Old Bernal House Is Not Crappy, It Was Just Built That Way


Neighbors  Kiren and Carolyn are continuing with their big home renovation project, and along the way they are learning some enlightening facts about a few of the more unfortunate aspects of their home’s fundamentals:

The Internet tells me that no, our house was not built by someone so blitzed out on opium that he forgot to build the framing. Instead, it was built in a style that had brief fits of popularity across the US from the mid-1800s through the turn of the century. Called “plank framing”, with 12″ wide wood planks running vertically from the foundation to the roof. Battens could be nailed along the seams, though some owners find glued cloth instead.

According to one of the few writeups on the technique,

The low cost, combined with the little skill needed for their construction, made it a popular house type in communities where quick and/or inexpensive housing was in demand. Groups of these box houses are typically found in communities that were originally company-built mining towns, lumber camps, tenant or workers cottages on farms, and summer resort communities that were popular around the turn of the last century.

Despite all this, Neighbor Kiren retains impressive poise, concluding,  “I feel better knowing that our bones were part of a construction trend (which admittedly was short-lived, probably for a reason), and not simply the result of sloppiness, corner cutting, amnesia, and the like.” 

In other words, Neighbor Kiren and family are glad to know that whoever built their house was not necessarily hepped up on too much Goat Chaser — although it is also possible that they were.

PHOTO: Exposed plank framing at Neighbor Kiren and Carolyn’s house, via Bernal Renovation

4 thoughts on “Old Bernal House Is Not Crappy, It Was Just Built That Way

  1. Hmmm. Maybe the title should read “crappy by design”? Or “crappy, but no more crappy than the ~5000 other homes built in SF at that time before they decided that studs are indeed a good thing”?


  2. I lived in a plank framed house when I was a kid. We built it ourselves out of old dock planks, slathered with creosote, that my dad pulled out of a fishing cannery that was being renovated. This was up in Alaska in the early 80s. Never thought before about what an odd technique it is. Everything I have built since myself has been stud framed.

  3. The subheading of their blog is “a to-the-studs renovation in SF,” so it must have been a disappointment not to find studs! But it sounds like they have a spirit of adventure in their home renovation, and that their main concern was that the existing building envelope was of sufficient size for their family. Looking forward to seeing the end result on their blog!

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