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Your Step-By-Step Guide to House Framing

Joe Roberts

Published on December 23, 2022


Your Step-By-Step Guide to House Framing

Thinking of framing your house yourself? Read our guide to learn the basic terminology, process, and dangers of building your home’s frame.

To provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information, we consult a number of sources when producing each article, including licensed contractors and industry experts.

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Your home’s frame is like its skeleton. It gives the building its shape and structural integrity. Without a well-built frame, a house will crumple and collapse soon after it’s built. This makes it essential to properly frame your new house.

While you can technically frame your house with your own two hands, we don’t recommend it. Making a suitable floor plan, purchasing lumber, and turning it into a solid frame is a complicated process that’s best left to professional subcontractors. That said, learning the basics of framing a house beforehand can help you better collaborate with your contractor.

Whether you just want to understand how framing works so you can make informed decisions or you plan to frame your house yourself, we can help. Keep reading and we’ll break down common terminology, explain the benefits of different framing materials, and take you step-by-step through the platform framing process.

Hire a qualified general contractor to frame your house

Why you should hire a contractor to frame your house

There are many parts of your home that you, as a homeowner, can—and maybe even should be able to—build and maintain yourself. These include elements like your windows, your door frames, your drywall, and even some parts of your plumbing. The stakes are low with these elements, and the understandable blunders you may make while learning how to install and fix them are easy and relatively inexpensive to rectify.

Even if you plan to build parts of your home yourself, though, you should get subcontractors to tackle complex and essential tasks like pouring your foundation, installing the home’s electrical wiring, and, yes, constructing the frame.

Framing a house requires a lot of different skill sets like carpentry, masonry, and sometimes even welding. Each step of the process involves powerful tools and machinery you probably aren’t familiar with. Additionally, the frame has to properly accommodate ductwork, plumbing fixtures, and electric hookups from mainlines. 

Most importantly, the frame must be strong enough to uphold the whole house long-term.

Without professional training and experience, an amateur home builder can’t know how to build a frame that meets all these needs. And some mistakes they make might not manifest for a year or two. You can erect a frame that stands long enough to seem sturdy, but as soon as it’s hidden behind drywall, it could begin to buckle and warp, inevitably leading to collapse.

While hiring a pro will be much more expensive up-front, doing this work yourself comes with much greater financial risk. Imagine sinking hundreds of thousands of dollars into a build that eventually falls apart because the frame wasn’t properly constructed. All told, DIY framing isn’t as budget-friendly as it may seem, and getting your house framed by an actual carpenter could save you a lot of money. 

In short, the best way to avoid an expensive and unfortunate—if not tragic—outcome is to leave frame construction to professionals who know how to frame houses. 

How much does house framing cost?

Framing is typically the most expensive single element of a new home build, and it usually accounts for 18% of the build’s total cost. Contractor prices for building a home’s frame start around $9 per square foot, but they go up from there depending on factors like materials, how many stories the home has, and how the home is laid out. 

You can expect to pay a contractor somewhere between $28,610 and $80,280 to build your home’s frame. This is just the average range, though, so you could end up paying more for an especially large build. While framing the house yourself would help you save on labor costs, you’d still pay thousands of dollars for lumber alone.

To learn more about costs to account for when building a new home, check out our home-building cost guide

Home carpentry terminology

Like most professions, home carpentry includes a lot of terminology that can baffle a layman, especially if it’s their first time building a house or working with contractors. To help you understand our walkthrough, here’s a list of terms and definitions you should know:

Mudsill plates: The bottommost pieces of a home’s frame. Mud sills are horizontal pieces of wood that get bolted directly into the concrete foundation. The rest of the frame is built on top of them. Since they directly touch concrete, mudsills have to be made from treated wood to resist the concrete’s moisture. 

Joists: Long pieces of lumber that lay horizontally from one end of a house to the other to provide the foundation for a floor or ceiling. On the ground floor, floor joists are suspended like bridges between the mudsills. In a ceiling, ceiling joists are used for bridging the space between the top plates of opposing walls.

Subfloor: A system of interlocking plywood sheets or oriented strand boards (OSB) that lay on top of joists, covering the entire surface area of a floor. They make a floor solid by covering up the gaps between all the joists.

Wall panels: The basic building blocks of wall framing. Each wall panel is a rectangle made from several vertical wall studs mounted between the bottom and top plates. Both interior walls and exterior walls are constructed from wall panels. 

Studs: The lumber pieces that run vertically up a wall panel and provide its height. They’re typically made from either 2” x 6” or 2” x 4” pieces of lumber.

