When you’re a potential homeowner building a new home, setting up the framing is the first step to bringing your blueprints to life. A home’s frame is essentially its skeleton, and it’s essential to supporting all the other elements.
The most common material for framing a home is lumber. However, steel may also be used and might become more common in the future. But no matter which one you choose, it will serve the same purpose: a base for the flooring, roofing, windows, doors, and insulation of the home.
We explain what’s involved in framing a new home, the best materials to use, and how much it typically costs (and the different factors that can impact price) so that you can make the best choices for your build.
If you’re thinking about building a dream house like this Modern Farmhouse style home, you’ll surely be concerned about cost, which includes framing costs. There are a lot of details involved in framing a house that can affect cost, some you can control, some you probably can’t.
Framing a House
Once your home’s foundation is completed, it’s time to start framing. The most popular method is platform-frame construction, in which walls sit on top of subflooring. If your home has more than one level, then it’s built one story at a time, with each floor serving as a platform for the one above it. Next, there are wall studs and ceiling and floor joists about every 16 or 24 inches along the floor. Then comes the sheathing to add more protection to the frame – and finally, the roof. To read more about possibilities for roof frames in your build, please click here.
How Much Do Materials Cost?
The cost of framing materials depends on the material you choose, lumber or steel. In recent years steel has become a more competitive alternative to lumber and wood products.
A typical 2,000-square-foot home uses almost 16,000 board feet of lumber and 6,000-square feet of structural panels like plywood. Lumber prices have risen steadily in recent years due to restrictions on timber harvesting in the Pacific Northwest, making the framing of a home a costly component of building and vastly increasing construction costs. Near the end of 2020, the average price was increasing above $600 per 1,000 board feet. What’s more, lumber prices have gone off the charts since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the most current graph of cost estimates, please click here.
An alternative to lumber that’s becoming more popular in parts of the country, light construction structural steel, which is fabricated off site and delivered and erected on site quickly, may cost less than lumber, especially when you factor in labor and the extreme cost of lumber brought on by effects of Covid-19. Based on current information from United States Steel, a steel frame house has an average cost between $9.50 and $11 per square foot, meaning that the total cost for a 2,000 square foot home falls between $19,000 and $22,000. Of course, fabrication, delivery and assembly costs are additional.
Structural steel for light residential construction, like that in this view of a Ranch style home framed out in steel on a concrete slab foundation, seems to be getting more popular versus a wood frame in some parts of the United States, including Texas, where this design originates (Plan #117-1143).
What Are the Costs Associated with Framing a House?
Besides the lumber (or steel) you'll need to erect the house, you'll have to factor in at least four other variables just to get skeleton of the house up and not even protected against weather: size of the home, type of framing, labor costs, and sheathing material.
Square Footage of House Plan
A large home means higher lumber or steel costs because you don’t typically get bulk discounts (unless you’re a great negotiator). So make sure your building just what you need and within your means. If you’re unsure just how many square feet you might actually need, we’ve put together a great guide to help you figure that out.
Type of Frame
There’s more than one kind of house framing to choose from, although by far the most popular is conventional platform stick framing. We’ve already mentioned steel framing, but a popular wood framing technique is a rigid frame system like timber framing or pole framing (both composed of large dimensional linear elements like beams and columns). Rigid framing fewer – but larger – framing members and is more expensive than platform framing.
Carpentry labor costs are important to consider when framing a house, and of course they can vary widely depending on the size and complexity of the house. Many hands make for fast work but possibly a bigger price tag, depending on how the crew of framers work together. A smaller, well tuned crew may be more efficient.
Consider whether you will hire framers directly to assist in the build, or if you will hire one general contracting company that has a team of its own framers or works with subcontractors. It’s most likely that you’ll work with a general contractor who will be in charge, and he will know the going hourly rate and approximately how many man-hours will be required for the job.
For general estimating, carpentry costs may be designated by square-foot prices. The pre-Covid national average rate for framing labor, for example, was $6 to $8 per square foot, which translates into a low of almost $10,000 for a 1,600-square-foot house to $24,000 for a 3,000-square-foot house.
Framing labor cost, often calculated on a per-square-foot basis of the finished house, is important to factor in, and interestingly, comes out to less than material cost, especially considering post-Covid lumber and building materials inflation (photo credit: United States Army, Public Domain).
Sheathing is an exterior barrier attached to the framing of a home. It serves to strengthen the insulation of the wall and provide a nailing base for the siding.
It’s typically made of plywood (although there are other options – click here to find out) and can add to the costs associated with framing. Refer to “Structural Panel” in the Cost of Lumber in a 3,000-Square-Foot House table above.
Are There Any Additional Costs to Consider?
Yes, there are a variety of contributing factors to think about when considering the cost to frame a house. We’ve listed just a few that might apply to you below, however you should also use our free cost-to-build estimator tool for a fuller picture of what to expect as you create your budget.
