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This article describes and illustrates the history of use of pre-cut wood framing lumber in the development of high-speed, mass-produced housing in the United States. We describe and define the different types of dimensioned lumber: full-sized and modern (smaller) framing lumber such as rafters, studs, and joists.
This FRAMING METHODS, Age, Types article series, lists 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.
Original source of photographs used in this article: creative commons film: "Our Home Town: Leavittown, PA" a 1954 advertising film of Leavittown PA, one of the planned communities built by William Levitt & Sons.
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Pre-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.
Before dimensioned, pre-cut lumber was in widespread use on construction jobsites, lumber was often dimensioned and rough-cut, or cut to order at local lumber yards and building suppliers.
On the job every rafter, stud, sill-plate was either used in random lengths flat (sills) or cut to standard lengths for stud framing.
Currently at major building suppliers such as Home Depot and Loews, it would be difficult to not to find standard dimensioned lumber sold pre-cut to standard residential construction lengths.
In a "standard" wood-framed residential home, roughly 15,000 board feet of lumber is used. Site-built stick-framed homes (see Platform Framing) are constructed almost entirely of pre-cut lumber, perhaps excepting cuts necessary to frame around building openings and features.
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 techniques 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 that 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.
Thousands of identical wood-framed homes were built on a concrete slab on grade (no basement or crawl space), and were modest in size. According to author Gail Collins,
"In the beginning, the newly constructed dream houses were, by our current standards, very small. (In the famous Leavittown development on Long Island, the basic house was a 750-square-foot, four room Cape Cod with one bath and two bedrooms."
The following description of this early and very successful use of mass production methods to construct homes is quoted from Leavittown Historical Society:
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.
Leavittown PA, a similar housing development was completed in the mid 1950's in Bucks County PA - the source of photos used in this article.
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. Quoting from part of an Amazon.com review of this text:
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