Getting to Know Your Home

When you plan a carpentry project or go to a building supply center for materials, it helps to know the common terms describing the parts of your house. Some of these terms vary from region to region, but most are understood throughout the country. Although this book deals primarily with interior carpentry projects, you need to be able to visualize how your house is put together. Even a task as simple as attaching a wall shelf or installing baseboard molding requires some knowledge of framing.

Framing is the skeleton of your house, the basic structure holding it together. Vertical wall studs run from floor to ceiling. They’re usually made of 2x4s, but often 2x6s or 2x8s are used to allow for more insulation. The horizontal pieces at the top and bottom of the walls are called plates. The bottom plate rests on a concrete block or formed concrete foundation. Walls may have fire blocking running horizontally about halfway up the wall. Wherever there is an opening for a door or a window, a correctly sized header, made of a massive piece of lumber or two pieces of 2x lumber, must span the gap in the framing.

Roofs are supported by either rafters or trusses, which use small-dimensioned lumber joined in such a way as to give them strength. Collar ties brace the rafters. The roof typically is made of plywood or shiplap covered with roofing felt and shingles. Eaves are trimmed with fascia. Vents draw hot air from the attic. Joists made of 2x10s support subfloors and flooring and other interior load-bearing walls. The undersides of joists provide nailing surfaces for ceilings.

On the exterior walls, the framing is covered with at least three layers of material. First comes sheathing, which in older homes is made of lx lumber run horizontally. When it’s milled with an overlapping joint, it is called shiplap. Plywood, fiberboard, or foamboard is used in newer homes. Next comes a paperlike layer to improve insulation and reduce the effects of condensation. Older homes use roofing felt (also called tar paper) or a reddish-colored building paper; newer homes have house wrap, often made of polyethylene. Finally, the house is clad in siding. This house has horizontal beveled siding, but vertical siding and sheet siding are also common. Inside the walls, older homes often have gray-colored rock wool insulation; fiberglass batts are used now.

Interior wall surfaces of older homes usually are covered with lath, thin pieces of rough, 3/8-inch thick wood, run horizontally. The lath is covered with two or three layers of plaster. Today drywall is nailed or screwed to the framing and the joints and nail holes are covered with joint compound. Plastering is a specialized skill that takes years to learn, but a homeowner can apply and finish drywall. Gaps around windows (doublehung sash, casement, fixed-pane, or full-round), doors, and along walls are covered with molding.

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