While it’s not Throwback Thursday yet, we think you’ll enjoy this look back at home construction techniques on a beautiful Tuesday!
All homeowners want a house they love, and understanding the evolution of home construction is a good place for anyone looking to buy a home to start. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are over 132 million homes in the nation today, with some 18 million of them having been built during WWII or earlier. Before you buy an older house, start by understanding the evolution of home building in the last century and how some significant changes have impacted how we build homes today.
The first homes never even had glass windows, yet it’s hard to imagine a time when glass wasn’t used for this purpose. Windows weren’t just decorative, either; they let smoke out and fresh air in. Eventually shutters were used to protect the opening in a storm or from bugs. Later, when glass was added, it was expensive to make one large piece; thus the origin of “paned” windows employing smaller pieces inside wood frames.
While the modern glass window was invented in 1959, there have since been many advancements in window technology. You can buy windows with double, triple or even quadruple panes, and windows now have argon gas in between to help mitigate heat and cold exchange. Your great-grandmother’s windows might have been treated with linseed oil during glazing to make them airtight but now, most windows use a low-e technology, which is a layer of metal inside the pane that essentially acts as another pane of glass. Today’s quality window manufacturers are creating energy efficient, even self-cleaning windows in an amazing array of styles, shapes and colors. Like the 90 Degree Corner Unit Beauty windows from Marvin Windows and Doors designed keep the elements out but make a beautiful design statement
From the 1960s through ’80s, many residential homes had wood-frame construction that relied heavily upon gypsum wallboard and stucco as sheathing for shear (“movement”) walls, leaving them vulnerable to catastrophic events such as earthquakes. Older structures that sheathed walls in gypsum lath and plaster and newer structures that used plywood were not as vulnerable. As a result of the analysis of earthquake damage, building codes around the country have been updated to ensure any wood-framed construction utilizes plywood or oriented strand board sheathing for the walls and with a steel straps hold-down systems to prevent a shear wall overturning. According to The ShakeOut Scenario,” a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, this change is why it’s much less common in a newer home to see a home come off its foundation, vs. an older home where such straps were not employed.
Another common feature in older homes is the use of a “cripple wall,” a short wall between the concrete or masonry foundation and a framed first floor. They allowed a crawl space for routing utilities into the building. Formerly, the bottom plate of the cripple wall wasn’t bolted to the foundation and again, thanks to seismic activity in the last century, these became bolted. Traditionally, the typical floor joist was made up of 2×8 or 2×12-inch board, but now it’s much more common to see “I” beam joists, which are more environmentally friendly as well as lighter and straighter.
“Green” builders regularly use advanced framing techniques, also known as Optimum Value Engineering to save lumber in a residential project. OVE has a variety of construction principles including 24-inch-on-center framing for joists, studs, and rafters and omitting headers on non-load bearing walls. Since wood is a bad insulator, utilizing OVE in a new construction project might save you money in the long run by increasing your energy efficiency by 50 percent.
Around the mid-19th century, tile roofs, common in Europe and brought to the U.S. by early settlers, were replaced by the lighter and cheaper metal (steel) roof. Also common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was the slate roof, which was highly durable and fireproof and more aesthetically pleasing than steel. Wood shingles were also prevalent throughout the century and still are today — although, because of the life expectancy of a typical wood shingle roof and the increased cost, wood shingles are not used as commonly.
An important consideration in installing a new roof or replacing an old one is cost vs expected life of the roof. Slate roofs, for example, are some of the more expensive upfront to install but can easily last 40-60 years. In 1901, asphalt shingles were invented in America. Advancements in composition (asphalt) roofing make for an economical choice for those on a budget as well as those looking for an upscale look and durability. The National Park Service reports that asphalt shingles are manufactured in a variety of styles to duplicate the appearance of wood shingles, making them a popular choice for replacing a historic roof.