Sticks versus Bricks – US versus SA building methods in a nutshell

South African investors often ask about the building methods employed at YDL’s flip properties in Atlanta. This is because they differ significantly from our own bricks-and-mortar approach. Read on for interesting US construction know-how.

sticks vs bricks

Different approach

In South Africa we’ve been conditioned to believe that building with bricks is essential, if quality and durability are to be the end goals.

But another method – timber framing – has been employed in the US for over 500 years and, in more recent times, has reached standards of excellence due to the wood treatments employed, as well as strict building regulations.
According to the master builder on the YDL team: ‘In Atlanta, particularly, wood is a primary structural element for residential building because it is a renewable resource in the region, with its tree farms that are harvested and replanted for this very purpose.’

‘Stick building’, another way of describing timber framing, involves sections of lumber being cut and nailed together to form walls and trusses. These are linked using plywood, in a method called ‘sheathing’ on the exterior and ‘dry walling’ on the interior.

The type of timber is chosen according to machinability, aesthetic appeal, competitive cost, durability and availability. For example, pine may be chosen because of its stability after drying and conditioning.

While not all lumber is treated against termite infestation and fungal attack, he explains, builders can request treated lumber. For instance, anti-fungal lumber is primarily used in basements and first-floor walls. Lumber can also be treated to be durable when it will be in direct contact with water.

Frames receive insulation via the exterior sheathing panels, while fire-retardant materials (e.g. sheetrock, insulation containing borate) can be ordered and incorporated. Flat ceilings tend to be filled with bulk insulation, producing a home that is cooler in hot weather and warmer in winter. Once enclosed from the elements, the follow-on trades – plumbers, electricians – are able to get to work.

Popular exterior cladding includes vinyl, cedar wood/pine, stucco, stone, and the classy brick façade that is placed all around a house – even where it cannot be seen from the street.

Stick building is perfect for problematic sites, as it can be easily adapted in cases of steep gradients, for example. It also is much faster to build with and modify on site, according to its unique conditions.

When it comes to interiors, the big advantage of dry walls is that they are lightweight and require no foundations or strong support structures. Walls can be straight or curved, with arches or recesses; and all this is achieved with way less mess, fuss or angle-grinder noise than brick. While brick walls need plastering to achieve a smooth look, dry walling has an already-smooth finish that’s just calling out for the painters.

Dry walling compares favourably to brick in terms of insulation, soundproofing and fire protection, but presents an advantage when space is an issue due to its thinner dimensions.

Colouring within the lines

In the US, the main building regulations are the International Commercial or Residential Code, the Code for Electrical and Plumbing work, and the Mechanical Code. These minimum standards of design and implementation allow building departments to review plans and inspectors to verify compliance on site. In this way, safety, health and general welfare is maintained for the potential occupants of each home, as regards its structural and mechanical integrity (walls, sanitation, water supply, lighting and ventilation), means of egress, fire prevention and control, and energy conservation.

The codes create a national standard and, while a state may adopt the standard, they can create their own guidelines to follow/restrictions to adhere to due to regional or local challenges – i.e. a tornado-, earthquake- or hurricane-prone area.

Lastly, regional or local authorities can also take on design standards to control development, in the sense of what may be built, as well as where and how.

Questions? I’d love to hear from you. Email me on anton@ydl.co.za.

Warm regards,
Anton
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