Bottom plates: The bottommost pieces of wall panels. They run horizontally underneath a wall’s studs and get nailed to them, holding them together. Bottom plates should be made from the same lumber size as the studs they’re nailed to. 

Top plates: The topmost pieces of wall panels. They run horizontally over wall studs and get nailed to them on the opposite ends from the bottom plates. These should also be made from the same lumber size as the studs. 

Framing members: Another name for studs, joists, and plates. 

Rough opening: A rectangular opening built into the space between two wall panels to eventually hold a window or door. 

Headers: The upper parts of rough openings. They run horizontally over rough openings between the studs on either side, and they’re mounted with cripple studs to top plates for support. 

Jack studs: Short studs that outline rough openings. They run vertically along either side of a rough opening from the header to the rough sill—for a window—or the bottom plate—for a door. Jack studs are also sometimes called trimmer studs. 

Rough sills: The bottommost parts of window rough openings. They run horizontally along the bottoms of window frames. They’re supported by cripple studs. 

Cripple studs: Short-cut studs that run vertically and hold a rough opening’s header in place or uphold its rough sill.

King studs: The outermost studs of two neighboring wall panels that have a rough frame built between them. They serve as fundamental mounting points for a rough frame’s various elements. 

Blocking: Short-cut pieces of lumber that run horizontally between studs. They’re installed to help hold studs in place and prevent them from bowing over time. Not all wall panels have blocking. 

Rafters: Pieces of a roof’s frame. They run between top plates like joists, but they’re usually angled upward and mounted to a ridge board to give a roof its pitch.

Ridge board: The topmost piece of a home’s frame. This is a long board that sits at the peak of a roof where all the rafters meet. All the rafters get nailed into this piece to hold them in place. 

Roof trusses: Pre-assembled roofing panels that are easier to use and install than rafters and ridge boards. Each truss features several pieces of lumber arranged in a specific shape to serve as joists and rafters. Installed side-by-side and braced together along the top floor’s top plates, roof trusses create a roof’s structure. 

Sheathing: Plywood sheets that get attached to the exterior of a frame. If the frame is the skeleton of a home, then the sheathing is like the skin that covers it. In addition to protecting a frame from weather and damage, it also gives the frame additional support and holds it all together. 

How to frame your house

Now that you’re all caught up on the lingo, let’s walk through the house framing process. 

Step 1: Pick up everything you’ll need

First, you should get all the stuff you’ll need to construct your home’s frame. This includes building materials, tools, and permits. The exact amount of materials you’ll need will depend on how large your home will be, so talk that over with whoever drafts your blueprints with you. 

You may have to special order some materials as they may not be available at your local hardware store.

Materials you’ll need

  • Water-resistant lumber for building your mud sills
  • I-joist lumber for making your floor and ceiling joists
  • 2” x 4” or 2” x 6” lumber for building your studs and plates
  • Wood screws
  • Wood nails
  • Wood glue
  • Nuts for attaching your mud sills to your foundation’s anchor bolts
  • Roof trusses or lumber for your rafters and ridge board
  • Interior plywood or OSBs for subflooring
  • Exterior-grade plywood for sheathing
  • Prebuilt stair units for each floor beyond the ground floor

Tools you’ll need

  • A screwdriver
  • A power drill
  • A hammer
  • A nail gun
  • A chalk reel
  • A circular saw
  • A carpenter’s level
  • A carpenter’s square
  • A powerful jigsaw
  • Ladders of various heights

In some instances, special machinery like welders, forklifts, and even cranes are necessary to build a frame. If your home has more than two floors, these machines become much more necessary. 

Protective gear you’ll need

  • Goggles or protective glasses
  • Durable work gloves
  • Knee pads
  • Face masks

Other things you’ll need

  • A pre-laid concrete foundation
  • At least one partner
  • Permits for residential framing (these vary by location)

Step 2: Frame the floor

The frame of a home’s floor includes mud sills, rim joists, floor joists, and subflooring

With your concrete foundation prepared, your permits pulled, and all of your materials ready to go, it’s time to get started. As you might expect, home frames are constructed from the ground up, so the first thing you’ll frame is your floor.

Secure your mudsills

Start by bolting your mudsills to your concrete foundation. The perimeter of the concrete should have upwards-facing anchor bolts pre-installed. Drill holes into your mudsills to match the placement of your anchor bolts, lay the sills out so the bolts slip into the holes, then secure the sills in place with washers and nuts. 

