What is Frame Construction?

Mary McMahon

Frame construction is a building technique which involves building a supportive framework of studs, joists, and rafters, and attaching everything else to this framework. This building style can be accomplished very quickly with a skilled crew, and it is extremely common all over the world. Most wooden homes, for example, are made with this style of construction, especially in the United States.

Common rafters make up part of a standard wood framing system in the construction of a sloped roof.
Common rafters make up part of a standard wood framing system in the construction of a sloped roof.

The process of frame construction starts with building up a sill on the ground, with the sill being attached to a foundation. Long studs are attached to the sill at set intervals to create a network which can be attached to the joists and rafters which make up the roof or additional stories. The frame may be additionally supported with cross bracing and other techniques. Essentially, frame-style construction creates a skeleton, and a fast crew can frame a house in only a few days.

Wood frame housing construction.
Wood frame housing construction.

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Once the frame is complete, walls and other features can be added. The structure grows progressively more stable as stiff flooring and walls are added, creating additional support and resistance to the elements. Within the structure, the builders can differentiate from critical structural walls, which provide support to keep the building safe, and partitions which can be used to divide and change the shape of various spaces within the structure for utility.

Platform frame construction, in which a structure is built floor by floor, is the most common type of this construction style. Some older buildings utilize balloon frame construction, in which long joists run all the way from the sill to the top plate, which meets the roof, no matter how tall the building is. For practical reasons, balloon frame construction is usually limited to two to three floors, and it is uncommon to see in new structures, because of timber availability issues.

Classically, frame construction is accomplished with wood, which needs to be carefully cut and handled to ensure that the integrity of the frame is maintained. Wood which has not been cured properly, for example, will develop warping and twisting which could pull the structure out of alignment. Metal beams can also be used in framing, and they can cut costs significantly in areas where timber is expensive.

There are some issues with frame construction which need to be addressed carefully by builders. One of the biggest problems is that the spaces between the joists and the walls can be ideal conduits for fire, allowing fire to leap quickly from floor to floor. This type of construction is also vulnerable to rot and other types of damage. Although the studs are designed to be redundant so that the structure can stand if one fails, the failure of multiple neighboring joists can be catastrophic.

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Discussion Comments


Such an informative blog. There are so many framing designs, I know only one which is not mentioned here: steel house framing designs.

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