Balloon Framing
Articlesbuilding architecture and structural design

Balloon Framing Construction: Innovative type of Framing Construction

Last Updated on April 4, 2024 by Admin

A wooden structure’s balloon framing comprises small pieces nailed together. In contrast to platform framing, where each floor is framed independently, balloon framing uses studs (vertical members) that stretch the entire building height (often two stories) from the foundation plate to the rafter plate. Scandinavia and the United States are the two countries that use balloon framing the most. Queen Anne and Shingle-style buildings are prominent examples of balloon framing.


This method was well-liked when long timbers were simple to come by, but it was progressively supplanted by platform timber framing, in which each story is made by floor-to-ceiling timber panels and a floor deck that then serves as the platform for the next story to be built. In a balloon frame, the studs run from the foundation to the rafters, whereas in a platform frame, the studs are independent of each story. This is the main distinction between balloon and platform framing.

What is the Balloon Framing construction system?

Image: What is the Balloon Framing construction system?


A type of wood home construction known as balloon framing uses long, vertical 2″ x 4″s for the external walls. From the sill above the foundation to the roof, these long “studs” continue unbroken. It was a fundamentally different construction style from the “wooden frame” or “braced frame” that had existed for centuries before it began to be used, well before the middle of the nineteenth century.Large timbers were employed in the previous type of timber framing, interlocked with chiseled joints (mainly mortise and tenons) held in place by wood pegs. The balloon frame is entirely held together by nails. The only boards that require chiseling are the diagonal boards, the corner braces that are “let in” to the studs so that they are flush with the wall surface, and the horizontal boards that support higher-level floor joists.

The balloon frame system replaces the bulky beams and columns with several long continuous frame slats that extend from the bottom of the building to its top, with intermediate inserts that permit the horizontal pieces to enter and fit together to create the building’s various floors as well as its windows, doors, and other openings.

What’s the Problem with Balloon Framing?

From around the 1880s until the 1930s, balloon framing was the most popular type of construction in the United States. People began looking for a quicker, less expensive way to construct homes in the 1800s. Most people could not cut the intricate woodwork needed for a timber frame house unless they were competent housewrights.

Due to the Industrial Revolution and railroads, dimensional lumber (2×4, 2×6, etc.) and manufactured nails were now readily available. Balloon framing would be made practical by this new set of building materials that have been standardized. Instead of employing joinery like the earlier timber frames, dimensional lumber is attached with nails to create a balloon frame house. How does that vary from the way we construct homes today?

The fact that the framing members extend from the mudsill to the rafters distinguishes a balloon frame from other types of structures. Since there were still enough towering old-growth trees in America’s forests, lumber mills could produce a 20, 24, or even 30-foot-long 24! These were significantly longer studs than anything we use today!

Due to the lack of insulation used in most homes during construction, the long, continuous studs produced hundreds of ideal, unhindered pathways for fire to spread. In a platform frame (how we build nowadays), there is a top plate—a gap—between each story in the stud bay. In contrast to a balloon frame, which lacks this break, a fire that starts in the basement can readily (and very quickly) spread to every home floor.


When balloon framing was in use, house fires were all too often, and even when they did break out, most homes didn’t last long enough for the fire departments of the day to have much of an impact. In many cases, houses would burn down quickly without giving the occupants the time to flee for safety. In addition to the fact that there were fewer and fewer tall trees available by the 1930s, platform framing was considered as the answer to this fire safety problem. Shorter lumber pieces were safer and more cost-effective when used to construct homes. Therefore, this method made more sense.

Balloon Framing – Construction Method Process

Beginning in the 1830s, this framing technique was widely used in North America up to the middle of the 1950s. When extremely long lumber was customary and readily available, it used exceptionally long, continuous, lightweight wooden wall sections (called studs) that often extended at least two stories of building height. (FYI: To achieve the intended two- or three-story height, the 2x4s may have been scabbed together in a balloon-framed structure constructed on a tight budget.)

The rough-sawn, lightweight studs’ real 2″x4″ dimension significantly reduced the expense, labor, and technical expertise needed to construct long-lasting homes. Today, rather of requiring large teams of workers, as was the case with the previous timber framing method, dwellings could be built more easily by as few as one or two people. The flooring was then made inside the studs of the walls and suspended from “rim board, ribbon board, or ledger board,” a board with notches that were used to support the studs (similar technique to attaching a deck to the side of a house).

These older homes are expensive to heat, insulate, or rebuild since the resulting walls could include any type of insulation material, including sawdust, treated newspaper, or even no insulation. The floors of balloon-framed structures are especially prone to drooping, which makes it difficult and expensive to rebuild these old homes properly. Additionally, some materials and construction techniques are entirely incompatible with balloon-framed structures.

