by Don Dunkley
I've been framing custom homes for more than 25 years, and
I've learned that a well-planned layout is the key to an
efficient job. Errors are bound to occur: Clients are
unpredictable, general contractors can forget to relay
important details, framers are always in a hurry, and plans are
often inconsistent. A job hindered by mistakes and changes goes
slow, costs money, and becomes discouraging for everyone
involved. But with a little planning and a well-detailed
layout, I can often avoid these problems by following these
RULE 1:Study the
Plans I don't just roll up to a site, pull out a
crisp set of unread plans, and pound away. Before I get to the
site, I thoroughly review the plans and mentally put the frame
together. I study the roof frame first to determine my stud
heights. I check the interior ceiling elevations, looking for
any balloon frames and rake walls. I find all the beams that
need to be installed. I study the elevations, looking for any
conflicts. Failing to check for design errors at this stage is
an invitation to a framing disaster.
quality.Layout is always a challenge,
and the quality of the plans plays a big part. Due to the high
cost of hiring professional architects, builders can often get
saddled with inadequate residential plans drawn by poorly
trained building designers. Some of the designers I work with
do excellent work, but many provide plans without specification
sheets, with scant section views, and with inconsistent
dimensions. The general contractor and the framing contractor
usually wind up spending hours together making these half-baked
plans work. I recommend the good designers whenever possible.
But if my clients opt for someone else, I won't hesitate to
tack on extra money at the bid stage for working with crummy
Once I have a basic understanding of how the
frame will go together, I examine other critical details,
including windows, interior trim, exterior finish, and
structural requirements. As I gather the information I need, I
write it directly on the layout pages of a set of job-site
plans. And because the job site wreaks havoc on plans, I mark
up an additional set of plans to keep at the office for future
reference. Armed with a freshly marked set of plans, with no
questions left unanswered, I'm ready to snap some lines.
A slab or subfloor is almost never perfectly square,
so the first thing I do is establish a set of square reference
lines (see ). Using a couple of 100-foot tapes and a
calculator, stretch two dry lines along the edges of a corner
of the deck, set back twice the width of the future wall
plates. I look for an outside corner where the two longest
walls meet so the diagonal will be at least 30 feet. If the
perimeter of the deck is too chopped up, I square the lines off
a long interior wall.
Plug the length dimensions into a Construction
Master and calculate the diagonal, then adjust the lines until
the measured diagonal matches. Now find out how far out of
whack the deck is by measuring from the edge of the deck to the
dry lines. If needed, move the lines so the bottom wall plate
will hang out over the edge of the deck a little, being careful
to keep the lines square in relation to each other. When the
lines are where you want them, measure toward the edge of the
deck the width of the wall plates and make a set of marks, then
snap the lines. You can now use this set of square base lines
to pull all of the other dimensions.
Exterior dimensions. After my base line is set
up, I snap out the exterior walls. The important thing here is
to make the exterior dimensions match those on the plans as
closely as possible. This is especially important on a house
with roof trusses, because the truss manufacturer is building
from plans received a month or so ago, not from what's built on
site. For a house with a truss roof, I keep the exterior walls
within 1/4 inch of the plan. There's a little more wiggle room
with a stick-built roof, which can be cut to fit whatever
dimensions the exterior walls get framed.
Once I have the outside dimensions under
control, I move on to the inside walls.
Lay Out With Trim in Mind Don't overlook interior
trim during framing. Before I start my layout, I find out what
size trim will be installed. If it's not yet defined, I push
the general contractor and client to choose the trim.
Hallways are typically planned small or get squeezed tight
to make room elsewhere. The first place I look is the end of a
hallway, where I'm almost sure to find the largest possible
doorway being crammed into the narrowest possible space,
leaving room for only the skinniest whisper of trim. Casing
ends up being shoved tight to the drywall with no reveal, or
worse, must be ripped down to fit. Knowing my casing size in
advance, however, I can snap out the hallway to work for my
For example, to lay out enough
room for a 2-foot 6-inch door with, say, a 2-1/4-inch door
casing, the minimum hallway width required is 38 inches before
drywall (Figure 2).
framing a doorway in a narrow hallway, make sure there's enough
room for casing. When using wider casing, the author adds an
extra king stud where necessary.
This leaves room for a king stud and trimmer on either side
of a 35-inch header, resulting in a 32-inch R.O. with 2 inches
for the jamb and some shim space. Once drywall is on, a
1/2-inch reveal remains between each edge of the casing and the
wall. For 3-1/2-inch casing, I'll make the hallway 41 inches
wide to leave a nice reveal. When "detailing" (see ""), I mark
an additional stud alongside the king stud for extra nailing
for the trim.
