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Platform vs Balloon Framing: Pros, Cons, & Differences

platform vs balloon framing

After the foundation has been laid for either commercial or residential buildings, the next logical step is framing the building’s structure. A framed structure basically refers to any material stabilized by a skeleton that can support itself as a rigid structure without relying on walls and floors to prevent deformation. Most commercial buildings use metal for framing, but residential houses rely on wood. There are two main types of framing methods: platform and balloon framing.

A common question in the construction industry is what are the main differences between the two framing methods? In this article, we will discuss the fundamentals of balloon and platform framing, highlighting the benefits and drawbacks of each construction method.

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Platform Framing Overview

What Is Platform Framing?

When the risks associated with balloon framing became apparent in the 1930s, the housing industry was quick to come up with an alternative framing method. Also known as stick framing, platform framing is the most common framing method for residential construction. It involves creating a frame by utilizing uniformly sized pieces of lumber such as 2x4s. This framing method is common in parts of Europe and rural Canada where wood is inexpensive and plentiful.

The method derives its name from framing each floor level as a separate unit or platform. It is similar to balloon framing but with a few key differences. It uses shorter pieces of timber, which cost less per foot than longer ones. Also, platform frames can be constructed without relying on scaffolding.

It is a more efficient construction method because it allows builders to construct some wall systems in a modular manner. This allows the builder to use the first floor as a stepping stone from where to build the next floor, and so on. It makes platform framing a much easier and faster method. After the horizontal frame is built, you can proceed to install roof joists and rafters to complete the structure. Usually, floor and ceiling joists, and wall studs are added after every 16 or 24 inches, starting from center to center.

Standard timber framed building with close up on the roof trusses workers nailing wood beams
Image Credit: ungvar, Shutterstock

Types of Platform Framing

The Advanced Framing Method

Also known as Optimum Value Engineering (OVE), advanced framing is a type of platform framing that makes better use of wood materials. This framing method allows builders to insulate the exterior wall due to its efficient framing technique.

The key aspects of advanced framing include:
  • 24” stud spacing: Buildings constructed with this method are designed on a 24-inch module, allowing more insulation on exterior walls. It also allows the roof joists to be installed directly on each stud and uses fewer studs.
  • Advanced corner framing: It allows builders to use fewer studs in a corner as well as to provide insulation to help minimize thermal bridging.
  • Single top plate: Since the roof truss layout is on the same 24-inch module as the wall studs, you can stick them on top of the studs, thus creating a path from the rooftop to the foundation. So now instead of providing bearing capacity, the wall plate helps to tie the wall studs together.
  • Roof pitch adjustment:It is easy to adjust the pitch of structures with simple roofs to a non-standard pitch. This makes it easier to utilize the roof sheathing properly. You can also adjust the sheath to use half and full sheath sheets to reduce labor and wastage.
  • Framing the ladder at T-wall sections: Ladder framing a structure helps reduce thermal bridging. It also helps builders to use scrap wood left from advanced framing techniques.
Wood Frame house
Image Credit: Paul Brennan, Pixabay

Advantages of Platform Framing

  • Uses shorter pieces of timber when compared to other framing methods like balloon framing. This is advantageous because longer lumber pieces are more expensive and harder to find.
  • The breaks created on the studs act as natural firebreaks.
  • Since builders build the next floor on top of each other, they get to work on a solid work surface. This creates a safer working environment with better structural integrity.
  • It is a simpler and quicker method of construction that requires less labor. This helps to keep construction costs at a bare minimum.
  • Platform framing uses fewer wooden materials.

Disadvantages of Platform Framing

  • One major disadvantage of this framing method is vertical shrinkage. Since the floor is made from thick wooden layers with grains positioned horizontally, the frame will experience vertical shrinkage when the wood dries up. This will create stress on finished surfaces.

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Balloon Framing Overview

What Is Balloon Framing?

This framing method in building constructions was mostly used to build homes from the late 19th to mid-20th century. It is often associated with Queen Anne in the USA and Canada. Each floor was built with long floor-to-ceiling panels, which later were replaced with a timber-framed foundation to serve as a base for the next floor.

Unfortunately, balloon framing has since declined as builders began to utilize new framing techniques that were more efficient and faster. However, it was in the late 1950s that balloon framing began to disappear entirely in favor of platform framing which is still the standard even today.

house framing
Image Credit: Jumpstory

The main reason people stopped using balloon framing in construction is that it allows a fire to quickly spread through the wall cavity. This has for many years created house fires from bedrooms to basements. However, this doesn’t mean that the method is useless. It has better shrinkage and wind resistance, and if you don’t have a strict budget, you can add fire protection to your balloon-framed house.

Unfortunately, balloon-framed structures are not durable. To be on the safe side, don’t live in a balloon-framed house for more than ten years.

Balloon Framing Construction

Building with a balloon frame involves creating a wooden structure with ligaments holding it together. The vertical studs connect the whole height of the structure from the foundation to the rafters. This framing system replaces heavy columns and beams with several long and continuous posts which run from the floor to the roof.

