Question

What are the downsides of Advanced Framing Techniques in custom home construction?

Asked by Michael Battaglia
Dayton, OH

I am a custom home designer. A client has requested utilizing the advanced framing techniques and details in the future construction documents. In a true custon home that is not a simple rectangle can a custom home really be constructed to obtain substantial savings?

Answer

Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Answered by Polly Osborne, FAIA, LEED AP

Los Angeles, CA

Polly Osborne Architects

February 6, 2012

Dear Michael,

We have used Advanced Framing Techniques (Optimum Value Engineering) quite a few times and haven't gotten too many complaints from builders.

For those that don't know about Advanced Framing, the Department of Energy's fact sheet (here) is a good place to start studying.  

  • Some of advanced framing's technology is as old as framing itself, like stacking your framing members, but research done by HUD and NAHB about forty years ago to reduce the cost of low income housing and increase energy savings made it what we use today.
  • If you have a wise old experienced engineer, they might have even worked on HUD projects requiring it.

Reduced framing factor

If you train your labor force you can save costs in lumber and labor.

But perhaps an even more compelling reason to use it, I think, is the reduction of the framing factor (heat loss through the framing) and the larger insulation spaces resulting from the increased stud distance.

  • Maybe people don’t think much about the framing factor, but it can reduce the overall R-value of a wall by 20% or more.
  • Combined with the reduction of lumber, the ultimate saving in time, material and energy can be significant.

As far as your costs as a builder, and the learning curve to do it, you’ll probably save more on the second one you build.

Not an all or nothing deal

There are a few aspects of advanced framing that can be more difficult. The suggested single top plate is one. 

Many builders go ahead and use two top plates because it is easier to frame. This is one example of how advanced framing doesn't have to be an all or nothing deal.

  • But if you are not following the engineer's plan precisely, please be sure you verify that your changes are safe and sound.
  • For instance, if you have a two story house and you are using studs twenty four inches on center, you must stack your floor joists and roof rafters directly on top of the studs.

Designing for advanced framing

I also think it would be helpful if architects designed for advanced framing.

That means using the modular lengths of standard materials in design whenever possible. Sometimes that only requires the variation of an inch or two here and there to make the design comply, and sometimes that can be worked out between the builder and architect prior to framing.

Use when appropriate

I hope advanced framing becomes a common tool for architects, engineers and builders. It can’t always be used and sometimes, in remodels especially, it can only be used in some locations, but it should be a techniques that everyone knows about and uses when appropriate.

Currently I am doing a remodel where only about half the project can use advanced framing, due to existing conditions and seismic concerns.

  • It may not be saving mountains of money, but it is saving some.
  • The builder, engineer and architect are all on board with it, which makes it much easier to implement.

This is especially important in your project, a complex custom home.

Good luck and have fun. I think it is always better to learn a new technique than to back off and do the same old thing! The ability to do that is one of the clear signs for me of what builders I want to work with.

Polly

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