The Complexity of the House Plan
A simple design is going to be a lot less expensive than a complex one. So if you’re trying to save money, look for a floor plan that has a simple rectangular shape for the outline, or perimeter, of the house. Bump outs, linear walls, bay and box windows, and the like add to the complexity of the framing – and the construction costs – of the house structure. So the more unique features your home has, the larger your cost estimates – and budget – should be.
This 1152-square-foot simple Southern house floor plan with carport (top) has clean, straight outside lines and a relatively open floor plan (Plan #123-1018). Its size and features would inherently require less framing than a more complex custom home, perhaps like this one (bottom), which, although a great layout for living, has bump-outs, curves, offset lines, and lots of in-and-out jutting, which will add to the framing cost (Plan #198-1001).
If You Add an In-law Suite
These “homes-within-the-home” are stylish accommodations for in-laws, returning children, or overnight/weekend guests. And, they come in all shapes and sizes - from a garage studio apartment to a first-floor master bedroom, a refinished basement, or a tiny cottage on the grounds of the primary residence.
As they are so customizable, the cost to include them also varies greatly.
When framing a house, things like windows or electrical panels (and pipes, ducts, etc.) are called “obstructions.” Each obstruction comes with its own unique inconsistencies and special framing requirements, which can cause costs to fluctuate.
New Structure vs. Replacing Framing
If you are replacing older framing, either in whole or in part, rather than building new construction entirely, you’ll also have to consider demolition costs on top of that of materials and installation. This “extra step” can drive up costs.
If you’re keen for a media room, home office, or even an extra bedroom, then the price of framing the house will go up line with the square footage, as lumber or steel costs don’t typically come with a bulk-buying discount (unfortunately). If you want to control the cost of the framing – and the house – then you need to control the square footage and build just what you think you need without shortchanging your family, now or in the future. (See "Square Footage of House Plan" above.)
If you have a basement foundation with your house plan and you want it finished, that will add to the framing cost of the house beyond the original square foot calculations of the home. In addition, framing basements usually presents unique challenges like guarding against water intrusion/flooding, condensation, and mold and mildew. Be sure your builder is well versed in the techniques and technology of building belowground – and the costs involved.
The type of garage you prefer for your home can influence the cost to frame your house. For example, there will be variable costs included for a detached garage vs attached garages, as well as how many car spaces you need.
As you can see here, there are dozens of ways to build a garage – so there are a multiple of different possible price tags.
Three-car garages are almost becoming the norm these days, even for modest homes like this 1,699-sq-ft Ranch style home (Plan #187-1173). Keep in mind, though, that larger garages drive up the cost of the home.
Tips for Hiring a General Contractor to Frame your House
Much like choosing a real estate agent, doctor, or business mentor, you want to go with someone who you get along with, respects you, and most importantly (in a contractor’s case) is licensed to work in your area and is fully insured.
When collecting quotes, it’s a good idea to seek out contractors who specialize in your project type. That is, you wouldn’t want someone who typically remodels kitchens to do the framing of your new home. Take a look at their portfolio and be sure to have a comprehensive contract in place before any work begins.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the framing costs per square foot when building a house?
As mentioned above, house framing costs vary by material. They range from about $10 per square foot to almost double that recently because of the pandemic. You should also factor in a labor cost of $8 or more per sq ft.
It depends. This might be everyone’s least favorite answer, but it truly does depend.
For example, let’s say you have hired a contractor with a large fleet of trained house framers or framing contractors and the framing for the exterior walls and interior walls arrives on site pre-assembled. In this scenario, everything might be finished in a couple of days.
However, if the framing needs to be assembled on site, or if there are fewer framers to assist, or even if the weather is bad (snow, rain, etc.) things can drag on for months.
To avoid surprises, speak to your contractor about your build’s specifics.
Should you get multiple estimates before you pick a contractor?
Yes, it can only help you to seek multiple estimates. You should always see what’s out there for any type of home building (or home improvement) project.
There aren’t really any downsides to shopping around. In a worst case scenario, you might discover that your first quote was in fact the best one and you spent more time looking than you needed to; however, obtaining multiple quotes can also assist you in negotiating the best offer and getting a feel for how multiple contractors work -- so you can really pick your favorite.
Are there other options besides lumber to frame a house?
Yes. As mentioned, steel is also a burgeoning material for framing homes and other buildings, but they are not the only two options.
Concrete is also an option – either conventional concrete-block construction or ICF (insulated concrete form) construction in which concrete is poured into rigid foam insulation forms that stay in place and become part of the wall – especially as concrete’s strength makes it a good choice for earthquake-prone areas. There has also recently been a rise in using alternative recycled materials to form the frame of a house, like shipping containers.
Determining the cost to frame a home involves a number of steps and making many decisions about items such as size of home, framing materials, sheathing materials, timeframe, and the like up front. But the effort will be worth it when it comes time to put a budget together for the entire build of your new dream home!
Footnote: The lead image of this article is of a house under construction that's in the midst of being framed with dimensional lumber in the platform framing method. The house is located in Katy, Texas (photo credit: Wood-Framed House by Jaksmata under license CC BY-SA 3.0).