Mar 28 2016 Richmond Va Older Home Framing
If you live in one of Richmond’s homes built before 1940 your house was likely framed with a technique known as “Balloon Construction”. Don’t worry. It’s not going to pop despite the skepticism of early critics, the skilled carpenters of the post and beam era.
Balloon Framing was used in Scandinavia, Canada and the U.S. from the 1800’s up until the 1950’s. The method was introduced into the U.S. perhaps in Missouri in the late 1700’s but the first best know are from Chicago in 1832, George Washington Snow’s warehouse and St. Mary’s Catholic Church built the following year. A synonymous term, “Chicago Method”, was born. The new building technique was compared to the frailness of a balloon but fortunately this proved unfounded over time.
With plentiful long timber available and a much lower skill requirement than post and beam construction, balloon framing became popular and spread throughout the U.S. providing affordable housing for development of the western frontier and other areas.
In balloon framing studs run from the foundation to the rafters and floor joists are face nailed onto the studs. In contrast, today’s construction is compartmentalized with each floor built independently without the foundation to rafter cavities found in balloon constructions.
There are certainly considerations for living and renovating balloon framed homes. The difference in wood shrinkage on the interior versus exterior walls leads to floor settlement along center walls over time. The settlement may be more difficult to remove, especially on the second and higher floors.
A homeowner should be careful not to completely block air flow along exterior walls that had no vapor barrier when built and had ventilation via balloon framing. Completely filling the cavities with fiberglass insulation can lead to moisture and mold problems. Other forms of insulation may be better suited to maintaining a void to vent moisture penetration. Adding the vapor barrier at this point in an old home’s life would lead to paint popping or more significant moisture problems.
Finally, fires will spread more rapidly in balloon framed homes as there are open cavities for fire to travel the entire length of walls. Fire barrier blocking may be installed during renovation. For daily living, just be aware that fire will spread quickly and the structure may be comprised sooner than anticipated in a fire. Caution with detection and fire escape plans are critical.
There are other considerations beyond my scope here. A qualified contractor who knows and appreciates old homes can provide the best information to consider for renovating and daily living.
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