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Balloon Framing

Posted: Mon Oct 29, 2001 12:08 pm
by Scott Patrick
My wife and I are restoring a two-story, 1890, balloon frame building in Milwaukee. When we bought it there were no windows and it was gutted to teh studs. Originally the widows were merely cut into the walls, no support framing. I understand the basic concept to how the balloon frame supports the structure, but what should I be doing when reframing where the windows will go so there is proper support put back into the building. I've been searching the web for diagrams and info on framing windows in ballon framed buildings but cannot find any. Help.


Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Tue Oct 30, 2001 10:14 am
by Scott Frederick
I, too, have a balloon framed house, and I have encountered a similar situation. I am removing all the original windows one at a time as I gut each room. I would love to restore the original windows and plaster, but they are shot. Anyway, I also noticed that there is really no support headers for the windows and doors. As I install new windows, I am framing headers, etc just like they would be in new construction. In the case where there is a stud above the window, I use jack studs supporting a double 2x4 header to frame above the window. So far, this is working out for me. I hope this helps.


Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Tue Oct 30, 2001 10:19 am
by exploded-planet-god
IF your balloon frame home is completely wrapped in 1"x exterior sheathing that is nailed, you do not need any headers of windows because the sheathing acts as a continuous header.

In my case, we have 1"x8" ship-lapped exterior fir sheathing completely covering the exterior balloon stud framing. Nothing has remotely sagged and we do not have headers over any window or door (we just have a 2"x4" flopped over the opening).

You can put headers in if you want but it may be completely unnecessary depending on the how the above explanation compares to your circumstances.



Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Tue Oct 30, 2001 10:50 pm
by Ken Holmes
Hi Scott,

Our 1878 Victorian in central Maine is balloon framed, and the framing is exposed around a couple of the windows in the carriage house. Give me a couple of days (I'm on the road right now) and I'll give you a description (maybe even a digital photo) of the framing details around the windows. If memory serves me, the windows are framed without cripples -- just a 2 by 4, laid flat, nailed between the studs. But, as I say, I'll check this.

Ken Holmes

Publisher, The Old House Web


Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Tue Oct 30, 2001 10:56 pm
by Dirk
My house is balloon framed and I have the back section down to the studs. The studs around the window are doubled and there are cripple studs above and below. I suspect there was a great deal of variation, depending on the builder.


Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Wed Oct 31, 2001 3:15 pm
by Richard Phillips
Scott F, is on the right track, and Dirks comment about variation also fits. Remember with balloon framing that the studs will run the total hight of the walls. Therefore the weight of the second floor and the roof is not spread out as evenly as it is with modern construction. This means that if you cut through a stud on the first floor - that cut stud is still expected to support the second floor and roof. Why take the chance of saging? Use headers whenever you cut through a stud. The cost of the lumber will be mutch less than the cost of repairs if one stud does let go.


Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Thu Nov 01, 2001 9:22 am
by Scott Frederick
I actually encountered the situation where a 2x4 was just laid flat between 2 studs above every window I have had to replace. In each case, the stud which was sitting on the makeshift header had sagged a little bit, and in some cases, there was no jack stud holding the 2x4 up. My house has no exterior sheathing, just 5" novelty drop siding nailed directly to the studs. I have a book titled "Renovating Old Houses" by George Nash that has been a really useful tool. I also was fortunate enough to run across a 4 volume set of "Audel's Carpenters and Builders Guide", published 1923...it was considered the "Bible" of homebuilding as I understand. I recommend finding a book that was published near the time your house was built, so you can have information that was current at that time.


Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Fri Nov 02, 2001 9:57 am
by Ken Holmes
Okay, I'm back in Maine and spent a bit of time yesterday afternoon poking about in the unfinished sections of our carriage house. The window framing is more rudimentary than I would have imagined: Windows are just nailed in between two studs, with no double studs, no header, no nothing. The good news is that there's no evidence of any kind of sagging.

So I guess in one sense, my own house (see the link below) isn't much help to you in deciding how to reframe your windows. On the other hand, it seems to me you may be worrying about something that really isn't a problem.

Here's my thought: The federal government, working with the National Association of Homebuilders, has done quite a lot of research over the past decade on construction techniques. One of the things researchers have noted is that old-time builders typically didn't use window headers -- and yet the homes they built have withstood the test of time. Those same researchers observed that it's really not clear when, or why, headers came into widespread use -- and that wall systems inherently have the ability to spread the load window openings.

So my thought: Maybe you should just put the new windows in without worrying about reframing.

Here's a link, by the way, to a report that includes some of the research into building techniques over the years. Observations about headers are on page 26 of the report. You'll find the report as a link on this page; it's a PDF file.


Hope I've helped,

Ken Holmes

Our Victorian

Re: Balloon Framing

Posted: Fri Nov 02, 2001 11:13 am
by richard
if working above ground level, you really aren't gaining any more load bearing advantages if you install a header. the header will still be supported by the two studs you have cut. the jack studs would have to run all the way to the sill plate to transfer the load to the ground. Otherwise, everything is hanging off of the same two studs.

All I have done is tighten up the existing opening by using screws. It appears those "headers" only advantage back then was to have something to nail the lath two. It offered no structural support.

I suppose you could actually bolt the jack studs to the king ones which would offer a stronger design for framing than using nails. IN the end you are still only transfering the load on each stud alongside the window frame.

You will find the doors are framed in this same manner as well.

good luck.

ps. old houses are held up by the 1" sheathing used.

Re: same here Balloon Framing

Posted: Sun Nov 04, 2001 10:33 am
by Doug E
I have 1" diagonal sheathing and my window framing is just two 2X4's.

I think you will have more of a difficult time on deciding which side to put the new wood flush to. Some where something has to be built up to match the original wood.