It also utilizes intermediate inserts for horizontal elements to pass through. The elements are then connected to create doors, windows and openings that are different from the floors of the building.

The balloon framing technique uses less timber material than platform framing, which allows you to save more money especially if you are working with a strict budget. It also doesn’t require dexterity in carpentry skills. All you need are basic knowledge and woodwork skills to build the frames from scratch. You also don’t need specialized labor, masons, or crate operators to build structures with a balloon frame. You only need some hand tools, and a large forklift to create a practical and functional framing structure.

timber frame construction
Image By:, Shutterstock

Advantages of Balloon Framing

  • Balloon framing is a useful construction method, especially in situations where you want to install a large fireplace, vaulted ceiling, or a two-tier open fireplace.
  • It allows for more flexibility as you design your windows. You can easily get a curved, arched, or large window covering.
  • It creates more resilient structures compared to platform training. The wall frames usually last longer and can withstand gusts of high-speed wind.
  • It creates plenty of space for piping, switches, and insulation because the space between the studs is large enough to accommodate them.

Disadvantages of Balloon Framing

  • The stud spacing created in the structures makes this method less efficient.
  • The continuous spaces between the framing structures can act as chimneys in case of a house fire.

tool divider The 5 Differences Between Platform & Balloon Frame

1. Construction

In balloon framing, a lightweight wooden frame is built around columns that ran from the foundation to the top floor of the building. The roof was a truss structure made up of ceiling joints and sloping rafters.

Platform framing, on the other hand, uses plates to extend the building upwards. However, instead of the columns extending from the foundation to the roof, the platform frames are independently located on each floor. Also, the connecting rods of each floor are placed directly on top of the tier below.

2. Wall Alignment

Since all the studs used in balloon framing are at the same length, if one stud is not perfectly aligned, the whole wall will not be level. However, in platform framing, each floor is built separately. This allows builders to make the walls plumb and level as each story is added.

3. Strength and Durability

Since the studs used on balloon framing are set at the same length, houses made from balloon frames are susceptible to collapse. In platform framing, the floors are built separately with walls supported by the floors below. This makes platform frame-built houses stronger and more durable.

Carpenter building wooden deck
Image By: Goodluz, Shutterstock

4. Safety

The safety levels in a platform frame are significantly higher than in balloon frames. This is because the proximity of a structure to the ground makes it easier for a fire to spread from one floor to the next in case of a house fire. Also, the stud spacing between the rafters and foundations is longer in a platform frame than in a balloon frame.

5. Cost

Balloon framing was, and it remains the cheapest and most preferred construction method for multistory apartments and single homes. This is because it is cheaper to build a house with a balloon frame than a platform frame. Furthermore, balloon framing tends to use larger pieces of timber, which are expensive.

post and beam construction
Image By: ungvar, Shutterstock

6. Weight

Platform framing has an edge over the traditional balloon framing method in terms of being lightweight. Balloon frames were once commonplace in most countries because their technology allowed them to sway with the wind. This makes balloon framing ideal for buildings that need to be lightweight but still have robust construction.

house divider Frequently Asked Questions

Can you fireproof a balloon frame house?

Yes, you can fireproof a balloon house through fire blocking. This process involves adding horizontal lumber pieces at the breaks of each floor in the building to prevent the fire from spreading. It is not necessary to fire block a balloon frame house but doing so will increase the time for you to evacuate your house in case of a fire outbreak.

What is timber framing construction?

This is a unique style of building construction that relies on heavy timber pieces instead of slender dimensional timber. It is mostly used in the construction of beam and post structures to provide support for horizontal beams. Timber frames may be constructed from round logs or timber milled to a square.

Timber frame beam framework stick built home with roof under construction
Image By: ungvar, Shutterstock

Do balloon-framed houses have load-bearing walls?

Usually, faulty foundations due to poor and sloppy construction practices can lead to a house having inadequate load-bearing walls. This simply means that the walls will not be able to provide proper support under the floors and the rest of the structure.

Initially, most houses constructed in the 19th century were non-load bearing. The weight of the entire structure was supported by the timber frame. Fortunately, the balloon frame is sufficiently load-bearing, thus eliminating the need for a heavy timber frame.

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The method of framing you choose for your house construction will depend on your locality. You should also choose a framing method that reduces fire risks in your home. If you use a balloon frame, make sure you add lumber for fire blocking. Also, ensure that your chosen framing method can withstand weather elements and the test of time.

While both platform and balloon framing are worthwhile framing methods, platform framing is becoming more conventional in the construction industry. It is a popular method because of the ease of construction and helps eliminate errors created by balloon framing construction. Platform framing is also a cheaper alternative and is easier to work with.

Balloon framing may have become obsolete, but it is still a worthy consideration. It offers more design flexibility in the construction of windows and doors, creates more resilient structures, and creates space for piping, insulation, and light switches. Unfortunately, it incurs higher maintenance costs and is susceptible to house fire accidents.

Featured Image Credit: (L) northlight, Shutterstock | (R) Lev Kropotov, Shutterstock


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