Sketch comparing platform framing and balloon framing methods (C) Carson Dunlop Associates Building Framing Methods - A Guide to Estimating Building Age

  • FRAMING METHODS, Age, Types - CONTENTS: How to determine the age of a building from the construction or framing methods used - Building framing eras: log homes, balloon framing, platform framing, arkansas framing, modular construction, panelized construction, straw bale - construction, welded wire construction, roof & floor trusses, engineered lumber construction - Leavittown and development of mass-produced pre-cut platform framed homes - Building component age: construction materials, methods, including hardware, saw cuts, and other details can help determine when a building was constructed or when it was modified.
  • FRAMING MATERIALS, Age, Types - separate article
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about how to determine or identify the age of building framing materials & framing methods, connectors, fasteners

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This article describes and illustrates common building framing materials used in different epochs of residential construction. Knowing when certain materials were first or last in common use can help determine the age of a building. The age of a building can be determined quite accurately by documentation, but when documents are not readily available, visual clues such as those available during a professional home inspection can still determine when a house was built.

Page top sketch courtesy of Carson Dunlop Associates.

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Building Framing Methods as Indicators of Building Age

Old log cabin (C) Daniel FriedmanBuilding methods and building materials should be considered together as the materials available for construction largely defined the building methods used.

In very general terms, in North American building construction, later than in Asia and Europe, evolved through log construction, rough cut hand hewn beams and plank construction, sawn lumber, machine sawn lumber, dimensional lumber, factory-produced lumber and sheathing, and engineered wood products such as laminated beams and factory-built trusses.

Article Contents

Arkansas framing system: 2x6 wall studs are spaced 24' on center, a spacing that permitted installation of more wall insulation volume than provide by conventional 2x4 wall studs.

The Arkansas building framing method became popular in North America following the 1970's arab oil embargo and addressed concern for high energy costs. You might read about Arkansas framing or OVE - optimum value engineering, just about the same design idea that was promoted by the Small Homes Council, SHC, now renamed the Building Research Council.

Modern wood framing uses sill plates, rim joists, floor and ceiling joists, wall studs, and rafters made from dimensional lumber, nominally 2x4's (3.5" x 1/5") and larger members (x" deep by 1.5" thick), spaced 16" on center or in some cases using 2x6 wall studs, 24" o.c. See Balloon Framing and see Platform Framing

Balloon Framing Building Construction Method History & Dates

Sketch comparing platform framing and balloon framing methods (C) Carson Dunlop Associates
Balloon Frame construction
(1833 - est) tall wall studs run from the sill plate atop the foundation wall to the top plate below the building rafters.

Wall studs and first floor joists rest on the building sill plates (flat wood members set atop the building foundation). The wall studs extend from the first floor sill to a height sufficient to frame both the first and second floor walls.

First floor joists and second floor joists in a building constructed using the balloon framing method are framed by nailing to these tall wall studs at the appropriate heights.

Our photo (above left) of a (mostly) balloon-framed multi-floor building (at an airport in Newburgh, NY), shows that the first two floors were balloon-framed and then the building was extended upwards with additional platform construction.

Balloon Framing sketch (C) Carson Dunlop AssociatesRafters in balloon framed buildings attach to the top plate of the building walls. Ceiling joists for the top floor are nailed to the sides of the balloon-framed wall studs just as the floor joists were nailed below.

Perhaps the earliest known balloon-framed building was St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church constructed in Chicago by the fall of 1833. (Walker Field, Chicago Historical Society). Sketch at left, courtesy Carson Dunlop Associates.

According to some histories, balloon framing got its name from people who feared that the dimension-lumber built structure was so flimsy that it was as weak as a hot air balloon, held together by ropes and cloth - a structure that would blow down at the first wind.

That event did not happen, however.

Fred T. Hodgson's 1883 Practical Carpentry contains one of the earliest (and minimal) references to balloon framing. Hodgson later promoted the balloon framing method for the Sears Roebuck Company. See our references at America's Favorite Homes.

By 1869 balloon framing was in extensive use in North America; in that year G.E. Woodward, in his Woodward's Country Homes described balloon framing as a method for constructing a building at 40% less cost than by using the post and beam (mortise and tenon) method.


Engineereed Wood Framing Methods

OSB web I-joist detail as floor framing (C) Daniel FriedmanI'm reluctant to define "engineered wood construction" narrowly, as experts have by one means or another constructed trusses and other wood structural members using analysis and calculations for centuries. But to distinguish between older and modern or more contemporary engineered-wood construction products we list examples below. And certainly there are some engineered wood products that, compared with an antique king-truss, are relatively new. 5

For example, as we discuss at I-JOISTS, engineered wood floor trusses (photos above and below) such as I-Joists originally were constructed using a plywood web beginning in 1977, and modified by by Trus-Joist in 1969 to use laminated veneer lumber (LVL) and OSB-like laminated wood fiber web (shown in photos above left and below in combination with a steel beam).