Another tight spot is a
bedroom door in a hallway that opens right against a
perpendicular wall inside the room. To gain wall space in the
bedroom, the designer typically crams the doorway tight to the
adjacent wall. From the hallway side, there may be plenty of
room for casing, but it's often a squeeze on the other side. In
this case, measure from the inside corner the width of the
casing, then add the drywall and the reveal. To keep the door
tight to the wall but still leave a minimum reveal with
2-1/4-inch casing, plan for a single king stud.
Bathrooms are typically small and filled with lots of stuff.
Often, a bathroom wall must fit both an entry door and a vanity
(). To accommodate these, mark the vanity edge at 21 inches for
the cabinet plus 1 inch for the counter nosing and 1/2 inch for
drywall - a total of 22-1/2 inches. To leave room for
2-1/2-inch casing and a pleasing 1-1/4-inch reveal, mark the
face of the king stud at least 24 inches from the wall. Check
to see if the door will fit (don't make the door less than 2
feet 6 inches). If it looks like the casing will get hacked,
widen the room.
Kitchens. Most kitchen base cabinets are 25
inches wide including the counter nosing. When a door has been
placed tight to a cabinet, I allow a minimum of 27 inches from
the intersecting rough-framed wall to the face of the king
stud. This gives just enough room to fit in the casing.
Know Your Windows and DoorsThere's
nothing quite so unsettling as realizing that the pile of
windows that just arrived on the job site won't fit the framed
openings. Before starting any job, make sure to confirm the
window manufacturer's specs.Window R.O..
Most of the windows I install are
aluminum or vinyl. Like wood and clad windows, they differ in
size from manufacturer to manufacturer, typically ranging from
1/2 inch under to 1/2 inch over the window dimensions called
out on the plans. A call-out for a "3040" window (meaning 3'0"
x 4'0") might require a 35-1/2x47-1/2-inch R.O. or a
36-1/2x48-1/2-inch R.O., or something in between. A call to the
manufacturer is the best way to be sure. In some cases, the
call-out matches the R.O. exactly. But if there's any
difference, I'll mark the correct opening size on the plan
ahead of time to use when detailing.
Even if the plans include a spec sheet for wood
window sizes, check them out beforehand. Don't count on them to
be accurate. The burden of finding out the windows' proper R.O.
falls to the framing contractor. If you don't check ahead of
time and the openings turn out wrong, you'll be fixing them on
Plenty of windows these days include half-round
arches, elliptical arches, and transoms. Some are stacked on
top of each other or mulled together. When the elevation shows
such specialty windows, I always make a call to the supplier
and get the low down on how to detail the rough openings.
Even though all plans must be issued
through a local building department for plan check, it's cheap
insurance to double-check that all the bedroom window openings
meet egress code. Remember, too, that any window that comes
within 18 inches of the floor requires tempered glass. I always
bring this to the client's attention, in case they want to
raise the window sill height and save a few bucks.
When detailing the window locations on the
framing plate, stay aware of local code requirements for a
window's proximity to a gas meter. More often than not, the
actual gas meter location will be different than what's
indicated on the plans, or not noted at all.
Nothing ruins a day like
hearing the clients say, three weeks into a job, "We want wood
windows instead of aluminum ones." The rest of the day gets
spent yanking out headers and sills on a sheathed two-story
wall. I try to nip this in the bud by insisting that the
windows be a firm decision before layout stage - "no
take-backs." Most clients don't realize windows aren't usually
interchangeable by size, type, or manufacturer.
To detail a standard window header, I add 3 inches to the
R.O width. This accounts for the two trimmer studs. If the
window or door opening is greater than 6 feet, the standard
rule of thumb calls for double trimmers. Engineering may
require an increase in header size, or a change to 4-by trimmer
studs, so I always review the calc sheet attached to the plans
(a requirement in California, where I work).
I also check the elevations
for recessed windows, common in stucco exteriors. Sometimes the
floor plans show a standard opening, while the elevation shows
a recessed detail. Recessed windows need extra framing, and the
headers can easily run an additional 6 inches in length ().
To detail door headers, I add 5 inches to the door call-out.
For example a 3-foot 0-inch door requires a 41-inch header.
This accounts for two trimmers, the door jamb, and shim
Pocket-door rough openings need two more inches
in height than standard 6-foot 8-inch doors. On the West Coast,
it's common to use solid 4x12 material as header stock for
standard doors, and 4x10s for pocket doors. The R.O. width of a
pocket door is figured by doubling the door width and adding 5
inches. For example, a 2-foot 8-inch pocket door has a
69-inch-long header (32 inches + 32 inches + 5 inches).
Most of the closet door openings I frame are for bypass sliding
doors. The R.O. is 1 inch smaller than a standard opening of
that size, allowing the two doors to overlap. For example,
while I'll frame a standard opening for a pair of 2-foot 6-inch
doors using a header length of 65 inches, I'll cut the header
to 64 inches for a bypass door.