The Best Way to Frame: Less Wood, More Thought

March 29, 2021

Less is more, more or less. Here's a lot more info on framing with less wood

Advanced framing has been around for fifty years or more, but somehow it is still new to many framing crews. Probably because tape measures have red marks every 16 inches, and we are all accustomed to framing at 16 inches on center.

But why is 16 inches the magic number? Why not 13, 14, 15, or 17, or 19.2? 

Because of plywood, that's why. 48 inches is neatly divisible by 16.

NEWS FLASH: 48 is also divisible by 24.

When I began my carpentry career as a framer, I loved the structural aspect of what we built: a jungle gym that got bigger each day until it finally became a house that could withstand hurricanes and ice storms.

When I first heard someone refer to some framing as 'overbuilt,' I couldn't believe it. How could more wood NOT be better? Wood is good. That framing was solid.

And when I read about Optimum Value Engineering, I mistrusted it. It felt like some cheapskate bean-counter was trying to 'value engineer' a solid house into a skinny pile of sticks.

Like omitting every fifth rivet in an airplane to save 20% on rivets. 

That's pretty much how timber framers felt when balloon framing was invented in the 1830s, and how Victorian-era balloon framing holdovers felt when platform framing and power tools were introduced in the early-mid 20th century.

The structure of houses continues to change, and the so-called Advanced Framing is the 'newest' iteration. 


Everyone likes advanced framing ... except builders

Environmentalists like advanced framing because it uses less wood, which is a precious natural resource. Green builders like advanced framing because it makes more room for insulation—and they get green points, too. Engineers like advanced framing because it reduces thermal bridging, which causes heat loss and condensation.

Builders traditionally do NOT like advanced framing, for many reasons:

  • Against code
  • Makes drywall wavy
  • Makes siding wavy
  • Not strong enough
  • Pain in the neck
  • Change is bad
  • Hate hippies
  • All of the above
  • Some of the above

All of these responses have at least a hint of truth to them, but they are also easily solved non-obstacles (except maybe the 'hating hippies' part, which sounds like a personal issue). 

For starters, 24 in. o.c. has been in the code for longer than the IRC has existed

The oldest code book that I still have in my office is the 1995 CABO book, where 24 in. o.c. stud spacing is spelled out in Table 602.3d:

Twenty-four-inch spacing was in earlier versions of the code, too. 

The next couple of problems with advanced framing—wavy drywall and siding—are a direct result of crowned or crooked studs — the best way to limit waviness of walls to cull the stud pile of the cruddy stuff. If you can't get straight studs in your area, use engineered studs. They're awesome.

Substituting 5/8-inch drywall instead of 1/2-inch drywall also works to stiffen and straighten the wall.

Energy codes are also getting stiffer (2012 and 2015 IECC, to be specific). Now, energy performance—MEASURED energy performance—is suddenly mainstream. Used to be that builders thought 24-inch spacing was against code; now it is practically required by code. 

I hope this collection of videos, detail drawings, photos, and articles can help you can implement advanced framing on your site efficiently and effectively.


—Dan Morrison is the editor of protradecraft. He is a recovering remodeler, as his friend Sal Alfano likes to say, and a digital media enthusiast.


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detail drawings of wall intersection options
Detail drawings of single top plate connection options courtesy of APA
Detail drawings of header options courtesy of APA
Detail drawing of 24 in. o.c. framing courtesy of APA
More detail drawings of header options courtesy of APA courtesy of APA