See these examples of contemporary engineered-wood construction materials:

Log Home Building Construction Methods, History, & Dates

Log homes (1640 - est U.S.): solid logs usually felled and prepared at or close to the building site, set on ground level, on flat stones on ground, or on a stone foundation, corners joined using various notch and overlap methods.

Antique log home Susquehanna River PennsylvaniaSee Log Home Guide.

Log homes were first constructed in North America by Swedes who had immigrated to Pennsylvania in the 1640's. After 1970 most log homes constructed in the U.S. used factory-cut and milled logs and log kit homes.

Kit home logs, unlike their more rough ancestors, are milled to consistent diameters and use various spline and gasket methods to seal joints between horizontal and vertical members. See Antique & Old Log Cabins.

Pre-manufactured log homes and log home kits are provided by a variety of manufacturers in the U.S. and Canada. Slab-sided log look-alike homes combine the appearance of a log home with conventional wood framed structures. See Slab Log Cabin Siding for details of this construction method.

Modular Construction Methods Defined & Described

Modular home during set process (C) Daniel Friedman

Modular construction (1910 - present) was first provided on a large scale with Sears Kit homes that were distributed from about 1910 to 1940 - see SEARS KIT HOME IDENTIFICATION.

Some modern modular homes built in the U.S. during the 1950's post war building boom originally enjoyed a less than stellar reputation several decades ago, having the reputation of flimsy construction.

That is no longer the case. Since at least the 1980's a modular home is constructed in a factory of one or more sections which are carried to the building site on a trailer (photo above left) and lifted by a crane to be set upon a foundation which has been prepared ahead of time.

Modular roof hinged truss or rafter (C) Daniel Friedman

Our photo (left) shows an easily-recognized hinged roof truss design used in modular construction. On many modular homes the roof is folded down onto the top of the upper floor building sections during transport. During the modular building section set procedure the roof section is elevated and support, typically by a knee wall, is placed into position. In our photo you can see the plywood gusseted hinges at the lower end of each rafter.

Modular homes can be quite large, involving four or quite a few more individual sections which are lifted and "set" into place at the site (photo at left)

Some manufacturers provide custom architectural services and can deliver unique, but factory-built homes in sections. Contemporary modular construction of homes have these attributes:

For full details about modular home construction and inspection, including how to recognize details that indicate that modular construction methods were used to make a factory-built home, see our full text article at "A Photo Guide to Modular Home Construction, Identification, & Inspection".

Panelized Building Construction Defined & Illustrated

Gypsum board wall sheathing bracing (C) Daniel Friedman

Panelized construction: floor and wall panels constructed in a factory are delivered to and assembled at the building site. Panels may be conventionally-framed stud walls in modular sections or structural panels may be constructed of a sandwich of OSB (oriented strand board), plywood, or wafer board on either side of solid foam board insulation.

Panelized construction makes use of wall, floor, ceiling or roof "panels" which have been framed off-site and brought to the site by truck.

Panels are lifted into place by crane and fastened together on a foundation, and possibly a framed-in floor which have been prepared before the panels arrive.

Small panels for some kit homes (left) were light enough to be lifted into place by two workers.

Some framing panels make use of special materials, such as plywood and foam roof panels for insulated cathedral ceilings.

Please see Panelized Construction for our full article on panelized home construction history, identification, construction methods, and other photographic details.

Plank Houses or Box House Construction Method Defined & Described

Plank house (C) Yuroak plank housesDetails about plank house construction & box house construction are at PLANK HOUSES. Excerpts are below.

Among the Yurok Tribe living in the Pacific Northwest we estimate that hand-split redwood plank house construction dates from before 1500. The thick planks form both the building walls and its supporting structure.

Generally in the U.S., plank house was more widely used between 1880 - 1920, with some plank house construction continuing up to possibly 1950. Plank houses are also referred to as "box houses" in some areasand used more common woods such as oak and pine. [16][17][18][19]

In their most widespread use by Europeans in North America, plank houses were constructed entirely of sawn planks and without the use of larger dimensioned 2x lumber. The photo (above left) shows a plank house constructed by Charlie Frye for the Margaret Keting School in Klamath, CA, a Yurok Tribe facility. The Yurok Tribe is currently [2014] the largest Tribe in California.

