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Back to Basics: Framing Terms Back to Basics: Framing Terms

Back to Basics: Framing Terms

When you are building or renovating a home (or even a barn or shed), whether you are a DIYer or you simply need to "speak contractor", it's essential to know basic construction framing terms. From floors to walls, ceilings, and roofing, framing is critical to your home's durability and longevity. So, let's look at some house framing terms to help you understand just what your contractor is saying.

Construction Framing Terms


For starters, “framing” refers to assembled lumber of various types that gives shape and support to a house or other structure. There are two main types of framing: platform and balloon. The first type, platform framing, refers to the common process of framing each floor of the house separately, rather than the older style of balloon framing in which the vertical studs extend the full height of the structure. Balloon framing adds more construction complexity because the process uses tall studs like nominal SPF lumber.

Other methods of framing foundations include “post and beam”, “pier and beam”, and concrete slab foundations. Pier and beam refers to building your subfloor and flooring system above ground level using piers to create a crawlspace below the structure. This type doesn’t require a concrete slab foundation. Post and Beam refers to framing a wall with posts spaced farther apart and is used almost exclusively on sheds. Concrete slab foundations are laid directly on the earth and don’t have a crawl space. The exterior edges of the foundation are capped with lengths or treated lumber to form what’s known as a mudsill, the flooring system and the exterior wall framing system are both attached to the mudsill.

The primary supplies for framing a house include:



The next part of the framing after the foundation (whether that’s a concrete slab, pier and beam, etc.) that takes place is the floors. The following terms apply to framing the floors of a house:

Floor Joists—Floor joists are laid to support the floors of a house (if a concrete slab has not been used). These are long pieces of dimensional lumber, typically 2 x 8s, 2 x 10s, or 2 x 12s, laid on their long edge parallel to each other at regular intervals of 12”, 16”, or 24” apart measured center-to-center. If used on upper levels of a home, they also provide the structure for the ceiling of the level below. Joists can be part of an engineered flooring system (using engineered building products) that can include open web trusses or I-Joists.

Rim Joist or Band—The outermost part of the floor joists is called the rim joist or band.

Girders—Girders are large beams placed horizontally to support joists when reinforcement is required. As beams are for load-bearing support, girders are used to bear larger loads, if necessary.

Subflooring—After the joists are installed, the subflooring is laid. It is usually made of plywood or OSB panels that are nailed or glued on top of the floor joists. They provide the base for the finished flooring such as carpet or tile. If you have a concrete foundation, your subfloor and flooring system will be “floated” on top of concrete.

Stairs: Stringers, Treads, and Risers—If a house has two or more stories, stairs will be framed between the floors. Stairs are framed with stringers, which are the vertical boards that run alongside the steps and are attached to the stairs. The treads are the horizontal boards or steps of the stairs, and the risers are the vertical boards.



The walls are the next step in framing a house.

Plates—The walls of the house frame are built up on top and bottom plates. These plates are 2x4 or 2x6 lumber installed horizontally on the top or bottom of the studs forming the rectangle (or other) shape of the wall.

Studs—Studs are installed on the plates. Studs are 2x4s or 2x6s installed vertically at 16” or 24” intervals measured center-to-center. Studs can be placed individually or fastened in groups called stud packs for more support. Finally, a double plate is placed on top of the studs to form a complete wall frame. This provides one solid piece of wall framing that can be constructed on its side, and then lifted and installed.

Header—A header refers to the pieces of wood attached to studs horizontally above window and door openings. The header transfers the weight to the outer studs in a stud pack.

Rough Sill and Rough Opening—The rough sill is the lower piece of the window frame. The measured opening of a window or door is called the rough opening.

Blocking—These are smaller pieces of lumber placed horizontally between the studs. They provide studs with reinforcement and prevent bowing.They also provide a solid backing when attaching finishings like cabinets or other wall-mounted fixtures. Fire blocking uses lumber or other materials like gypsum to prevent fire from spreading up the stud bay (space between the studs).



Ceilings are framed just like the base floor of a home. Joists, based on recommended span charts depending on lumber type, are placed on the plates of the wall below, and are covered with subfloor before second story or attic framing. The next framed wall of a second-story or attic sits on floor joists or a floor system. Vaulted ceilings require a more complex framing.



There are two basic types of roof framing: traditional framing and trusses.

Rafters—Traditional roof framing is constructed of rafters, similar to joists, to provide the structure and shape of the roof. They hold up everything else on the roof including your shingles and are individually measured, cut, and fastened to the structure on the jobsite.

Ridge Board or Beam—Ridge boards or beams, depending on your roof construction, will either help with the load bearing of your roof (vertical beam) or help tie the rafters at the top of the roof (a horizontal board).

Hips and Valleys—Pitched roofs will have hips and valleys. There are the points where the joists in the rafters meet each other or the framing. The hip is where they meet at the top and the valley is where they meet at the bottom of the roof.

Truss—This method is more elaborate than rafters. Trusses are typically manufactured offsite. A roof truss creates the overall shape of the roof, like a rafter but does not necessarily provide a vaulted ceiling look as they look web-like in nature with more support joists. Multiple trusses are installed and then fastened together. Trusses are very strong and always require load-bearing walls beneath them. Which one used, truss or rafter, depends on the construction of your roof.

Now that you have a working knowledge of framing terms, you will have a better grasp of whatever exciting building project you’re embarking on. Ready for the next project? Come on in to your local McCoy’s and we’ll talk framing or anything else you need.