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Re: Single-wall house

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Dear Nels:

Your single wall house sounds very much like the "plank houses" contructed
in Western New York from 1800-1860.  I have worked on many houses of this
type and have found all to be very well built and very strong.  I have seen
some constructed with 1" hemlock planks that were 36" wide.  In our area
many of these structures had the ledger beam cut from American Chesnut

John Schenne, PE
From: <NRoselund(--nospam--at)>
To: <seaint(--nospam--at)>
Sent: Wednesday, December 29, 1999 2:03 PM
Subject: Single-wall house

> I spent the days around Christmas with our family in a single-wall cottage
> where my daughter lives.
> I've designed repairs and strengthening for a few single wall houses and
> the opportunity to study others.  They are fascinating.  They seem to have
> been built in California in the 19th century and up to about 1920.  The
> can be found in widely-spread parts of California.
> A single wall house is constructed of lumber, with walls, including
> walls, having no studs -- instead, the walls consist of a single layer of
> vertical 1x boards joined with vertical battens.  The wall boards are
> to a ledger on which the rafters bear.  Floor and roof construction is
> we would now consider more conventional, with 2x or 4x rafters and floor
> joists and 1x board sheathing, but often surprisingly lightly framed with
> widely spaced and seemingly undersized members.
> I sometimes have the impression that they are almost magical -- the
> framed structures showing virtually no signs of distress.  They are
> light-weight and make very efficient use of wood.  They are universally
> thoroughly weather tight.  I've never seen or heard of an
> single-wall house -- I suppose because they are very light-weight, in
> addition to being so rare.  They seem typically to have been thoughtfully
> designed and to have been built with very skillful craftsmanship.  Joints
> other details are always tight and accurately cut.  Cracks and splits in
> lumber are almost never found.  The widely-spread consistency in the style
> seems to indicate that there used to be a well communicated technology of
> single-wall house construction.
> Because of my niche of structural engineering for repair and strengthening
> old buildings, I'm always on the alert for old books on archaic
> techniques, and have several.  However, I've never found a book with
> information on how to build a single-wall house.  I'm curious how the
> construction of a single-wall house proceeded.  For example, were the
> built on the ground and tilted up?  Have you seen or do you know of any
> references on single-wall construction?  I'd love to see something written
> during the era when they were being built.
> Nels Roselund
> Structural Engineer