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Sticks and Stones:
Which Building Type Works For You?

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by Allison Gunkel

Children can construct a wide array of things from simple blocks, popsicle sticks, and construction paper.

Choosing a Framing Style for your house plan

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Sometime they combine ordinary objects like blankets and chairs, transforming them into secret hideouts and cozy palaces. No matter what material they use, construction is always easy and a lot of fun. Wouldn't it be nice if the same could be said for building your new home? Although it is true that building your dream home is not as simple as gluing a few sticks together, the end result is much more satisfactory.

There are a number of important aspects to consider when building your home, but the most pertinent is what your frame is constructed of. After all, without your home's frame, there really would not be any home at all. There are a few framing materials that are currently available and growing in popularity, each with its merits.

Conventional Wooden Frame (2x4 and 2x6)

The conventional wooden frame is most widely used for home construction. (Platform frames, balloon frames, and plank and beam construction are all variations on the conventional wooden frame.) It is considered economical, efficient, and also adaptable. This last characteristic is important as it allows flexibility in design whether the homeowner is striving for traditional or contemporary styles.

It may be more sensible for you to utilize 2x6 walls in your frame, depending on the climate in your location. 2x6 walls are more expensive, but in some locations the increased energy savings are worth the cost. Talk to your contractor about which frame will be most cost and energy efficient in your area.

Timber framed house plan

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Timber Frame

Timber framed homes are an alternative to the conventional wooden frame. The overall cost of the timber frame is comparable to conventional framing; however, timber frames are constructed much quicker than conventional frames. The mortise and tenon joint system utilized by timber frames allows wooden pegs to lock timbers together without glue or metal fasteners. This reinforces the point-loaded frame, allowing the load of the home to sit on the frame posts without need of interior load bearing walls. This also permits larger interior open spaces than a home with a conventional wooden frame.

Timber frame houses are more energy efficient than conventional framed homes, especially when combined with specific paneling or insulation. The exterior of a timber-framed home can be sided in various ways, blending into any neighborhood setting despite the rustic timber frame.

Steel Frame

Steel is another alternative to conventional wooden frames. Steel is attracting attention in residential construction for its simplicity and its low material cost. Take note that though material costs for steel are low, overall cost will vary based on available materials within a location, local labor, and installation efficiency. Steel is still a new material in residential construction. As home construction becomes familiar with this new framing technique, the cost of labor and the time invested will decrease.

Steel has a higher thermal conductivity than wood, however, this is not to cause concern, as steel framing and conventional wood are comparable in energy efficiency with the use of proper insulation. Steel's lightweight, high quality, and easy to handle reputation is strong in residential construction.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIP)

Structural insulated panels are panels made of a thick foam layer (4.5 to 6.5 inches) of polystyrene or polyurethane between two layers of plywood, fiber cement, or OSB (oriented strand board). Panels vary from 4 to 24 feet wide while reaching 8 to 9 feet high. Typically utilized with other framing systems for additional support and energy efficiency, SIP can also replace conventional framing when properly designed and assembled.

SIP is more airtight, has a better thermal performance, and can withstand high winds and earthquakes more effectively than other framing options. It is quick to install and comparable in overall cost to the conventional wooden frame. It is also considered environmentally friendly as the use of SIP conserves scarce timber resources and the foam layer does not cause environmental damage.

Environmentally friendly framed house plan

Building Green

You may have heard of Building Green by many of its other names: green, sustainable, or environmentally friendly housing. Unlike conventional wood, timber frame, steel, or SIP, this building type is focusing the community's growing environmental awareness on as many aspects of home design as possible. It is not merely a reference to the type of building or frame.

"Green" concepts are numerous in today's market, ranging from the material of your linens to the paint on your walls. Though greener homes may cost more up front, the end result of lower operating costs, energy efficiency, and reducing your ecological footprint is well worth the initial cost. Additionally, green concepts can be incorporated in most aspects of construction and interior design.

A few examples include:

  • Using certified wood or engineered lumber (reuses discarded wood particles) in order to reduce the misuse of endangered forests.
  • Recycled brick adds a distinct look and energy efficiency while reducing landfill additions.
  • Geothermal heat pumps and solar energy panels reduce gas and electrical wastes by utilizing the earth's renewable resources.
  • Skylights and daylighting use the sun to provide light, day or night, without waste.

How "green" your home is depends on the concepts you choose to incorporate. The U.S. Green Building Council is responsible for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program that developed a commercial construction rating system. This has since expanded into LEED for Homes allowing similar ratings to be performed on residential buildings. In addition to LEED, there are a number of organizations striving to provide green certification for home builders.

These certifications are important in ensuring that your Building Green is indeed green. There are many contractors who are eager to jump on the bandwagon of Building Green's popularity without becoming properly educated. Any reputable green contractor will be able to candidly discuss certification with you and how it can apply to your green home. Take the time to discuss all your options.

Any type of building you choose for your home will require checking local building codes to ensure your construction is allowed – different climates require specific framing. It can be dangerous and costly to begin building without proper information. Whatever building type you choose, your new home will be an exciting transition beyond the popsicle sticks and childhood building blocks.

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