For anyone who missed it the Chicago Sun-Times real estate section featured an article on balloon frame houses published Friday, July 27.I found this article especially fascinating due to the fact the author Tom Corbett attributes Chicago being the fastest growing city in the world during the 19th century partially due to the innovation of balloon frame housing.
As a Home Inspector I need to be aware of this kind of property as do other Home Inspectors.
Balloon frame housing is not typical anymore and was slowly phased out during the early part of the 20th-century.
however there are still thousands of examples throughout the Chicagoland area despite the fact many of them have been bought up and torn down for new homes.
The big feature with balloon frame housing is that the studs go from sill plate all the way up to the rafters.
The main reason a lot of them had been replaced by platform framing is due to the fact since the choice to go from top to bottom this leaves a big cavity of airspace were fire can travel quickly and may have contributed to the Chicago fire.
Another bad feature considering today's energy concerns is all that airspace produces a chimney like effect drawing hot air up and out
Since the studs run from top to bottom they can often be recognized for their square rectangular box like appearance.
One way to combat the fire hazard and energy inefficiency is to blow insulation in the cavities between studs thus preventing fire from spreading so rapidly and helping solve the energy problem.
A couple of the reasons people would prefer to keep the structures rather than tearing them down are for one thing the wood is higher quality and for another thing you can easily adjust the floor height by moving the joists up and down in between the studs since it is not platform dependent this can give you what a world of possibilities during rehab.in other words many of these are two flats but can be converted to single-family homes with cathedral ceilings. Kinda cool in my opinion.
The article read led me to want to research more about them and one of its things I discovered was this was initially called Chicago construction until the 1870s.Some research by me has suggested balloon framing was first developed by a Chicago carpenter named Augustine Taylor in the 1830s.in other articles I researched suggest it was invented by a Chicago carpenter named George W. Snow in 1832.
Other articles suggest forms of this balloon framing were built previously however anyway you look at Chicago probably gets the credit.
My credit in research goes to Chicago Suntimes,Dept of Agriculture,PBS,and the encyclopedia of Chicago History.org.Illustration below is from uwec/education.