Balloon Framing: Definition, Architecture & Construction

Instructor: Graig Delany

Graig teaches Architecture, Construction and Engineering Courses and has a Master of Architecture Degree

The three main types of wall framing systems are post and beam, balloon framing, and platform framing. This article will discuss balloon framing, its history, and the benefits and drawbacks of its use.

House Support

Have you ever seen pictures of a hurricane's aftermath? Did you notice that some houses did not get their roofs blown off, while others did? It could be a result of the framing system used to construct that house.


Framing Systems

The framing system is the structure of the building holding up the walls, floors, and roof. Framing systems use structural elements and dimensional lumber to support the wall and sheathing materials to cover them. The benefit of this method is that it requires less material to create structures.

Framing systems are an alternative to mass wall construction. Mass walls are made by stacking horizontal layers of material. Examples include adobe, masonry, and log cabins.

Mass Wall Structure, Log Cabin
Mass wall structure, log cabin

Balloon Frame Basics

A balloon frame structure is a timber frame structure, where the studs run continuously from the sole plate to the rafter plate. The studs are typically a soft pine dimensional lumber. These studs are placed 16' on center, OC, to accommodate the 4' increments of the sheathing material. Wall width could vary depending on project, the lumber size would be one of the following: 2x4s, 2x6s or 2x8s. Once the framing is complete the walls are sheathed.

Balloon Frame Construction

Walls are typically constructed on their side and tilted up; this allows nails to be driven through the plate and into the studs instead of toenailing. After all the walls are in place and secured, the next step is to install the floor joists. The first step is to attach the ribbon at the correct floor joist height. The ribbon is typically a piece of 1x6 that runs the length of the wall and is used to rest the joists on while they are being installed. Once the floor joists are installed, the floor can be laid and the ceiling joists are installed on top of the rafter plate. When the wall framing is complete the roof framing and wall sheathing begins.

Balloon frame diagram
Balloon Frame Diagram

Post and Beam

Post and beam construction in many ways was the predecessor of balloon framing. Post and beam construction uses large structural members to resolve loads; horizontal beams carry the load to vertical posts. The post and beam construction system creates large openings in between the posts. This relatively intuitive and simplistic building system necessitates lumber that is strong enough to carry these larger loads.

Post and beam barn structure
Post-and-Beam Barn Structure

Platform Framing

Platform framing, or western framing, builds single-floor height walls upon which a second floor is built. Then the second story walls are built on top of the second story floor. Building structures one floor at a time is often quicker and more efficient.

Platform frame house; note the platform separating the walls
Platform Frame House, note the platform separating the walls

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