Plank house construction methods have not been entirely abandoned, and occasionally continue to be built, as the New York Times pointed out in March 2012. The Times article describes a plank house contructed in Klamath, California by Willard Carlson, Jr. Carlson's plank house, built for ceremonial uses and named Ah Pah "the beginnning of the stairway", follows traditional Yurok Indian design and uses large hand-split solid old-growth redwood planks for the building's walls and roof.

Support the Yurok Ah Pah Project

More information about the Blue Creek Ah Pah traditional Yurok Village can be found at Ah Pah Traditional Yurok Village project -

Platform Framing Building Construction Method History & Dates

Sketch comparing platform framing and balloon framing methods (C) Carson Dunlop Associates Platform framing, interior view,Minneapolis MN (C) Daniel Friedman

Platform Frame construction (sketch above, courtesy Carson Dunlop): also called western construction: the most-common residential wood structure framing method in North America. Our photo (above right) shows typical platform framing from indoors, including an interior wall partition.

A floor is constructed atop of the building foundation, forming the first "platform". Walls are framed either stud-by-stud vertically as each stud is nailed to a sole plate which in turn was nailed to the floor platform, or wall sections for the first floor are framed flat on the floor (the platform) and tilted up into place.

The next floor (platform) is constructed atop these walls and subsequent walls for the floor above are framed on that second floor platform. Typically each section of framed wall is 8 feet high.

In North America, up to about 1930 it was common for dimensional lumber to be full-sized - a 2x4 was really 2" x 4" in cross section. Modern wood framing wall studs 2x4's (a modern dimensional lumber "two by four" is actually 1.5" thick by 3.5" wide) and larger members (x" deep by 1.5" thick). See Dimensional Lumber for details.

Also see Pre-Cut Frame Construction

Post and Beam Construction Method Defined & Described - Timber Framing

Fachwerk or half timbered home in Germany 1960s (C) Daniel Friedman

Timber framing (German: Fachwerk), or half-timbering, is the method of creating framed structures of heavy timber jointed together with pegged mortise and tenon joints. -- Wikipedia.

Fachwerk (German) or half timbering (Britain) is a newer term describing post and beam timber framing from the 1700's, but timber framed structures and timber framing with stone or stucco infill older than that.

The age of "modern" half-timbering fachwerk dates from about the 1100's, as scribed timbers were used in Europe in the 11th century or earlier. Wikipedia reports this sort of timbered construction dating to neolithic times, probably with a stone infill rather than plastering over lath.

In Europe, similar framing connections using logs rather than hewn beams are still older - see Antique & Old Log Cabins for examples from both Europe and the U.S.

Our photo (above, left) of a fachwerk home near Frankfurt Germany was taken by the author in the 1960's.

Post and beam construction (C) Daniel Friedman Post and beam construction, brick infill (C) Daniel Friedman

Adze cuts and axe cuts are normally visible in the rough surface of early hand hewn wood structural beams. Our photos show a barn in upstate New York (above left) and an 18th century Norwegian timber frame building using brick infill and stucco to complete the wall enclosure (above right). See this post and barn post and beam photo for more details. See Hewn beams & planks for details about this framing method.

Post and beam construction (1700 - est. in North America): (timber framing) uses horizontal and vertical timbers that are connected (joined) using mortise and tenon joints pinned with wood pegs (treenails). Timber frame construction initially used hand hewn beams, later manually or mechanically sawn beams cut by a pit saw.; Later timber frame beams were sawn in mills using circular saws.

Timber framing using post and beam construction with mortise and tenon joint connections was used in Europe for at least 500 years before it was first employed in North America.

By 1650 a typical timber frame building used multiple bents and girt beams, may have been more than one story tall, and included an exterior made of horsehair-reinforced cement stuccoed over hand-split lath. Our photo (above) shows an 18th century Norwegian timber frame building using brick infill and stucco to complete the wall enclosure.

Modern post and beam construction (C) Daniel Friedman

Beams for a post and beam barn or home were typically cut to 4", 6", 8", or 12" square, sometimes larger, and not always square in cross section. Early hand hewn beams used a tree in rough form, hewing flat only the upper surface of the beam to which flooring was to be nailed.

Modern post and beam framing uses the original techniques but beams are milled and are uniform in dimension (photo at left). (Some modern post and beam buildings also encompass engineered steel and bolt braces and more complex structural designs.)

A sill was laid out on the ground or on flat stones at grade level, later atop stone foundations. Bents consisting of two vertical and one horizontal beam were raised and secured in place on the sills using block and tackle. Bearing beams connected the bents. Wall studs were set inside the bents to support siding (boards up to 2" thick), or walls were filled-in using stone or other masonry.

