I am still in Gunnison, Colorado building a straw bale house in Crested Butte. We have made a lot of headway and are currently putting up siding. It has been about 4 months since we finished our foundation and framing alone took up a month and a half of that time. Framing made me realize just how much of a kinesthetic learner I am. I really struggled with comprehending the framing process from the talks Dusty, our construction supervisor, was giving us.
However, once I jumped in and began working things slowly became clearer. Today I am going to do a blog on the process of conventional stick framing. There are many minor details to the process so I am just going to explain the general steps.
So the very first thing we had to do was deal with finding square on the concrete. Whenever you pour a foundation it always moves slightly after it solidifies and it is almost impossible to have it end up perfectly square according to the plans. As framers, it is our job to figure out where we will put down our bottom plates that will match up with the plans and make things easier for ourselves as we continue to build upwards. This is the most important part of framing; if you do this incorrectly it will effect the rest of your upper floors and the roof. It HAS to be exact.
We used our retaining wall (the vertical concrete wall) as a constant because it can’t be moved. The process of finding square is kind of confusing and I won’t go into details, however we did it using a laser level. If you don’t have a fancy laser level you can use the Pythagorean theorem , a2+b2=c2, to find your square as well. (I never thought I’d actually end up using this in real life!!)
One of the most important things to remember during the process of framing is to BUILD TO THE NUMBER. Your plans give you specific details of exactly where everything should be and you should always follow it before you try to make things plum or level.
Once you have finally figured out where on the concrete you will want to be building on to make things correct, you snap chalk lines to mark where your bottom plates (which are just 2x4s that will be directly on the concrete) will go.
If you read my blog on foundations you will know that we put in anchor bolts into the concrete, this is how we will connect the bottom plates to the foundation slab. All of the bottom plates are done with treated wood so that they don’t rot from the concrete absorbing moisture. We also put sill seal underneath the boards, which seals any air spaces that might be between the concrete and the board. Once we build our walls we will stand them up on top of the bottom plates so that we will have double bottom plates. Our house will end up having both double bottom plates and double top plates.
So the blue prints will let you know exactly how each wall will need to be built. Let me first explain some common terms so that it is more easy to understand.
Stud: Spans from top plate to bottom plate, these are what make up the majority of the wall systems.
12 on center: The first number can be replaced with any number, it just means that from the center of one stud to the center of the next is that number.
King Stud: This is what is used for making windows and doors, it is the long stud that will also go from bottom plate to top plate. Most windows and doors take several special studs put right up next to each other to make it stable.
Jack Stud: Goes from bottom plate to door or window header
Header: A horizontal support that distributes weight. It goes at the top of a window or door.
Sill: The bottom plate of a window
Cripple: Short board that stands vertically underneath a window
Rough Opening: The opening between the jack studs that is for a window or door
The process of building a wall is to first cut all of your studs. They might vary in length depending on which floor or which unit you are on but as far as for example, the west unit first floor; they will all be the same height. So you can get them all pre cut before you put your walls together.
Once all of your boards are cut then you can lay them out on the ground. You will have a bottom plate and a top plate and then your studs will go in between them which whatever spacing is asked for in the plans. Most of our walls are 24” on center. You will want to have most of your walls built before you stand anything up.
When laying out your studs you want the spacing to start on the south end of the building (we are pulling south to north) and continue consecutively uninterrupted despite doors and windows. So if it is 24” on center you continue to have a stud ever 24” on center no matter if there is a king or jack stud from a window right next to it so that you create an even grid.
For walls that have doors and windows you have to pay close attention to how many king and jack studs the plans ask for and make sure your rough opening is the exact dimensions that are asked for.
Note: One of the reasons it is so important to follow the plans about the spacing of the studs is because of the drywall. The drywall is a specific length and if you don’t space the studs correctly you won’t be able to add it. (All of our interior walls will have drywall; our exterior will have the straw bales and plaster.)
In our situation because we are building a duplex home, we have a party wall which is the wall separating the two units. By code, this has to have a fire separation, which is drywall. The drywall went on while it was still on the ground and then we all worked together to get it in place and stand it up. We had to add drywall plaster to any cracks to make it a complete fire barrier. A fire wall was added on both sides so that they were pressed against each other. We braced them to hold them up until the rest of the walls were able to go in.
It’s best to have many walls made before you stand them up because then you only need minimal bracing. The walls obviously support each other once they are up so it’s best to get them all up in a day so that you don’t have to worry about creating other support for them. You usually start with the outside walls and then put in the interior walls.
Note: Any walls that are going against concrete have to get flashing tape on the boards touching because you can’t have untreated wood touching concrete due to the moisture absorption.
PLUM, LEVEL, SQUARE
Once all of our walls are up and we have done everything to the number we will check for plum level and square. The importance of doing everything to the number is that if everything is equally off as far as being plum or level goes because you’ve gone to the number, then ideally when you adjust one wall, all of the walls will follow it to become correct.
