Gabled walls framed with balloons

Before the 1950s, balloon framing of new homes was the standard construction method, until the advent of platform framing. Platform framing is a safer, faster, and more cost-effective method than balloon framing. That said, balloon framing still has many effective uses in modern home framing that can be incorporated with platform framing for a more secure, sturdy, and cost-effective home.

The balloon structure originated in Chicago in the early 1830s and replaced the earlier mortise and tenon construction method. The name originated from the old mortise and tenon carpenters when they first saw the framing method in use. With the long, slim members of the frame being used and held together with just nails, they figured it would probably blow away with the next gust of strong wind like a balloon. The name became popular and has endured to this day.

Disadvantages

  • Balloon-framed gabled walls are very tall, usually eighteen feet or more above ground level. This additional height requires the use of scaffolding for carpenters, electrician, plumber, HVAC, insulator, drywall installer, trim painter and carpenter, resulting in higher labor costs.
  • Fire can go up the pole compartment as in a chimney, to mitigate the risk of fire, locks should be installed at each ceiling and floor level.
  • The required use of longer poles increases the cost per linear foot resulting in even higher expenses.
  • These walls can be very heavy and dangerous, even life threatening, to lift, requiring the use of proper lifting equipment and highly trained personnel. OSHA has clearly defined the hazards of manually lifting balloon-framed walls.

Advantage

  • Longer studs better withstand wind loads and help reduce cracking of drywall and nails.
  • Very large windows with rounded, arched or angled tops can be installed to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the home.
  • Possibility of building a tall chimney.
  • Two story open lobby.
  • Good room.

When considering the use of balloon frames to enhance the look and livability of your new home, the pros and cons should be carefully weighed.

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