An older San Diego house that might have been framed differently than today.

How Old Houses Were Framed Back in the Day

An older San Diego house that might have been framed differently than today.

During the past couple of centuries, there’s no doubt that building methods have changed significantly. This is due to a variety of reasons. Firstly, technological advancements in the building industry have allowed us to discover more modern and efficient building techniques. These techniques allow us to build homes faster and easier than ever before.

Secondly, the variety of building materials on offer has also changed, as well as the ability to make materials such as lumber more durable and lightweight.

Lastly, our tastes have changed, and styles of homes have come and gone as we move through the decades. Different styles require different materials, which is why an older property will look very different from a new property.

With that said, not everyone wants a new, modern home. Nineteenth-century homes are extremely popular as renovation projects and for those who wish to live in a little slice of American history. Older homes possess a certain charm that you just don’t get with new builds.

If you’ve always dreamt of fixing up an older property, then it’s wise to understand how homes used to be built. This will assist you in making good decisions when it comes to how you plan to renovate it. If you keep in mind the existing structure, you can carry out the remodel without compromising structural integrity or making costly errors.

The Different Types of Frames in Older Homes

Depending on the age of your home, you will likely find a specific framing technique applied. Older homes will have wooden frames, while more modern structures may have masonry frames.

From the 1800s to around the 1960s, wooden framing was predominant:

  • Balloon Framing: Mainly used from 1860-the 1920s, homes were framed using stud walls that began at the foundation level and extended right up to the rafters. These could be up to 30 feet long in a two-story construction. The drawback to this technique was the fire hazard it presented. Because of the long open cavities, fires could spread very quickly and engulf the entire structure.

  • Western platform framing: Used from 1920, this method was an improvement on the balloon technique. It essentially made each story of the house separate from each other as they were constructed independently. Wall studs were 12 feet maximum in length for each story, and a horizontal plate was attached to the top of each row of studs. This separated the stories and made them much safer from fire hazards. The technique was also much easier and cheaper and is still used today in modern homes.

The Use of Lumbar in Older Homes

The industrial revolution paved the way for more efficient woodcutting technologies, making homes much more affordable due to reduced labor costs.

Prior to the industrial revolution, logs were hand sawn and hewn from timber logged from the local land. Wood joinery techniques were applied, such as mortice and tenon joints or wood pegs and notching to construct the house. It was uncommon for nails to be used. As you can imagine, this method was extremely labor-intensive and expensive, usually reserved for the wealthy.

From the mid-1800s, machinery wood cutting gradually became commonplace. This allowed the wood to be cut to a uniform size quickly and cheaply, creating a housing boom. Owning property became part of the American Dream.

Old Growth Vs. New Growth

The housing construction boom meant that by 1930 most of the ancient wood forests were logged out. New growth timber became commonplace instead.

Old-growth timber is wood extracted from ancient, established forests aged from 100 – 500 years old. As the trees age, they develop more rings in the trunk. This makes their wood sturdier and stronger, and it is more resistant to rot. Therefore, old-growth wood is a fantastic building material that can survive in buildings for many centuries.

Anything built after 1940, however, will likely contain new growth wood taken from trees aged between 12 – 20 years old. Because they haven’t had the growth time to develop lots of rings in the trunk, this wood is weaker and less resistant.

If you have a home containing old-growth wood, you should take care to preserve and maintain it. Properly cared-for old-growth wood will should last throughout your lifetime and beyond. Old-growth wood can be found in a variety of places in your home:

  • Flooring

  • Wainscoting

  • Framing

  • Exterior and interior trims

  • Window frames

  • Doors

  • Cabinets and closets

  • Siding

  • Shingles

Masonry Constructed Homes

While the industrial revolution paved the way for more efficient wooden homes to be built, it also made it possible for homes to be built using masonry techniques:

  • Standard masonry: Built using solid brick, concrete, or stones on top of a masonry foundation. These homes will still have wood-framed flooring and a wooden roof.

  • Masonry veneer: This type of home has a traditional wooden frame made from lumber that is a uniform dimension. A single layer of brick, stucco, or stone is then applied to the exterior walls.

Brick-making technological advancements also meant that, like lumber, the bricks could be manufactured to a denser consistency as well as a perfectly uniform size. This allowed homes to be built incredibly sturdy.

It’s likely that your old home will have one of the above building techniques applied to it. Due to the fragile nature and vulnerability to fire, however, there are not many balloon-framed structures still standing today. Homes built before the mid-1800s are actually very rare and are usually specially preserved historical buildings.

However your home is constructed, with the proper care and maintenance you can embark on your project to restore it to its former glory and preserve its character for future generations.

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