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.
What is House Framing?
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.
Materials and Types of House Framing
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
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
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.
What is the Most Common Type of Framing1
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.
Parts and Layers of Framing a House
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.
Types of Lumber Used for Framing
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.
Parts of a Frame
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.
- Sill Plate: This is the portion of the frame that gets mounted to the concrete foundation
- Floor Joist: A floor joist is a horizontal support that holds up the subfloor and flooring
- End Joist: An end joist is the last floor joist in a series, which is sometimes attached to the ends of other joists
- Ledger: A ledger is a horizontal support that runs between joists to provide additional structural integrity and resist shifting
- Subfloor: The subfloor is typically made of particle board or oriented strand board (OSB). It gets affixed to the floor joists and provides structure for the flooring above
- Window Sill: This is a horizontal support that runs along the bottom of window openings in the frame
- Header: A header is the horizontal support that is placed at the top of a window opening
- Stud: Studs are vertical posts that get installed every 16 or 24 inches — on center, depending on the building code in your area — where all interior and exterior walls will be placed. Studs support the double plate up top
- Girder: A girder is a large horizontal support that provides much of the structural stability of a house
- Brace: Braces are used to distribute loads from one part of the home to another, such as between the roof joists and the studs
- Bridging: Bridging is made of two braces that form an x-shape between girders or other supports to provide stability
- Double Plate: The double plate is a horizontal support that rests on the top of the studs. It provides support for the rafters and roofing material above
- Tie Beam: The tie beam is the horizontal support that runs beneath the rafters. It typical connects both sides of the sloped roof from below
- Ceiling Joist: A ceiling joist is like a floor joist, but it provides a place to secure ceiling material rather than flooring. It runs above the studs and below the rafters
- Rafter: A rafter is a somewhat horizontal support for the sheathing. Rafters typically rest on the double plate or tie beams
- Sheathing: Sheathing is like the subfloor but for the roof. It provides a level and even surface to which the roof material is attached
- Gable Stud: A gable stud is a vertical support that transfers weight from the roof to the double place. A gable stud doesn’t always appear, as it’s only required for specific roof styles
- Strut: A strut is an angled brace that distributes the load from the roof onto horizontal supports, such as girders
How to Frame a House: Basic Steps
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.
Step 1: Attach the Sill Plate
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.
Step 1a: Install Floor Joists
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.
Step 1b: Install Subflooring
If you’re installing floor joists, subflooring can then be nailed to the joists to provide even support for your flooring.
Step 2: Install Studs
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.
Step 2a: Make openings for the windows and doors
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.
Step 3: Attach Top Plates
Once the walls are raised, you can attach the double top plate.
Step 4: Attach Tie Beams and Ceiling Joists
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.
Step 5: Attach Rafters
Rafters can then be attached to your tie beams and joists. These will serve as the main support for your roof sheathing.
Step 6: Attach 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.
Useful Framing Terms to Know
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.
- Butt wall: A butt wall is an internal wall that butts up against an exterior wall
- By-wall: A by-wall is one that makes up the exterior side of a home
- Corner stud: A corner stud is a vertical support at the corners of the home. These are sometimes reinforced for additional structural integrity
- Cripple: A cripple is a portion of a stud that falls above a window or door opening
- Intersecting wall: An intersecting wall is one that separates interior rooms
- Ladder back: A ladder back is a structurally sound way to attach an intersecting wall to an exterior wall. Horizontal supports are added between studs
- Trimmer: Trimmers are vertical supports that run from the header to the window sill. These aren’t required for all window openings, and it depends on the type of window you choose to install
- Wall panel: A wall panel is a portion of an exterior or interior wall that is constructed before standing it up
Frequently Asked Questions
Cost to Frame a House
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.
How Long it Takes to Frame a House
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.
What’s Required Before Frame Construction?
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.
How Long to Finish a House After Framing?
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.
When Frame Repair is needed
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.