What is light-frame construction?

The go-to method for building single-family and low-rise multifamily homes in North America, light-frame wood construction is now being used to construct a more diverse range of larger and taller building types from schools and health care facilities to commercial office and mixed-use retail and residential projects. Light-frame construction is made up of dimensional lumber and engineered wood that is regularly spaced and fastened together with nails to create floor, wallstair and roof assemblies. As they are fastened together the wood components form the structure of a building, much like a skeleton.

Light-frame construction
Photo credit: Nik West

Light-frame construction beams and roof trusses shown being installed on low-rise residential structure by construction worker with nail gun and fall arrest harness

Components of light-frame systems

Since the latter part of the 20th century, platform framing has been widely used in single-family, multifamily, commercial, and light industrial buildingsPlatform framing features the construction of each floor on top of the one beneath. 

Engineered floor and ceiling joists

Platform framing starts with a floor frame attached to a foundation, and walls are raised and fastened to the floor frame. A floor is constructed of wood joists and subflooring. Ceiling joists are wood members that serve a function similar to floor joists, framing the ceiling of the top building story and the floor above. 

Stud wall frames

The floor serves a working platform on which stud wall frames are constructed in sections and lifted in placeStuds are vertical wood members, spaced evenly apart, and attached to both bottom and top of the floor framesThe walls of the storey beneath each new level bear the load from above.  

Roof framing

Roof trusses offer pitched, sloped or flat roof configurations, while also providing clearance for insulation, ventilation, electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning services between the chords. A pitched roof is formed of sloping joists (rafters) or trusses attached to the top story wallsRafters are diagonal wood members, spaced uniformly apart, and topped with roof sheathing. More frequently, modern light-frame construction is built with roof trusses, a prefabricated, engineered wood assembly that includes diagonal top chords, a horizontal bottom chord, and vertical and/or diagonal webs or braces between the top and bottom chords. Each adjacent wood component is connected using metal toothed plates

Sheathing

Sheathing is an engineered wood product—plywood or oriented-strand boardfastened to floor, wall and roof assemblies. Roof sheathing is structural, providing lateral bracing of roof framing members, and it carries both live and dead loads from above to the rafters and trusses below.  

Victoria Hill, New Westminster
Photo credit: KK Law

Daytime close up mid construction exterior image of multi storey multi unit residential building showing framing and sheathing and used as an example of light frame construction
Next generation light-frame construction

Lofty standards without the lofty price tag

The Heights residential rental building is one of the largest buildings in Canada to earn the rigorous energy-efficiency standard of Passive House. The project shows how long-proven light-frame wood construction is contributing to a new generation of affordable, high-performance, energy-saving buildings.

The Heights, Vancouver
Photo credit: Raffi Karakouzian

Podium buildings

Podium buildings are comprised of multiple stories of light-frame wood construction over one, or in some cases, two levels of concrete podium construction. Often, the concrete podium comprises one-storey above grade, with two or more parking levels below grade. The podium slab is the building’s structural floor, transferring loads from above and working as a horizontal fire separation.  

Library Square, Kamloops
Photo credit: Stephanie Tracey

Six storey multi-family construction

Prefabrication of light-frame systems

Increasingly components of light-frame wood construction are prefabricated offsite in a factory-setting and delivered to the site as panels or modules. The degree of prefabrication varies project-to-project and in some cases, entire multi-story buildings are manufactured as cubic modules, shipped to the site complete with plumbing, electrical, paint, flooring fixtures, cabinets, and appliances.

Bella Bella Staff Housing
Photo credit: Jaden Nyberg

Exterior afternoon shoreline view looking up at modular passive house / high performance Bella Bella Staff Housing, built with 12 prefabricated modules including solid-sawn heavy timber and oriented strand board (OSB)

Need technical support on your next timber-built project?

For information about the Wood WORKS! BC initiative or its free technical assistance call toll-free 1 877 929-WOOD (9663) or visit wood-works.ca/bc.

 

The six storey East Vancouver Heights residential rental building, a daytime exterior view of which is shown here, is one of the largest buildings to earn Passive House certification in Canada
The Heights

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Exterior afternoon shoreline view looking up at modular passive house / high performance Bella Bella Staff Housing, built with 12 prefabricated modules including solid-sawn heavy timber and oriented strand board (OSB)
Bella Bella Staff Housing

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Exterior daytime view of the six-storey King Edward Villa, a mixed use budling constructed using prefabricated wood construction along with hybrid / wood and light frame systems
King Edward Villa

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Exterior sunny view of three-storey low rise mass timber constructed Camas Gardens Supported Housing showing warm exterior of Western Red Cedar
Camas Gardens Supportive Housing

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