling joists.

Like wall studs and floor joists, rafters and trusses are spaced every 16 or 24 inches from center to center. Most roofs utilize 16-inch spacings for strength and rigidity. The rafters are usually positioned directly above the wall studs.

A truss is one contiguous double rafter/ceiling joist unit. Truss construction is just as strong but is lighter weight and uses smaller sizes of lumber than stick framing.

Because trusses are carefully engineered units that shouldn’t be cut, they are not a good choice for roofs that may be modified at a later date. And because they have several intermediate support members, they don’t allow for use of the attic space.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local House Framing Contractor

Call for free estimates from roofing pros now:
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Floor Framing & Structure

An illustrated look at how a typical wood-frame floor is built, including sublooring and more

Though some floors are built on a concrete slab flat on the ground, most floors are raised above the ground. Raised floors are more resilient under foot and provide access for heating equipment, insulation, plumbing, wiring, and other mechanical equipment.

A raised floor is constructed with a wooden framework that bridges from one exterior wall to another. This framework may or may not be supported intermediately by girders, beams, or walls.[GARD align=”left”]

On upper levels of a house, the underside of the floor framing generally serves to back ceiling materials. Ceilings are usually built just like floors, only they may be constructed of lighter materials because they’re not intended to carry the same loads.

Raised Floor Framing Diagram

Floor Joists

A floor’s framework is made up mostly of wooden joists that run parallel to one another at regular intervals. Floor joists are typically 2 by 8s, 2 by 10s, or 2 by 12s; ceiling joists are usually 2 by 6s or sometimes 2 by 4s if it is an older home. Some newer homes have manufactured, I beam–shaped joists.

Floor joists, spaced on regular intervals, span the areas between supports such as walls, foundations, girders, and beams. Normal spacing is 16 inches “on center” (from center to center), though some floors may have joists on 12-inch or 24-inch centers. Joist sizing and spacing are determined by building codes, which are based on engineering requirements. Joist headers run perpendicular to the joists, capping their ends.

Floor Framing for Stairs

Joists are spliced over beams or other supports. They may be butted end-to-end and connected with plywood gusset plates or lapped. Solid blocking or metal bridging prevents joists from twisting and helps distribute loads evenly.

Wherever an opening occurs, such as for a staircase, joists are doubled up at the perimeter and capped with perpendicular headers.

The Sill Plate

At the foundation level, floor joists rest directly on a sill that is treated with preservative so that contact with the foundation will not promote termites or rot. Their exact construction and connection with the wall studs depend on the method of framing that is utilized.

The Subfloor

Subflooring provides a base for finish flooring and also serves as a platform during construction. It may be made of boards laid either at right angles or diagonally across joists. Or the subfloor may be made of plywood or other panel products that are laid perpendicular to the joists.[GARD align=”right”]

A plywood subfloor has panels that are laid in a staggered fashion, with the ends and edges butted together; the panels are nailed (and sometimes also glued with construction adhesive) to the joists.

The thickness and stiffness of the subfloor determine the types of finish materials that can be laid on top of it. If your house is built on a concrete slab, the slab can serve as a base for almost any type of flooring. But, if your home has a plywood or board subfloor, it’s important to check out the type and thickness of the material you intend to use to determine what your limitations are. For instance, a floor that is slightly flexible or springy is not suitable for rigid materials such as ceramic tile and stone because the grout or materials will crack with movement.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local House Framing Contractor

Floor Framing & Structure

An illustrated look at how a typical wood-frame floor is built, including sublooring and more

Though some floors are built on a concrete slab flat on the ground, most floors are raised above the ground. Raised floors are more resilient under foot and provide access for heating equipment, insulation, plumbing, wiring, and other mechanical equipment.

A raised floor is constructed with a wooden framework that bridges from one exterior wall to another. This framework may or may not be supported intermediately by girders, beams, or walls.[GARD align=”left”]

On upper levels of a house, the underside of the floor framing generally serves to back ceiling materials. Ceilings are usually built just like floors, only they may be constructed of lighter materials because they’re not intended to carry the same loads.

Raised Floor Framing Diagram

Floor Joists

A floor’s framework is made up mostly of wooden joists that run parallel to one another at regular intervals. Floor joists are typically 2 by 8s, 2 by 10s, or 2 by 12s; ceiling joists are usually 2 by 6s or sometimes 2 by 4s if it is an older home. Some newer homes have manufactured, I beam–shaped joists.

