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Balloon Framed question..Fire Blocking and Attic Joists

Ok...1880 Balloon Frame with no fireblocks. The house is gutted at the moment and I'm ready to add some. Any idea how this is properly done? I was thinking just nailing in some 2x4's in the space below the opening to the 2nd floor.

Second Question:
I thought the proper "balloon" framed house had single 2x4's running all the way up the outside of the house structure. This house has about a 10 footer running from the sill plate up to about a foot above the second floor joists and then another 2x4 nailed to it where it continues to the 2nd floor Ceiling? Is this normal?

Third Question:
After removing the lath and plaster ceiling on the second floor, I discovered the 2x4 ceiling joists weren't really doing anything at all besides holding the 2nd floor ceiling up. I'm thinking of removing these and traying out the ceiling up there as it's really low. The Roof is a typical Hip Roof. The Ceiling Joists are simply set on the sill and split half way across the 24' span (foursquare) where they rest on a bearing wall.

Any help would be appreciated.

Re: Balloon Framed question..Fire Blocking and Attic Joists

It's not advisable to remove second floor ceiling joists, because it's very likely they are doing duty as collar ties.
The studs lap over one another? Not good, there should be wood on wood bearing to support the roof load. But, it has stood this long.
The blocking should always go at the (imaginary) floor plate line. There should be additional blocking mid-wall if your ceilings are greater than 9 feet. You may consider blocking the stud bays at the first floor line so the cellar is sealed off too.

Re: Balloon Framed question..Fire Blocking and Attic Joists

Casey pointed out that normally the bottom of the upper studs should rest on something rather than being scabbed onto the lower studs. However, some old houses (I can't see yours from here) are sheathed inside and out with 1" thick (nominal) boards nailed up with fairly substantial nails. Since these boards cover the entire wall, they provide a substantial amount of support for the studs, so much so that it may not be necessary for the studs to have additional support. Many old houses don't even have headers above the doors and windows, with the expectation that the sheathing will bear the load.

With typical modern building practices the sheathing provides some shear strength but not vertical support. The sheathing material and nails (staples) used are not nearly as strong as the materials used in the old days. Modern inspectors base their judgment on their understanding of the properties of modern materials and methods; it is unlikely they would approve new construction using historic materials and methods unless a structural engineer certifies it.

Re: Balloon Framed question..Fire Blocking and Attic Joists

Your house may have started out as a single story house and the second story was added as the family grew and prospered.

Re: Balloon Framed question..Fire Blocking and Attic Joists

Thanks for the replies.

It could be the house was raised higher. I know the house was built in 1880 yet most of the newspaper and Colliers magazines in the walls are from 1900. I was thinking of adding 2x4 support to the studs down to the sill. This would provide support but would lower the area in the stud bays for insulation. Anything would be better than a newspaper or two for insulation and I plan on adding an inch of foam on the exterior when we get there.

There are NO headers in the entire structure except for a pitiful excuse for one where the bay window is. An area about 10 feet with virtually no support other than the outside sheathing. I'll be adding a couple 9.5" LVL's in this area carrying the load down to the 24" thick stone foundation as well as adding headers on all the windows and doors. You can see where the force is flexing the window and door frames.

On the Attic or second story ceiling joist issue. I'm aware that the design would use these members as tying the walls together. But they are nailed only into the top plate (2 2x4's on top of one another) with minimal nails. The rest of the structure is done with very large, square forged nails. I cannot see why heavily re-enforcing the existing rafter structure and moving the ceiling joists higher by a foot or more would be a problem. I will consult with an engineer before attempting this but I have heard of it done. The existing joists are two pieces, scabbed together in the center by load walls and I can easily lift most of them right off the top plate without much force.

The entire main structure is completely free of plaster and lath now and it's time to get to fixing and strengthening what needs to be strengthened. I have to raise those ceilings upstairs...6'6 ceilings are bad :)

Re: Balloon Framed question..Fire Blocking and Attic Joists

My step-grandpa's house was constructed similarly, though it was sheathed inside and out with 3/4" thick boards. The interesting thing is that it originally was a single-story house with 10' interior ceilings and a hip roof. Somewhere in its history, the entire house was gutted and the ceiling was lowered to 8' to provide clearance for a second story without raising the roof.

The house has been cut up, patched up, and remodeled so many times, it's a wonder it's still standing. Yet it seems solid. That's a testament to old-time materials and methods.

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