Balloon Framing (not mortgages)

By
Home Inspector with Elliott Home Inspection

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The main reason a lot of them had been replaced by platform framing is due to the fact since the choice to go from top to bottom this leaves a big cavity of airspace were fire can travel quickly and may have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.

                                                                          ----BOB ELLIOTT

 

 

 

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Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Jeff , sorry I also noticed a question about how they look.

We are not allowed to copy material here , but they are one long stud ,so if they are box rectangular, with a gable roof, and built before the 1930's ,I would say the odds are good.(two story)

After world war two it is much more rare they are ever built.

Hope that helps.

Apr 02, 2008 04:43 PM #22
Rainer
13,478
Matthew Heavener
ERA Heavener Realty Co. - Jacksonville, FL
Fascinating, thank you for contributing to the community.
Apr 03, 2008 02:39 AM #23
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Well I just could not let this one go so I decided to ask the Boyz over at NACHI.

http://www.nachi.org/forum/showthread.php?t=27423

Apr 03, 2008 02:06 PM #24
Anonymous
don malcolmson(dmalcolmson@hotmail.com)

The walls have been insulated in the past (of my balloon framed house) but 1 proiblem I have now is the air pockets that have developed inside the walls. The cold just soaks through. Is there an appropriate way to rectify this problem?

Nov 18, 2008 05:53 AM #25
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Hi Don

Where are the air pockets located?

I know that in general they can be easy to insulate, if fire blocks are not in place, as you can just blow cellulose insulation in from the attic and it will drop down to the bottom,, but not knowing what method was used it is hard to say much.

One thing you can do is hire a thermographer to come in and look for where the walls are deficient and go from there.

You can just Google up one of these guys and the fee should not be to bad, as they just come in and scan for temp differences in the walls.

Perhaps installers missed some critical areas and this type of audit would help.

I belong to NACHI and there are many guys doing this type of audit, so if you wish, just e-mail me at bob@homeinspectorpro.com.

I will help anyway I can, if I know which area you are in.

 

Nov 19, 2008 11:27 AM #26
Rainmaker
76,167
Frank Torre
Torre Inspection Service, LLC 888-202-8869 - Hicksville, NY

Great post Bob, my mom has a balloon framed house. When I take the students over to her house I show them it. They read about in their text books but good to see it in the real world. 

Nov 19, 2008 11:25 PM #27
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

What do you physicaly point out as clues that it is a balloon frame Frank?

Nov 20, 2008 06:20 AM #28
Rainmaker
179,897
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

Great post Bob.  Half of Dayton is balloon frame and many of them built by the same contractor in the 20's.

Jack

Nov 21, 2008 03:36 PM #29
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Wow

What do you usually do in the way of comments on the structure.

Anything special on advise?

Are you ever able to look all the way up from the basement?

Nov 22, 2008 07:35 AM #30
Rainmaker
179,897
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

A few where the floor doesn't cover or has been removed.  Redid one when I first moved back to Dayton and learned more than I ever wanted to know.  I've got a couple of pictures that will give an idea what they look like.  Advice is walk the floor and listen carefully.  Usually sounds like the violin section out of tune.  Check for cracks in plaster that don't look like your normal settling crack.

Jack

Nov 22, 2008 01:44 PM #31
Rainmaker
76,167
Frank Torre
Torre Inspection Service, LLC 888-202-8869 - Hicksville, NY

Hi Bob, at my mom house one of the up stairs rooms is unfinished. So I ask the students to look with their flashlights down between the studs and tell me what they see?  Their response is usually wow a balloon framed house thats cool. On a fully finished house the clues are not so easy to see, that the house is balloon framed. I would start in the attic trying to see down in between the studs or use my infrared camera.

Nov 22, 2008 02:14 PM #32
Rainmaker
179,897
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

Bob here is a picture of the double we did.  Left before, right after.

Fairview After  Fairview Aft

You can see on the side of the double/duplex where the foundation for the sill is and the studs run contiuous to the roof.

Nov 22, 2008 02:23 PM #33
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Looking at the pictures,it makes you realise you can be inside or driving by and never know the difference.

I'd bet not a day goes by that one gets inspected, without it being noted as this type of structure.

Unusual roof line on the sides,Jack.

I need to get a good shot of the wall cavities for this blog.

Nov 23, 2008 01:53 AM #34
Rainmaker
179,897
Jack Gilleland
Home Inspection and Investor Services, Clayton - Clayton, OH

The roof on the side os decorative only.  It is attached to the framing.  I might have a pic of one after a fire the clapboard siding is gone, try to find. Fire dept.s hate these things because flames rush from first to second floor in a blink.

 

Nov 23, 2008 12:05 PM #35
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

That would be great if you could post it here.

Nov 23, 2008 01:04 PM #36
Anonymous
Jacqui Rounds

Bob,

My husband and I bought a balloon construction house for one dollar.  The catch was we had to move it off the property.  Due to the cost of moving the wires, we took off the roof and the second story.  We are moving the house this Sunday, March 29, 2009.  The second story walls were cut off with a sawsall just above the porch roof and are on a trailer waiting to be put back on.  Our plan is to brace the walls with metal bracets and two by fours.  Do you have avy other suggestions? 

Mar 23, 2009 09:26 AM #39
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Hi Jacqui

Never been involved in moving a house myself, but are you anywhere near Chicago?

Might make a small trip to see it happen if close by.

 

If I have a chance tonight I will alert some of my Association members from NACHI and see if they have this experiance.

I will have them link here.

What the heck I will do it right now before us old people get sleepy ,as it is dinner time.

Mar 23, 2009 10:24 AM #40
Anonymous
Andrew Devlin

I've invented a type of building that I call survivorregeneration that is similar to the old balloon frame but done with metal wood connectors that make it earthquake and hurricane proof, and want to know if you are interested in the plans, and perhaps in helping me sell the idea, and create a website?

May 29, 2010 09:14 AM #43
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Hi Andrew

Thanks for the offer ,but I have my hands full with everything going right now.

The plans sound interesting and of course I would be happy to see them,however selling myself is difficult enough.

I wish you great luck on your project if this is truly a life saving project.

"Wish you well."

Jun 09, 2010 03:02 PM #44
Rainmaker
92,119
Bob Elliott
Elliott Home Inspection - Chicago, IL
Chicago Property Inspection

Thanks Punter.

Very old thread from 2007 which has me feeling old myself.

Sometime over the next few days should be adding to my startup Kitchen series and will try to make it informative.

May 17, 2012 03:21 AM #45
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