Is there better wood to frame your house with?

In many areas of our lives, there are varying degrees of quality for the things we use. You can find high-quality coffee, cars, clothes, and more. But what about the wood in your house’s frame? Can you get better stuff? Do the fancier homes in town have better wood in their bones?

Let’s look for starters just at regular old dimensional lumber. That’s the term used for lumber off the shelf at the big box stores and lumber yards.

In our region, it mainly comes in Pine, Douglas Fir, and Spruce species. Pine is what is most commonly found on shelves.

Pine is the cheapest, easiest to source, making it far and away the most common. Of these softwoods, it has lots of strength and actually weighs a little less, making it great for building homes. Its only real downside is that it is not quite as dimensionally stable as the others. This means that it moves more as it dries out and can expand and contract more with humidity changes.

While fir and spruce can be a marginally stronger, allowing for ever so slightly longer spans. However, they do cost more and can be much harder to find.

One lumber type you will find at the big box stores is whitewood. This does not refer to a specific species it’s like the meat option at a restaurant. It means whatever one we could get our hands on. This lumber is made from young pine, spruce, or fir trees that may lack desirable qualities found in older ones.

Within dimensional lumber, there are different grades as well. and when it comes to building a house, this might be where the real differences come into play. There are three grades of framing lumber, but only grades 1 and 2 are available. The difference between the grades is primarily related to the amount and size of the knots in the wood. This means a #1 grade board is clearer (less knotty) than a #2. This can mean less cracking at the knots and generally a board that will stay straighter. To get #1-grade lumber, you have to go to a lumber yard, you won’t generally find that at the big box store. Grade #3 lumber is not suitable for construction and gets turned into other products.

So can you build with better wood? Sure, you could frame your house with Oak or Cyprus, something that is harder and heavier. You could in theory, get Teak studs that would resist rot and insect activity. People just aren’t doing this because the high costs far outweigh the small benefits. If there is no good #2 lumber available, it might be worth using #1-grade lumber. However, this is not common even in pricier homes.

Two good jumping-off points from here, see our future posts on:

Was the old wood we used to build houses with better?

What about engineered lumber products?