See SAW CUTS, TOOL MARKS, AGE to learn how to distinguish hand sawn, pit-sawn (which could be by hand or mechanically-driven), and circular-blade sawn framing lumber. See our photo (below) for an example of treenail pegged mortise and tenon post and beam construction connections.

Timber framing or post and beam frame construction was first employed in North American in the early 1700's and by the 1800's, when mechanically-driven sawmills were common in New England, timber framing using sawn beams this construction method was common for barns and for many homes as well.

PHOTO of post and beam framing with joint number markings. Here is a photograph of post and beam framing with joint number markings.

The observation of framing materials, framing markings, and framing styles provides considerable information about the probable age of a house.

We discuss framing materials and styles here as an aid to house age determination.

Also see our article on " Saw Cuts and Tool Marks" (links at the "More Reading" links at the bottom of this article ).

Antique and modern trusses are distinguished and modern laminated beams and I-truss beams and wood joists are discussed.

Keep in mind that even when we can identify specific types of building materials and building methods, precise dating of the time of construction of a building remains difficult: old building materials were often re-used, so beams, siding, and other components may appear in a building built later than when the materials were first made.

Also, in the U.S. various states had machines for making cut nails, screws, and sawmills at different times. For example, New York State was industrialized earlier than some western or southern states, so machine-made nails appear earlier in New York than elsewhere.

Also see NAILS & HARDWARE, AGE and SAW CUTS, TOOL MARKS, AGE for additional building age clues likely to be available when examining building framing materials.

Pre-Cut Homes & Home Kit Construction - Early Mass Produced Housing

Leavittown PA lumber yard 1954 - Daniel FriedmanPre-cut framing describes the use of dimensioned lumber that was pre-cut to standard lengths at the lumber yard where it was produced, then shipped to a building supplier or directly to a building site in order to speed, simplify, and reduce the cost of construction of homes.

Details about the history of use of pre-cut lumber are at Pre-Cut Lumber Construction. Excerpts are below.

Leavittown New York Pre-Cut Lumber Constructed Homes

According to the Leavittown Historical Society, the default of the Strathmore development project by a Rockville Centre Long Island developer in the 1930's Great Depression forced lawyer and real estate investor Abraham Levitt to take over and complete development of the project even though he and his sons were not trained in construction. That experience led to Levitt & Sons successful bid on a Navy contract to building homes for shipyard workers in Norfolk, VA where they perfected the techiniques used for high-speed, low-cost, mass production of homes built in what became Leavittown at the end of World War II.

On Long Island, in Island Trees, a golden nematode infestation that wiped out much of the area's potato crop led to farmers' selling off land in order to survive.

The combination of a surge in demand for housing for returning GI's from WWII, low-cost land on Long Island, and Leavitt & Son's expertise in mass-produced housing formed a perfect marriage when William Leavitt proposed to his father taht the Island Trees land be divided into small lots on which could be built modest, inexpensive homes. In May 1947 the Leavitts announced the plan to mass-produce 2000 rental homes. In two days, 1000 of the proposed homes had already been rented.

In 1949 the Leavitts changed from constructing rental homes to building slightly larger 800 sq.ft. ranch houses that were sold for $7,990. These homes also were constructed on concrete slabs, but incorporated radiant slab heating. (See RADIANT HEAT). The last of the 17,447 Leavittown homes was built in 1951. For a description of the role that this mass-produced housing project played in the American civil rights movement, also see Levittown: Two Families, One Tycoon... by Kushner.

Also see Log Home Construction (modern log home kits), and see Sears Kit Houses for a great example of pre-cut constructed homes.

Straw Bale Constructed Homes


Welded Wire Sandwich Framing Panelized Construction

Welded-wire sandwich framing panels: polystyrene or polyurethane foam core insulation is surrounded by a welded-wire space frame.

For full details see our full text article at Framing Methods and Welded Wire Sandwich Framing


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Technical Reviewers & References

