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Understanding Balloon and Platform Framing

Ever since man started living in man-made structures, he has always tried to better those structures.  This has been the trend ever since. There have been differences in the way people build their structures. People evolved differently and the materials available in one area were different from the materials available in another area. Some of the structures built were more durable and more appealing to the eye, others leading to some architectural and building designs being generally accepted as the standard in the building industry. Today, there are two main methods of framing a building: balloon framing and platform framing. This paper aims to discuss, the differences, advantages, and disadvantages of balloon framing over platform framing.

Balloon framing, also known as Chicago construction, is older than platform framing and involves construction-using wood as the main material. It began in the United States of America and Canada where it was slowly propagated to the rest of the world.  Light frames of wood are built around the studs of a building. The frames of wood run from the top of the building to the bottom. The roof is a truss structure. The rafters are sloping and the ceiling joists are horizontal. The height of the window sill’s headers and next floor is marked out by the use of a story pole on the studs. The structural members are long and straight.  This method of construction was very popular when lumber was in abundance (Tauton p. 30). Nowadays, with lumber being seldom available, newer, and better methods being available, balloon-framing construction has been rendered obsolete and is no longer used in many places in the world today.

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Platform framing, also called stick framing or stick construction, was developed after balloon framing. The method is applied in most construction industries in the world today. It involves constructing a structure on top of a foundation. People then use this platform to get onto the next level (Simpson p. 56). This process continues until the final floor is reached. Upon reaching there, the trusses are put in place and the roof is made. Stairs in between floors are built by putting in place three ninety degrees stepped stringers attached to the wall structure. On the planes formed by the stringers, horizontal trends and vertical risers are placed.  For the wall frames, smaller pieces of wood are used.

The platform method has become dominant in the industry due to its advantages over the balloon method. Unlike balloon framing which depended on lumber, platform framing does not. In addition, a building made using this method is more durable.   It is a simpler method of construction and the techniques used to make it a quicker method of construction. Fewer pieces of wood are used in construction and the amount of labor required is not much. Thus, the cost of constructing the building is minimized (Wagner p. 109).  

In platform framing, vertical shrinking is a problem that should be dealt with. This happens when the wood that is used in construction dries up. It makes the building unstable and therefore calls for frequent repairs. It is an additional cost in the construction of the building. This problem can however be done away with by using dry wood.

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Several advantages can be attributed to balloon framing. Firstly, once the construction is complete, very few problems are expected to arise. The problem of drywall cracking is notably not expected to feature anywhere. The absence of this problem makes the building to be more durable. Balloon construction is very suitable where a vaulted ceiling is needed. It also comes in handy where a two-story foyer is desired. If a tall chimney is required, balloon framing is the method to go for. Balloon framing increases flexibility in the manner in which windows are designed. The windows can take any form; they can be angled or arched. Tall buildings are mostly affected by gusty winds but when the balloon framing method is used, this problem becomes manageable; the reason being that the long, heavy, and sturdy walls are more resilient to the wind (Wagner p. 89). 
Some demerits come with the balloon framing method. Firstly, fire problems are very serious and uncontrollable in buildings constructed using this method. This is due to the ease with which fire can spread from one floor to the next in a balloon platform (Simpson p. 155). To mitigate this problem, fire stops have to be constructed on each floor. In balloon framing, long structural members are used in construction. This pushes the construction costs higher. The walls constructed are very heavy; this calls for more labor and skill during construction. Specialized equipment is also needed at this point.

From the above, we can conclude that platform framing is the better framing method of the two. The balloon method has its own advantages but the advantages of the platform framing method supersede those by far. Besides, the disadvantages of the balloon framing method have more weight than those of platform framing. For instance, in the event of a fire, it is going to be more serious in a balloon-constructed building. Every building out there is prone to fire. Nevertheless, both the owner and the people residing in the building expect that the fire will not be very serious when it comes up. Otherwise, they could lose everything that they have worked for which makes more sense for that the building be in a better position to place to resist fire. Platform framing wins. When it comes to construction costs and the safety of the workers during construction, platform framing is better.  The time spent in putting up a building under platform framing is smaller. The wish of building owners is that the building is constructed in little time and has no compromises on the standards. The wish is fulfilled by platform framing. It is evidently clear that platform framing is by far better than balloon framing. It is a more convenient method to apply in all the construction projects that come up.

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