You need to cover the entire perimeter of the foundation with mudsills before moving on, and each mudsill should be directly touching the one you placed before it and the one you place next. This will probably require you to cut a few of your sills down to size as you go.

Place your rim joists

After you’ve laid out all your mudsills, install rim joists on top of them using framing anchors. You want to lay out each rim joist along the outermost edge of the mud sill beneath it. Rim joists lay horizontally on their short sides so they create a right angle with your mudsills.

As you install each joist, use your level and carpenter’s square to ensure each one is laying perfectly level and creating a 90-degree angle with the sill beneath it. Small imperfections at this stage will result in majorly uneven flooring and walls later. 

Install rim joists around the entire outer edge of the perimeter made by your mudsills before moving on. 

Place your floor joists

Floor joists are typically installed 16 inches apart from each other, so measure out the entire length of the longest side of your foundation in 16-inch increments and make marks along the mud sill to designate where your joists will lay.

Then, lay out a floor joist on the end so that it bridges the entire gap between the marked mudsill and the one across from it. Make sure the joist is perfectly straight, then nail it down into both mudsills. Repeat this process for every floor joist. Lay each joist on center, aligning the exact center of each piece of wood with its corresponding mark on the foundation. 

Install your subfloor

Once you’ve got all your floor joists down, it’s time to lay out your subfloor. Your subfloor sheets should have a tongue-and-groove design so that each piece will interlock with the pieces around it.

Start by applying wood glue to the tops of the joists in one corner of your floor, then place your first plywood sheet on top of them. Then, screw the sheet to the joists below it with wood screws and move on to the next space.

Apply your wood glue to the next section of your joists, lay out your next plywood sheet, and slide it up to the previously-laid sheet so that the two interlock. You may have to gently tap on the edge of the sheet you’re holding with a mallet to make the two sheets fit together tightly. Once the sheets have interlocked, screw the second sheet into the joists below it. 

Cover the entire floor in this way so that you can no longer see any of your joists. This will probably require cutting a few of your plywood sheets down to size as you go. Once your entire floor is covered with subflooring, you can start framing your walls. 

Step 3: Frame your walls

Before you begin framing your walls, refer to your blueprints to determine the placement and dimensions of your wall panels and rough openings. Measure your floor with your measuring tape and place markings or snap chalk lines to help you visualize where each wall, window, and door will eventually go. Make sure your measurements and markings are as precise as possible to avoid irregular angles and instability. 

How to construct a wall panel

Wall panels are constructed from vertical pieces of lumber called studs sandwiched between horizontal pieces of lumber called plates. 

Once you’ve marked up your floor, it’s time to build your first wall panel. When you construct a wall panel, you build it horizontally for ease, then tip it on end to place and secure it once it’s complete.

There’s no set length for a wall panel, and a short wall can be built with a single panel. Long walls are often made from multiple wall panels, though, so that they’re easier to maneuver and place. Additionally, wall spaces around and between doors and windows will require specially-sized wall panels. 

Start building your first wall panel by laying out a piece of your lumber horizontally on its short side. This will be the bottom plate of the wall panel, and it should be as long as you want the wall to be. Then, with your measuring tape and a pencil, measure out and mark 16-inch sections along the piece.

Next, prepare your wall studs. You’ll need as many studs as 16-inch markings you made on the bottom plate, plus two for the ends. For example, if your bottom plate is 84 inches long, you’ll need 7 studs to construct the wall panel. 

Cut all your studs down to the same size (however tall you want the wall minus the width of your top and bottom plates), and lay out two on opposite ends of the bottom plate you’ve marked. Then, take a piece of your lumber that’s the exact same length as your bottom plate and lay it on the other end of the studs. This will be your top plate.

Once you have these four framing members laid out, use framing nails to fasten a stud to each plate’s outer end. You want to sandwich the studs between the plates, not vice versa. Use multiple nails for each end to prevent the studs from twisting. When you’ve finished with this, you should have a solid wooden rectangle. 

Next, place the rest of the studs you’ve prepared within the frame, lining them up with the spots you marked earlier. Make sure each stud is completely straight, then nail them in like you did the end studs. 

When all of the studs are secure, the wall panel is finished and ready to place.

If you want to make the wall panel more sturdy—which is a good idea for exterior and load-bearing walls—you can double up your plates or studs. Another way to reinforce a panel is to cut 16-inch pieces of lumber for blocking and install them horizontally between the wall studs. Install each piece of blocking in relatively the same vertical spot along the studs. 

