The Trades

Research, insights and advice from craftsmen and industry experts

House Framing Basics: Types, Terms, and Components

Light frame construction (known simply as “framing” in residential construction) is the technique of creating a structure based on vertical components, known as studs, which provide a stable frame for interior and exterior wall coverings. Horizontal elements, called joists, run the length of the floor, or between walls or beams. The joists support ceilings and floors.  

Today, platform framing—in which each story is framed on top of the previous one—is the method of choice among most builders. Using one floor as the platform for the construction of the next floor creates a stable work surface. It also allows builders to use widely-available pieces of dimensioned lumber, versus the longer or more natural cuts of wood used in older methods. 

Framing: a quick history lesson

Timber framing

Timber framing, which involves fitting together large posts and beams and connecting them with wooden pegs, was popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. In timber...

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5 Types of House Foundations

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when building a house is determining the kind of foundation it will rest on. After all, the foundation serves the essential functions of keeping your home in place even as the ground beneath it might shift, insulating it, keeping the moisture out, and keeping it level—even if your house is built on a hill with a 45-degree angle. Builders choose foundations based on the home’s location and climate, soil conditions and area humidity, and of course, the budget.

5 Types of House Foundations

There are five main foundation types and a handful of important variations.   

1. Basement Foundation

A full basement foundation begins with a hole of at least eight feet deep to accommodate an underground living space whose floor space matches most or all of the home’s ground level. You’ll place structural foundation walls on concrete footings that run the perimeter of the basement. Those footings need to be...

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What Is a Shear Wall and Why Do Buildings Need Them?

Being able to identify the various types of walls on a structural plan is an essential skill, but it’s also important to know what makes each type of wall unique. Professional builder Jordan Smith explains in his Introduction to Reading Blueprints course:

“When you're reading a blueprint, you understand that all walls are not the same. You have shear walls, you have load-bearing walls, and you have architectural walls.”

What is a shear wall? 

While columns and load-bearing walls keep buildings standing up, carrying the compression load of the structure down to its foundation, the shear wall is what keeps structures from blowing over, resisting the lateral forces of wind and seismic activity.

How do shear walls work?

Understanding all the physics of shear walls may require an education in structural engineering, but a simple way to grasp how they operate is to imagine a wooden square with four edges—essentially two columns and two beams. This...

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What Is a Stem Wall Foundation and How Is It Different From a Monolithic Foundation?

Stem walls are the backbones of one of the five types of house foundations common in the United States, crawl space foundations. Here are the basics of how these short walls hold up large houses. 

What is a stem wall? 

A type of foundation common in much of the United States, stem walls are short (up to several feet, or the height of a crawl space) and are attached to a concrete footing. They are typically used in houses with crawl spaces, either vented or unvented, and are especially common in California, Texas, the Northwest, and the South. They are also a popular choice among architects designing homes in areas where earthquakes occur frequently. 

Stem walls wouldn’t be used in houses with full basements, common in much of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast as well as the Midwest, or those raised atop piers to sit above flood levels, as with those built in some coastal areas.

What are the advantages of stem wall foundations?

There are many reasons why crawl space...

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