The way we fixed the plum (which isthe vertical level, level being the horizontal level) is by essentially just pulling and pushing the walls to where they needed to be and putting in braces to hold them. To get things level, you could shim everything up but Dusty didn’t want to do that so he decided we would wait until we put the floor for the second level in and shim that up which is easier.
Once our walls are in place we mark lines for sheeting. Once the walls are sheeted they will no longer move and you will no longer need bracing. The lines for sheeting makes sure they are all going on at the same height so that they are all put on evenly. We want to put them all up in the same orientation, only changing their length but keeping the height the same. This makes it look nicer and overall easier to put on because you won’t have to make as many custom cuts.
MOVING UP TO THE SECOND FLOOR
We will have rim joists that will go around the border on top of our first floor framing. These are very big and thick structural pieces of wood that support a floor or ceiling. The rim joists are what eye joists will attach to. Eye joists are long pieces of wood that is what the floor will actually sit on. These have to also be either 12” on center or 24” on center. The eye joists stand up right, running across the building in whatever orientation the plans call for.
Once these are in place, this is where we shim up to get level. We used the laser level again to find high points and work off of that. We will want to shim our eye joists up to the highest joist and get it all even. We also had to get them flush with the rim board so that the floor can go on level.
Once all of our eye joists are level we will ad blocking in between them at the ends to add stability. This keeps them from bending over.
PLY BOARD FLOOR
Once the joists are finally all level and in position, we can get up and add plywood to create the floor for the second story! The process of laying the ply board is first putting glue on to the eye joists. You drop it down and get it flush to the framing underneath, and then nail it in. When you add the next piece you want to make sure it’s tight everywhere, you can do this by using a sledgehammer to get it snug. Each board has a female and a male end so that they can fit in to each other nicely. You do have to make sure that you move quickly though because the glue begins to dry quickly.
Once your ply board floor is on you basically just start the whole process over again for the second and then third floor!
We started to add Tyvek once we got our second floor up. Tyvek acts as a drainage plane. With the temperature difference between the outside and the inside being so different it creates condensation so you have to have something to get your water outside so it doesn’t create mold.
To make it look nice we put all the Tyvek on in the same direction. To apply it you just roll it out across a snap line you have made for yourself and then staple the top first to keep the line. Then just staple all the way down and repeat.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
So there were definitely parts of framing that I really enjoyed and parts that I definitely hated. I found that I really enjoyed doing the dry wall plaster. I also liked having to read the blue prints and figure out how to build the walls correctly and then getting to put them together. I also felt that the flooring was pretty enjoyable. The things that were the worst in my opinion were the squaring and the shimming. You have never felt real frustration until you have found that no matter what you do nothing is ever square the way you need it to be. Also trying to get everything shimmed to being level took forever and was another thing that never seemed to end up correct. Overall I enjoyed framing, however, whenever I build my own house, I only want one story.
-Our third floor has vaulted ceilings, the way we framed that so that we didn’t have to make walls that were all custom heights is we framed it to the lowest point and then went back in and added framing above the walls that went to the ceiling.
-We had a few other huge structural beams called GluLams that sat on PSL. The GluLam or Glue Laminate, is what supports the roof. It sits on a PSL or Parallel Strand Lumber that distributed the weight downward into special points on the first floor. The engineer is the one who figures out where this is needed and how to get the weight distributed to make the house be able to stand and support the roof and snow load.
-Our windows and doors needed what were called window and door bucks. This is a surface around the windows that is 12” out that meets flush with the straw bales once they go in. The window bucks were the last thing before finishing the vaulted ceilings that made our framing complete!
Our engineer came out and talked to us to answer some questions in mid June. Here are some of the things we were told.
-An engineer is actually more important than an architect when it comes to building a home. An architect creates the design of the house but the engineer figures out how to make it structurally sound and doesn’t fall down.
- They designed our house to be able to hold 100 lbs a square foot of snow. That is roughly about 10-12 ft.
-We frame everything first and don’t use straw bale as anything structural so that we can get a roof on so that when straw goes in it is protected by the elements.
-Light post and beam (a type of timber framing) is the way to do a straw bale home with the least amount of material. However, it is much harder to frame and it doesn’t work very well with multiple stories.
- 1/3 of an acre in Crested Butte with nothing on it will cost you between 600k-1.2 million. Which is why affordable housing is so important!
-Affordable housing houses can only increase in worth by 3% a year so that they will always stay affordable housing. They also will only be able to sell to people that fit in the affordable housing qualifications.
-Straw bale and Straw cell don’t have much difference in R-value. However if straw cell is done right then it can have a little bit more.
So that is the basic process of conventional stick framing. I’m grateful we had three stories to frame because I don’t think I could have fully comprehended it if we had had only one story to learn from. There are many different types of framing and everyone does things slightly differently. This was the most practical way to do this build for our climate, environment and budget. Thanks for reading!