Building Success 101
Q: How much energy will a high-efficiency HVAC system save?
A: That depends on the home’s energy detailing. These details include properly sealing the ductwork, eliminating gaps around insulation batts, and plugging air leaks, especially in attics and basements. This level of attention to detail will not only lower energy bills but will also make the finished home a lot more comfortable.
Framing details have a big impact on all aspects of a new home.
Most people don’t think much about their home’s structural skeleton—unless there’s a problem. Small mistakes made during the framing stage can cause headaches later on that range from annoyances to health issues. Let’s look at how a home gets framed, and how the builder makes sure it’s done right.
Most homes use “platform” or “stick” framing. The framing crew builds the floor platform then adds walls and ceilings one piece (one stick) at a time. Other workers then route pipes, wires, and ductwork through the frame; stuff or blow insulation into cavities; and cover the structure with drywall, siding, and trimwork. The system is efficient and proven. And the fact that all tradespeople understand it makes for more predictable scheduling and cost estimating.
The system’s familiarity also means that a good framing crew knows the consequences of not minding the details. Inadequately glued subflooring can cause floors to squeak when walked on. A wall that’s not plumb (straight up and down), level, and perfectly straight along its length can mean wavy drywall and sticking doors. An out-of-square corner could make trim harder to fit and prevent a wood floor from visually aligning the way it’s supposed to. The framer has to take steps to prevent these problems.
There are also many small items that need attention. Blocking has to be added behind everything from cabinets to baseboard, so that nails and screws that penetrate the drywall bite into something solid. Window and door headers have to align perfectly, as do rows of recessed lights. And there has to be enough space between the framing in the right places to fit ductwork and plumbing stacks.
While the framing crew builds to a set of blueprints and specifications, it is important to view the framing skeleton as part of the overall finished product. That’s why the framer works closely with the job supervisor, the professional builder’s on-site manager. The super is someone with many years of experience, who sees the house as an integrated system, and who understands how the structural shell will ultimately interact with all the other elements.
The super also has to oversee plumbers, electricians, and HVAC contractors. These trades will be cutting holes in the frame to accommodate wires and pipes and ducts. The super needs to work with them to make sure they don’t compromise the structure or create leaks. Like everything else on a building site, it’s a collaborative effort, and one reason why professional builders seek out experienced subs with good communication systems.
Then there’s the issue of moisture in the framing. For one thing, moisture trapped in walls can lead to mold. For another, wet lumber will move as it dries, causing nail pops and cracks in the drywall as well as squeaky floors and stairways.
Avoiding these problems starts with dry lumber. In older homes, the walls were drafty enough that wet lumber and minor leaks could easily dry out, but that’s not the case with today’s code-mandated tight construction. Nowadays, the educated, quality-conscious builder uses a systematic approach to dealing with moisture—an approach that includes checking the framing with a moisture meter and, if necessary, taking steps to dry it out before hanging the drywall. It also means detailing walls so that they block energy-robbing drafts but give any moisture that does get inside a way out.
The point is that the framer and job supervisor have to constantly think ahead to all the work that comes afterwards, and make sure that the framed structure will support a quality end product. The knowledge and experience needed to make sure this happens is part of the value a professional builder brings to the table.