Fast Framing with Panels
Fasteners. To avoid having to drag an air hose
around while setting the panels, I'd planned to tack things
together with a few fasteners from a Paslode Impulse nailer,
then go back and finish up with a regular air nailer. As things
worked out, though, we relied on the Impulse nailer almost
completely. The absence of air hoses running over the deck made
it easier to jockey the panels around.
Finishing up. It took two more return visits
from the crane to get the structure closed in. The first came
after we'd finished gluing and screwing the second-floor deck,
when we set the second-floor walls (Figure 4, next page). Once
the two of us had finished setting the exterior walls, we had
the crane place the interior walls in the center, then sent the
4. Second-floor exterior wall panels were lifted
individually into place from the ground. The gable wall
panels were framed floor to roof as single units to
avoid a potential hinge effect that might arise with
separate wall and gable panels.
The second session came after we'd finished setting the
second-floor partitions and were ready to begin on the roof
trusses. The crane lifted the bottom halves of the piggyback
trusses into place one at a time as we nailed them off (Figure
5). We braced the trusses as directed by the manufacturer,
loaded the roof sheathing on top, and raised the top halves of
the piggyback trusses into place. That was it for the crane. At
that point, we just had to slide the top sections into place,
nail them off, and apply the sheathing.
5. The top half of the piggyback trusses went up
next (above). The shed dormer houses the master and
guest bathrooms. At left, the nearly finished
Finally, I hired a three-man framing crew for a day to set
the windows and exterior doors and run the plywood band between
the first and second floors.
The Bottom Line
Overall, panel quality was very good. All the pieces were cut
to exact measurements, and the panels fit perfectly as drawn,
except for the one I should have corrected at the proof stage.
In a few cases, the panel sheathing overhung the end of a panel
by a quarter inch or so, but this was easily corrected with a
power plane. One minor annoyance was the quality of the factory
nailing at the partition backers. The toe-nails were left
protruding and had to be hammered down by hand. I was very
happy with the quality of the finished shell, which was
comparable to one put up by a custom framing crew.
No crane, no crew. Panelizing cuts your labor
requirements to the bone, but it increases your reliance on a
crane and operator. I hired a crane service that had several
machines available and was willing to give my job first
priority in scheduling. In return, I agreed to give several
days' notice when I needed the crane. Although the company was
about 20 minutes away, the $65 hourly rate covered only the
time on site, not travel time.
Even so, there was some unproductive crane time. At one
point, we had to spend an hour or so straightening walls while
the crane and operator sat and waited, because it didn't make
sense to have them leave and come back. Next time, I might try
to tighten up the crane schedule by adding another experienced
carpenter, for a total crew of three.
Costs and savings. In all, the bill for the
crane and operator came to just under $2,000. The panelized
walls, floor trusses, and roof trusses came to just under
$15,000, including $1,000 for trucking. (Sprowl makes local
shipments with its own trucks, but because my site was a
six-hour drive from the factory, I had to pay for shipment by
common carrier.) The complete materials package -- with me
supplying the 11/8-inch plywood subflooring, 5/8-inch plywood
roof sheathing, and 2x bracing -- came to less than $8 per
square foot of floor area, or about what it would have cost for
the materials to stick-frame a comparable structure.
Because I had to pay only myself and a low-priced helper,
though, labor costs were far lower. Our combined wages for the
four-week job came to less than $5,500. If I'd been asked to
bid on stick- framing an identical structure, I would have
charged $10 per square foot for labor, or about $24,000. Fringe
benefits. I figure that going with panels saved me a good
$18,000 in labor. I saved another $500 by doing away with the
usual job-site dumpster, since panels generate virtually no
waste. By not having piles of framing material on site, I also
simplified material handling and pilferage. I wouldn't hesitate
to go with panels again.
is a builder living
in Addison, Vt.