Frame your exterior walls

Now that you know how to build a wall panel, you’re ready to start framing your exterior walls. Construct as many panels as you need to frame one entire wall, but leave gaps for any doors or windows you want to install later. Then (with a partner or two) lift the first panel into place along the outermost edge of your subfloor. 

Once you have a wall panel in place, temporarily brace it. Screw one end of a spare piece of lumber into one of the panel’s studs and rest the other end against the ground outside. This will hold the panel in place while you work. 

With your bracing in place, use your carpenter’s square and level to make sure the panel is sitting at a perfect right angle, then nail the edges of it into your subfloor. Once the edges are secure, hammer several more nails into the piece at various points to reinforce it.

Erect each wall panel of your exterior walls in the exact same way, ensuring that each panel is directly touching the ones next to it unless you’re eventually going to put a rough opening between the two of them. Once you’ve erected all your exterior wall panels, you can frame the interior walls. 

Frame your interior walls 

You frame interior walls in basically the exact same way as exterior walls. Measure out the spaces where you’ll place them, make plans for rough openings, mark up your floor, then construct all the wall panels you’ll need. Then, with a partner, lift the panels into place, check for square (make sure each angle is a perfect 90-degree angle), and nail them down one-by-one.

Once all of your interior and exterior wall panels are erected, secure them all together with additional top plates. Measure and cut down pieces of your lumber, lay them across the tops of every wall panel so that neighboring panels share secondary top plates, and fasten them together with a nail gun. You should also bridge these secondary top plates over the empty spaces where you’ll soon build your window and door openings. 

Frame your doors and windows

A rough opening should be built between two complete and previously-installed wall panels. This is what a completed rough opening for a door should look like. 

With all your wall panels in place, you can now build the rough openings for your windows and doors in the spaces you left for them.

To do this, you first measure the space between the two wall panels that will border a rough opening, then cut a piece of lumber down to that size. This will be your rough opening’s header. 

Next, refer to your blueprints to determine how far down your wall the header should sit. Then, cut three or four short pieces of lumber down to that length. These will be the rough header’s supporting cripple studs. Nail the tops of these short studs evenly along the top plate you installed earlier, ensuring they’re all straight, then nail your header to their other ends.

After nailing the header to these studs, you can then nail it into the studs of the wall panels beside it. These long studs are now the rough opening’s king studs.

If you’re building an opening for a door instead of a window, move on to installing the opening’s jack studs.

If you’re installing a rough opening for a window, you should now install the rough sill, and this will work exactly like installing the header. Measure for and cut the sill like you did the header, cut a few cripple studs, install them in the subfloor, and then mount the sill on top of them. Next, you’ll install the window’s jack studs. 

To install jack studs, you’ll measure the distance from the bottom of the header to the top of the rough sill (for a window) or subfloor (for a door). Then, cut two pieces of lumber down to size to fit that length. These pieces are your jack studs. Install them on either side of the rough opening by nailing them directly into the king studs on either side.

Repeat this process for every door and window your blueprints call for. With that done, you’ve framed the walls for the entire first floor of your home. You can now remove the temporary bracing you installed earlier, though you can also leave it up until you begin sheathing the frame. 

Step 4: Frame your ceiling

You frame a ceiling in almost the exact same way you frame a floor, but you don’t have to worry about mudsills. 

Using a ladder, make a perimeter of rim joints along the outer edges of the top plates of your exterior walls. Once you’ve installed an unbroken perimeter of rim joists, lay I-joists across the entire ceiling at 16-inch intervals and nail them down.

If your home will have a second floor, make sure you leave an empty space in your joists to install your stairs later. Additionally, if you’re building a two-story home, you’ll now install a subfloor on top of these joists exactly like you did the first floor. If you’re only building one story, though, you can skip both of these steps and start framing your roof. 

Step 5: Frame additional floors

The process for framing walls and ceilings for every additional floor is basically the exact same as it is for the first floor. And here’s a pro tip: build the wall panels for each story on the floor you just finished. Don’t build them outside on the ground or you’ll have to carry—or crane lift—them up from the ground.

Step 6: Add stairs

Stair units are typically custom-ordered ahead of time from factories instead of built from raw materials on-site. These prefabricated stair units are completely assembled with risers and treads, and they’re ready to install when they show up.

Building stairs from scratch is a complicated process, and structural integrity is a particular concern for stairs crafted by amateurs, so we highly recommend ordering stair units instead of building them yourself. 

Follow the instructions provided with your stair units to properly install them.

Step 7: Frame your roof

A frame’s roof is made from rafters installed at a steep angle with a thick ridge board installed at their peaks. 

