Wood Frame

jill's picture

What type of building do you live in? work in? play in? If your children are in school or college, what kind of building types do they take classes, or live in? Occupied with the business of living, you probably don’t think much about the strength or safety of the walls that surround you or the roof overhead. But knowing a little more about the structures you spend your time in could benefit you in all kinds of ways – and maybe even save your life. Let's start with "wood-frame" construction.

When you visit this site’s Home Response tool, there’s a drop-down menu that allows you to choose the type of framing for your home or building. These  framing terms are commonly used in the construction industry, but not everyone will understand what they mean. The next few blogs I write will use plain language to describe what these building types are. I’ll also provide links to other resources if you want to know more.

Wood-frame is by far the most popular type of construction. Over 70% of the population in the developed world lives in wood-frame single-family homes or multi-unit apartment buildings – in Canada and the United States, over 90% of all buildings are based on wood frame technology. Wikipedia has a good, comprehensive overview of this type of structure.

Wood-frame buildings were commonly thought to be safer than most other structures during a strong earthquake, until the magnitude 6.7 Northridge, California earthquake in 1994. In that earthquake, a large wood-frame apartment building collapsed and killed 16 people inside it. Other wood-frame structures, especially those with “tuck-under” parking (making the first floor structurally weak) suffered severe damage and were red-tagged (meaning uninhabitable). After that tragedy, FEMA funded a group of earthquake engineers and scientists, who conducted a multi-year study on how to reduce earthquake losses to wood-frame construction.

One of the most amazing results of the study was the testing of a  full-size, two-story wood-frame house on a giant “shake table,” which shook the house with a simulation of the Northridge earthquake. The exterior walls and frame came through quite nicely (largely because of stucco coating). (Many wood-frame homes have been coated with stucco, a light, strong material that, as this study demonstrated, actually improves a wood-frame building’s chances of remaining intact in a moderate earthquake.)

But the interior furnishings, light fixtures, shelving, etc. were thrashed. It was as if the interior of the whole house was on a heaving ship in the middle of a perfect storm. So even though wood-frame construction might be relatively earthquake-resistant compared to other types of structures, you could still be at risk for injury or death if your interior space hasn’t been earthquake-proofed. Check out the CUREE Woodframe Video series to see what happened to the interior of the test house. And make sure to read up on securing your space, courtesy of the “Dare to Prepare” campaign in southern California.


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