For instance, a new baseboard trim installation would probably reveal enormous, ugly gaps between the trim and the sagging floor! Never take anything in a home for granted to be straight, plumb, or level, especially in an older home. Assuming there will undoubtedly be significant and widespread issues, the key question is: how severe and how huge are they? Always make sure you have looked through everything.

The gaps and wall surface were then covered with plaster (a wall construction and finishing technique known as lath and plaster) and frequently painted with lead-based paints. Interior walls were then nailed up, covered with thin, horizontal strips of wood (known as a lathe), and covered with thin, flat strips of wood again (which form a hazard during renovations).

Older properties frequently include extensive asbestos use, which is only permitted to be disturbed or removed under specific legal conditions by companies that have received training and licenses for asbestos removal. The asbestos is removed and disposed of securely by trained people who enter the scene, close off the area, and don protective gear such as respirator masks and special suits.


Older homes are also more likely to have what was once considered original knob and tube wiring, which is legally required to be removed during a significant renovation and replaced with a wire that complies with the most recent electrical wiring code. This is expensive since it necessitates substantial deconstruction and reconstruction.

Insurance providers will probably decline to cover a home if there is still known knob and tube wiring. The top levels are where knob and tube wiring is most likely to be found, and it would be the most expensive and hardest to replace the wiring there. Another location where knob and tube wiring are likely to be visible and quite simple to inspect is the attic.

Advantages of the balloon frame system

Because it is a construction technique that doesn’t require a qualified workforce with sophisticated carpentry experience, the balloon framing system gained much popularity in Canada and the USA. Balloon framing has the following benefits:

  • Complex design joints in the carpentry are not used (since it uses simple sockets)
  • Because the building was raised using straightforward sockets, it could be quickly raised by anyone with some basic building skills and equipment.
  • Wood is a resource that is affordable, sustainable, and renewable.
  • Why The demand for the large gear is reduced because there is no need to move heavy beams or pillars; instead, we must move numerous long, light slats (or animal work)
  • Lower potential for shrinking
  • When the frame experiences less shrinkage, the home is less likely to tremble.
  • The balloon framing can offer improved capacity for bearing loads.
  • Longer studs improve wind load resistance and lessen drywall cracking and nail pops.
  • To improve the house’s appearance, very large windows with rounded, arched, or angled tops might be put.
  • The ability to build a lofty chimney.
  • Open entryway on two stories.
  • Large room.

Disadvantages of the balloon frame system

The first kind of light wood framing is called a balloon frame. The wood joists, studs, and rafters used in this structural system are spaced closely. The two levels are supported by a continuous line of wood studs from the base to the roof.

  • Long studs take longer to install than shorter ones used in platform framing, and unless a fire stop is utilized to shut them off, the continuous spaces between studs operate as chimneys in the event of a fire.
  • Platform framing’s main drawback is that there is a significant amount of shrinkage because of how the grains run.
  • Large and difficult-to-handle lumber and vertical hollow spaces that allow the fire to spread quickly are two drawbacks of balloon framing.
  • Having exposed wooden studs poses various risks.
  • Building one is more expensive.
  • The resources are not always accessible.
  • Gable walls with balloon frames are tall, typically rising eighteen feet or higher from the ground. The framing carpenters, electrician, plumber, HVAC, insulator, drywall installer, painter, and trim carpenter will need to use scaffolding due to the increased height, which will increase labor expenses.
  • Fire can spread up the stud bay as in a chimney, so blocking should be built at every floor and ceiling level to reduce the fire risk.
  • The necessity of using longer studs raises the price per lineal foot, resulting in even greater costs.
  • Raising these walls can be extremely difficult, dangerous, and even life-threatening, necessitating the employment of specialized lifting gear and skilled labor. OSHA has outlined the risks of physically lifting balloon-framed walls.

Final Thought

Although balloon framing is an industrial building system, it is used at a shallow level. We observe the mass manufacture or prefabrication of simple-to-assemble low-level components (dimensional timber, nails, trusses, roof deck, etc.). But the time-consuming final assembly process is still done on the job site. The rest of the construction sector is experiencing a similar problem. Outside of a few building types that are best suited for it, the prefabrication of significant components is still elusive.

Therefore, this style of frame will function in terms of aesthetics and can also be created in more creative ways. Most of this type of work is done in foreign cities. Therefore, civil or conventional structural engineers and architects have more opportunities in this area. This kind of equipment can also be used for rehabilitation.

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