Once you’ve topped off your final story with joists, it’s time to construct your roof. You can do this the hard way—cutting and installing rafters with a ridge board—or the easy way—using prefabricated roofing trusses. 

Installing rafters and ridge boards

If you opt for the first method, you’ll have to cut the ends of each rafter piece at a precise angle—which will depend on your blueprints—to give your roof its pitch. You’ll probably also need to hire a crane operator to come out and hold the heavy ridge board in place while you install your rafters.

Aside from these complications, framing a roof from rafters is fairly similar to framing a floor. You nail your rafters like joists along the edges of the top plates below them, but you install them at an angle instead of lying flat. Use your level and carpenter’s square to ensure you’re getting the angle perfect. Install opposing rafters on both ends of the ceiling, then nail the rafters to the ridge board at the peak where they meet. 

Once this is done, you’ll also mount a piece of lumber between the opposing rafters at both ends of the roof. This will help hold the roof together and give you a place to mount the roof’s sheathing later. 

Installing roof trusses

If you're framing your roof using trusses, you’re in for a much easier time. You simply lay trusses upright across your top posts like joists, nail them down, and secure them together with other pieces of lumber. Because trusses are made from several pieces of lumber arranged in the shape of a roof’s cross-section, you don’t need to worry about angling rafters or installing a ridge board. The craftsmen who manufactured your trusses took care of all this for you.

The best way to install a roof truss depends on the truss, so follow the directions provided with your trusses to install and secure them to your top plates. 

Once your roof is complete, it’s time to install sheathing. 

Step 8: Install your sheathing

If you haven’t yet, now is the time to remove all the temporary bracing you installed to support your wall panels. 

Once your bracing is removed, start sheathing your frame in one corner of one of the frame’s bottom walls. Lay your first panel of plywood across the wall panels in this corner and make sure the panel runs low enough to cover the bottom edge of your mudsills. Once the panel is in place, nail its corners to the studs of the wall panel. For good measure, you can nail the plywood in a few additional places as well.

Then, once the first panel is secure, you can move on to the next one and install it the exact same way. Work your way around and up your frame, nailing plywood to your wall panels until the whole frame is hidden in a plywood shell. 

This will probably require you to cut several panels down to specific shapes and sizes, and you’ll also need to make cutouts for your rough openings. You can use either your circular saw or your jigsaw to accomplish this.

For panels above the ground floor, you’ll need to use a ladder and a few partners to lift and hold the panels in place while you nail them down. 

Once the frame is completely sheathed, you’ve finished framing your home and you can move on to the next stage of your build. 

Different framing methods and materials

The framing method we’ve outlined in this guide is known as platform framing or stick framing. This method uses relatively short pieces of lumber to create panels that are easy to build a larger structure with.

Balloon framing is a more difficult type of wood framing that uses much longer pieces of lumber. The lumber in a balloon frame reaches all the way from the foundation to the top of the house. This makes these pieces of lumber much heavier and more difficult to place than the lumber in a platform frame, so it’s virtually impossible to build balloon frames without heavy machinery.

Steel framing is another popular option, though steel is much more expensive than lumber. Additionally, constructing a frame from steel requires specialized tools since a typical circular saw and power drill can’t cut through metal. However, steel framing is a great option if you want an especially strong and fire-resistant frame for your new house.

Speaking of fire-resistant framing, insulated concrete forms (ICFs) are another framing material you can use instead of lumber. To construct an ICF frame, builders stack interlocking panels of polystyrene foam to shape a home’s shell, then pour concrete between them. When dried, these frames are incredibly sturdy and insulated, and they’re one of the most fire-resistant framing materials on the market. Like steel, though, they’re a bit more expensive than lumber.

Framing your new home

Your home’s frame is one of its most important elements, so, understandably, you’d want to construct it yourself if you’ve always dreamed of building your own home. However, your frame’s importance is exactly why it should only be constructed by experienced professionals. 

If you simply must tackle it yourself, though, familiarizing yourself with the process and terminology we’ve outlined in this guide is a great way to get started.

Find a local contractor to build your house’s frame

Written by

Joe Roberts Content Specialist

Joe is a home improvement expert and content specialist for Fixr.com. He’s been writing home services content for over eight years, leveraging his research and composition skills to produce consumer-minded articles that demystify everything from moving to remodeling. His work has been sourced by various news sources and business journals, including Nasdaq.com and USA Today. When he isn’t writing about home improvement or climate issues, Joe can be found in bookstores and record shops.