A Framer’s Perspective on Innovative Framing


A Framer’s Perspective on Innovative Framing

By standardizing details and training framers, NFC can help make innovative framing the prevailing approach.

Using material efficiently is the cornerstone of what your industry is now calling innovative framing (read Scott Ward’s Editor’s Message for a thorough definition of this concept). Buildings are getting increasingly more complex and customers want spans unachievable through traditional span tables. It takes a creative approach to using material to meet our customer’s needs, while still providing good quality structures.

The implementation of innovative framing is complex, but by standardizing details and training framers, building officials, components manufacturers and engineers, innovative framing is steadily becoming the new standard in framing. Innovative framing makes better use of raw material by using triangulation, but also takes advantage of structural system effects.

I worked on a job recently, Broadstone Oaklawn Dallas, where the customer wanted to achieve a contemporary look by having cantilever wings coming off a tower. Using stick framing, this structure would have been nearly impossible to construct. As you can see in the picture on the right, by using a girder truss to project the wings, we were able to build the structure our customer desired. However, as a framer I have to point out this innovative approach to framing isn’t a good fit for every job.  

The general contractor (GC) needs to look at both labor and transportation costs to see if using innovative framing adds value to a project. Typically, using components reduces labor costs, so it’s beneficial to use them in areas where labor costs are high. However, the distance between the component manufacturer and the job also plays a factor. If the job is very far from the component manufacturer, then the transportation costs can outweigh the savings. By evaluating an individual project’s needs, the GC can determine if using innovative framing is right for a particular job.

I know some component manufacturers wonder why innovating framing isn’t universally adopted more easily. From my personal experience, innovative framing was initially challenging to implement. Stick framing has worked well for a long time, and framers (just like everyone else) can be reluctant to change. The traditional and prescribed methods are simple to follow and have been taught and passed down for generations. So moving away from conventional framing toward trusses, wall panels and other framing components is a difficult process at first.

Yet once the new methods are learned, and framers experience the ease of installation and discover how all the parts of the framing fit together well, I’ve seen them quickly become comfortable with the techniques. When that happens, innovative framing becomes the new standard of framing because it’s quicker and safer to frame.

By learning innovative framing techniques, my company has been able to bid on projects we otherwise would not have been able to do. Having a diverse portfolio is important because it allows framers to be open to more jobs, which was critical to survive the most recent economic recession.

Some framers are hesitant to pursue innovative framing because of challenges they have faced in the field with building officials and general contractors. If these individuals aren’t familiar with innovative framing techniques, they may not readily accept them and require the framers to re-frame parts of the structure. By developing industry standard details through the National Framers Council (NFC), we are helping to ensure innovative framing is more widely accepted in the framing industry. Standard details will also provide quality control techniques framers can use to ensure the proper load path is created and the structure can resist loads as designed. This will also lead to greater acceptance of innovative framing techniques.

I would argue framers must be involved in creating these details, because we are the ones most familiar with actual building construction. By working closely with engineers to develop details, and then sharing the standard details with the rest of the industry, the NFC will help establish standards and techniques for innovative framing.

Change is challenging, but through training and collaboration among framers, building officials, component manufacturers and engineers, the construction industry will embrace innovative framing because of the immense value it brings to our customers. By making better use of materials, and by using industry standard details, we will ensure we are making the best use of our natural resources while resisting loads as intended.

The change from traditional framing to innovative framing will not occur overnight, but through the help of the NFC, our focus is to effectively train innovative framing techniques and quality assurance so our overall industry sees innovative framing as the new standard.

The conversation continues at BCMC 2014, October 7-10 in Charlotte, NC. Spend the week Gearing up for Growth & attend the NFC meeting on Friday, October 10. See website for details.

George Hull is President of Hull Associates, LLC in Arlington, TX. He brings more than 35 years of framing experience as the first Chairman of the National Framers Council. For more information about NFC, visit framerscouncil.org