There are three main eras of house framing in America:
1. Timber Framing (AKA Post and Beam): Pre-colonial period to mid 1800s.
2. Balloon Framing: Mid1800s till the1930s, becoming dominant in the late 1800s.
3. Platform framing: Since the late 1930s platform framing has been the dominant form of house framing in the United States.
Timber framing is the traditional house framing method brought to America by the early European settlers. Large hand-hewn timbers, held together with wood joinery methods rather than nails or other fasteners, were used as beams, posts, joists, sills, rafters and other framing members. The abundance of forests with old growth trees made timber framing the natural choice for newly arrived Europeans and this framing method was popular until the abundance of large, old growth trees started to dwindle in the eastern part of the United States.
Balloon framing came on the scene as a result of there being fewer trees suitable for timber framing, the advent of circular saw blades and steam powered saw mills and the industrial revolution ushering in the manufacturing of nails, which were hand made up to that point. Balloon framing uses long 2 X 4’s for the exterior walls. We have many 2 and 3 story houses in our area which were built with balloon framing. Balloon framing got its name from scoffers who said this new light weight framing method, compared to big solid timbers, was so light a house would float away like a balloon. Instead of wood joinery methods connecting framing members together nails are used as fasteners. This new framing method required less carpenters and less skill than timber framing, which enabled more houses to be quickly built for the growing U. S. population.
Platform framing has been the dominant house framing method in the United States since the 1930s. 2 X 4 or 2 X 6 walls studs are still used but a house is built floor by floor, with the lower floor being the platform which the next floor is built on. Platform framing requires shorter framing members, so the dwindling availability of large trees played a role in the transition away from balloon framing. Platform framing is also a safer and more efficient construction method and offers higher durability and more structural integrity than balloon framing.