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AVBAR DIV CLASS 08-20-2010 --> y Richardson, Spon Press; 2d Ed (2001), ISBN-10: 041925210X, ISBN-13: 978-0419252108. Quoting:
A professional reference designed to assist surveyors, engineers, architects and contractors in diagnosing existing problems and avoiding them in new buildings. Fully revised and updated, this edition, in new clearer format, covers developments in building defects, and problems such as sick building syndrome. Well liked for its mixture of theory and practice the new edition will complement Hinks and Cook's student textbook on defects at the practitioner level.
  • Guide to Domestic Building Surveys, Jack Bower, Butterworth Architecture, London, 1988, ISBN 0-408-50000 X
  • "Avoiding Foundation Failures," Robert Marshall, Journal of Light Construction, July, 1996 (Highly recommend this article-DF)
  • "A Foundation for Unstable Soils," Harris Hyman, P.E., Journal of Light Construction, May 1995
  • "Backfilling Basics," Buck Bartley, Journal of Light Construction, October 1994
  • "Inspecting Block Foundations," Donald V. Cohen, P.E., ASHI Reporter, December 1998. This article in turn cites the Fine Homebuilding article noted below.
  • "When Block Foundations go Bad," Fine Homebuilding, June/July 1998
  • Historic Preservation Technology: A Primer, Robert A. Young, Wiley (March 21, 2008) ISBN-10: 0471788368 ISBN-13: 978-0471788362
  • Log Homes: Minimizing Air Leakage in Log Homes, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Manual for the Inspection of Residential Wood Decks and Balconies, by Cheryl Anderson, Frank Woeste (Forest Products Society), & Joseph Loferski, October 2003, ISBN-13: 978-1892529343, $39.00 at or at the InspectAPediaBookstore
  • Masonry structures: The Masonry House, Home Inspection of a Masonry Building & Systems, Stephen Showalter (director, actor), DVD, Quoting:
    Movie Guide Experienced home inspectors and new home inspectors alike are sure to learn invaluable tips in this release designed to take viewers step-by-step through the home inspection process. In addition to being the former president of the National Association of Home Inspectors (NAHI), a longstanding member of the NAHI, the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), and the Environmental Standard Organization (IESO), host Stephen Showalter has performed over 8000 building inspections - including environmental assessments. Now, the founder of a national home inspection school and inspection training curriculum shares his extensive experience in the inspection industry with everyday viewers looking to learn more about the process of evaluating homes. Topics covered in this release include: evaluation of masonry walls; detection of spalling from rebar failure; inspection of air conditioning systems; grounds and landscaping; electric systems and panel; plumbing supply and distribution; plumbing fixtures; electric furnaces; appliances; evaluation of electric water heaters; and safety techniques. Jason Buchanan --Jason Buchanan, All Movie Review
  • Masonry Design for Engineers and Architects, M. Hatzinikolas, Y. Korany, Canadian Masonry (2005), ISBN-10: 0978006100, ISBN-13: 978-0978006105
  • Masonry Structures: Behavior and Design, Robert G. Drysdale, Ahmid A. Hamid, Lawrie R. Baker, The Masonry Society; 2nd edition (1999), ISBN-10: 1929081014, ISBN-13: 978-1929081011
  • Masonry, Engineered: Using the Canadian Code, J. I. Gainville, Cantext publications (1983), ASIN: B0007C37PG
  • Masonry, Non-reinforced masonry design tables, Hans J. Schultz, National Concrete Producers Association and the Canadian Masonry Contractors Association (1976), ASIN: B0007C2LQM
  • Moisture Control in Buildings, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Moisture Control in Walls, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Quality Standards for the Professional Remodeling Industry, National Association of Home Builders Remodelers Council, NAHB Research Foundation, 1987.
  • Quality Standards for the Professional Remodeler, N.U. Ahmed, # Home Builder Pr (February 1991), ISBN-10: 0867183594, ISBN-13: 978-0867183597
  • R-Value of Wood, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Slab on Grade Foundation Moisture and Air Leakage, U.S. Department of Energy
  • Straw Bale Home Design, U.S. Department of Energy provides information on strawbale home construction - original source at
  • More Straw Bale Building: A Complete Guide to Designing and Building with Straw (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series), Chris Magwood, Peter Mack, New Society Publishers (February 1, 2005), ISBN-10: 0865715181 ISBN-13: 978-0865715189 - Quoting:
    Straw bale houses are easy to build, affordable, super energy efficient, environmentally friendly, attractive, and can be designed to match the builder’s personal space needs, esthetics and budget. Despite mushrooming interest in the technique, however, most straw bale books focus on “selling” the dream of straw bale building, but don’t adequately address the most critical issues faced by bale house builders. Moreover, since many developments in this field are recent, few books are completely up to date with the latest techniques.
    More Straw Bale Building is designed to fill this gap. A completely rewritten edition of the 20,000-copy best--selling original, it leads the potential builder through the entire process of building a bale structure, tackling all the practical issues: finding and choosing bales; developing sound building plans; roofing; electrical, plumbing, and heating systems; building code compliance; and special concerns for builders in northern climates.
  • "Vapor Barriers or Vapor Diffusion Retarders", U.S. DOE: how vapor barriers work, types of vapor diffusion barriers, installing vapor barrier
  • Ventilation for energy efficient buildings, Purpose, Strategies, etc.,
  • ...