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Q&A Spotlight

Renovate or Rebuild?

Determining the course of action for upgrading a home's building envelope

This CAD rendering shows the framing and wall details of the c. 1949 house.

Often in GBA’s Q&A forum, someone starts a thread by asking a single question. Occasionally, by the end of the thread, a different, larger question is revealed, and it becomes the real subject of the conversation. Such was the case here . . .

Reader and homeowner aaron1013 writes that he’s in the process of re-doing his late-1940s two-story New Jersey house. He had assumed the house was balloon-framed, but during a renovation of a bathroom and bedroom, he saw that the joists and studs are bearing on a double top plate below the floor line, and there is no rim joist. Additionally, the joist bays have no blocking, they run uninterrupted from front to back, and they aren’t nailed to the studs adjacent to the ends of the joists.

“This has really thrown me for a loop,” aaron1013 says, “especially since the house is sheathed with non-structural gypsum sheathing, and does not have structural corners, nor let-in cross bracing. I’m assuming that a combination of the plaster walls, and the wood lap siding was considered enough lateral bracing back then? Am I living in a house of cards?”

He concludes that he wants to completely re-sheath the house, replacing the aluminum siding and original wood clapboards with the necessary control layers and a ventilated rainscreen. He asks if anyone can identify the framing style, and if people have recommendations for fire-blocking, air-sealing, or insulating a floor like his.

The initial topic of this Spotlight is: “What kind of framing is this?”, but the discussion develops into one about whether to renovate or rebuild.

First the framing

Walta100 is the first to respond, writing that it looks like balloon framing to him. He also suggests repainting, rather than removing, the aluminum siding.

Aaron1013 asks walta100 the…

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