Floor joists, spaced on regular intervals, span the areas between supports such as walls, foundations, girders, and beams. Normal spacing is 16 inches “on center” (from center to center), though some floors may have joists on 12-inch or 24-inch centers. Joist sizing and spacing are determined by building codes, which are based on engineering requirements. Joist headers run perpendicular to the joists, capping their ends.

Floor Framing for Stairs

Joists are spliced over beams or other supports. They may be butted end-to-end and connected with plywood gusset plates or lapped. Solid blocking or metal bridging prevents joists from twisting and helps distribute loads evenly.

Wherever an opening occurs, such as for a staircase, joists are doubled up at the perimeter and capped with perpendicular headers.

The Sill Plate

At the foundation level, floor joists rest directly on a sill that is treated with preservative so that contact with the foundation will not promote termites or rot. Their exact construction and connection with the wall studs depend on the method of framing that is utilized.

The Subfloor

Subflooring provides a base for finish flooring and also serves as a platform during construction. It may be made of boards laid either at right angles or diagonally across joists. Or the subfloor may be made of plywood or other panel products that are laid perpendicular to the joists.[GARD align=”right”]

A plywood subfloor has panels that are laid in a staggered fashion, with the ends and edges butted together; the panels are nailed (and sometimes also glued with construction adhesive) to the joists.

The thickness and stiffness of the subfloor determine the types of finish materials that can be laid on top of it. If your house is built on a concrete slab, the slab can serve as a base for almost any type of flooring. But, if your home has a plywood or board subfloor, it’s important to check out the type and thickness of the material you intend to use to determine what your limitations are. For instance, a floor that is slightly flexible or springy is not suitable for rigid materials such as ceramic tile and stone because the grout or materials will crack with movement.

Featured Resource: Get a Pre-Screened Local House Framing Contractor

Concrete Building Blocks

For environmental friendliness, no other building material quite compares to concrete block.

The utilitarian concrete block has gained new respect in recent years. Now called “concrete masonry units,” or “CMUs,”  blocks are used increasingly as substitutes for conventional wood-framed, above-grade exterior walls.

concrete masonry unit blocks

Concrete masonry units, or CMUs. Photo: Wikipedia

Concrete masonry construction may cost slightly more, but builders and homeowners like its durability, strength, and heat-retention qualities. Insulation can be foamed or inserted into the hollow cores or applied as a rigid board to the surface to increase resistance to heat flow.

Concrete block won’t burn, rot, or be eaten by termites. And it produces a wall that is secure, sound-deadening, and effective at reducing thermal swings. “If you want permanence, security, resistance to fire, wind, and insects, you ought to consider concrete masonry,” says a spokesperson for the National Concrete Masonry Association. In addition, “concrete masonry has a life that extends into the hundreds of years. It is still one of the most environmentally friendly products on the marketplace.”

The cost of concrete-block construction varies from one region to the next. A concrete-block house can run from 5 percent to 10 percent more than a wood-frame house where builders aren’t familiar with the material. The blocks themselves cost from 60 to 90 cents each.

Lightweight Solid Concrete Blocks

Successfully used to build houses in Europe for many years, “precast autoclaved, aerated concrete” (PAAC) blocks are now being manufactured in Georgia by Matrix PAAC, LP (formerly Hebel Southeast). This building system employs an over-sized, lightweight solid block that is laid up with very strong, thinset mortar.

During manufacture, the raw material is mixed from cement, fine aggregates, and a natural expansion agent. Once molded, it is given a moisture and heat treatment under pressure, called autoclaving. As a result, the material rises like bread dough, with thousands of tiny air pockets. The resulting block is durable, lightweight, and a relatively good insulator. Even more impressive is the fact that it can be cut and drilled like wood, using ordinary carpentry tools, and receive nails or screws.

Technically, these blocks have an insulation value of about R-10, but a wall built of these effectively offers about three times that because it blocks air infiltration and provides thermal storage mass.

The 8-by-8-by-24-inch-long blocks weigh about 28 pounds (conventional poured concrete weighs about 150 pounds per cubic foot). They’re laid with a tiny, 3mm mortar joint between blocks; the latex mortar is troweled on like a thick paint.

Cement-based stucco can be applied directly to the block surface. Or the block wall can be finished with any conventional siding on the exterior or drywall over furring strips inside. Channels for wiring are carved out with a router.

This system is currently available only in the Southeast. Finished inside and out, this system runs about $2.50 to $3 on average—about 1 percent to 5 percent more than conventional wood-stud or masonry construction with insulation but, as a Hebel spokesperson points out, “It’s like buying a good HVAC system—you get a return on your investment over time.”

Get a Pre-Screened Local Concrete Delivery & Installation Pro