About Natural Building Straw Bale Cob Other Walls Plastering
Framing Roofs Floors Foundations Design


The framing of a structure is what creates the walls and supports the roof and the loads that result from 4 feet of snow on the roof, 70 mph winds, 20 dinner guests on the second floor, or 80 bales of hay in a hay loft. Framing is the skeleton of a structure. While some natural building wall materials can be load-bearing (stone, cob, adobe, and strawbale for example), many buildings utilize a wooden frame — especially where forests are abundant. As in all natural building methods, the use of what is local, efficient and renewable is of highest importance. And when choosing a source of wood for a construction project it's also important that the wood is harvested in a sustainable manner, ecologically and culturally. There are three framing methods that are often used in the Northeast; the method chosen depends on the insulation system being used, the wall system, the end use of the building, and the interior environment desired.

Stick Framing
Also known as conventional framing, stick framing relies on a repetitive number of light framing members, or "sticks" (2x4's or 2x6's). With insulation systems such as straw-clay and woodchip-clay, 2x4's can be joined together with gusset plates to make a truss. This framework can, when designed correctly, serve the double purpose of supporting the loads in a structure, as well as providing the formwork for the wall infill of straw-clay or woodchip-clay. Stick framing can also work well with straw bale construction; the framing can be designed specific to bale sizing to allow the frame to be embedded in the bale wall, or left proud of the bales to receive siding.
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Post and Beam Framing
Post and beam framing is common and often employed as the framework for many naturally-built homes. As the name implies, this framing system relies on posts and beams of large dimensions to support the loads in the frame. Because there are no repetitive framing members as in stick framing, post and beam structures must be carefully designed and built to handle the point loads that result from snow, wind, dinner guests, and hay.

A subset of post and beam framing is traditional timber framing. In post and beam frames, the timbers are often joined with lag screws and metal plates, which is easier, thereby requiring less labor, whereas in a traditionally timber framed building the timbers are joined via the mortise and tenon — pegged wood-on-wood joinery. Timber framed structures are known for their strength and enduring nature — many of the oldest structures in the world are timber framed buildings. Here in New England we are fortunate to have many surviving timber framed barns, houses and churches, some dating to the 18th century.
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Pole Framing
This frame utilizes poles, often old telephone poles, as the vertical posts and dimensional or sawn beams for the horizontal connection between the posts, or poles. Because of its treatment against rot and decay, a telephone pole can be set directly into the ground to create a very simple foundation. This method was developed in warmer climates where there is little frost heave or need for insulation. It should be noted that for wood to be buried in the ground in this climate, it must be treated to resist rot and decay. Commonly, one can find "pressure-treated" wood, which has been impregnated with a variety of chemical compounds which act as biocides. Telephone poles often treated with creosote or other similar toxic compounds to preserve the wood. Such types of treated wood are very toxic to both the builder and the environment, and thereby conflict with some of the tenants of natural building. That said, there are new technologies of treated wood, such as impregnating wood with silicates or plastics, that reduce or eliminate the toxic loading of traditional biocide-treated wood products, that may make pole framing more friendly to the natural builder.

Many more framing systems exist that use different materials and physics, and can be incorporated in part or whole into the more common Northeastern framing methods described above.
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