Let's talk about trusses.

ILoveRedJune 5, 2014

The house we built 10 years ago that we live in now was built using a truss company. We did not build out the second floor because we didn't think we needed it at the time. Not a true 2story house. Second floor was optional. I wanted my two little ones right next to me, not upstairs since we had just had a fire. The trusses were very expensive on a complex roofline. Lots of lumber.

Now we are building a house with a master down and bedrooms up.

Please tell me why some builders use trusses, some don't, the advantages and disadvantages of using a truss company.


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dh says we'll be using trusses simply because they are cheaper than stick built (at least in our area). But I'd like to know more about this myself...

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 9:46AM
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It depends on what you are comparing the roof trusses to. If the space under the roof is of no value to you the trusses are cheap but in New England that is almost never the case.

I've never used trusses. I tried to put an elevator in a house with roof trusses and found that the trusses over the shaft were just a few inches too low and the cost to modify them was prohibitive so the elevator was scrapped.

I've converted a lot of attics into habitable space so roof trusses seem unusually short sighted. Its also a good location for HVAC equipment with insulation between the full sized rafters.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 2:38PM
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Presumably when people are building houses, they are planning for sufficient space for their needs. When budget doesn't allow for all the space, there are usually plans for future expansion. If you're doing attic conversions, I assume that's on older houses, built in a time when people lived in smaller houses.

Having trusses is a lot cheaper than having roof joists and a center beam. It's cheaper again to have them made off site.

If you need the attic space, or might in the future, then the extra expense of of joists and beams makes sense. If you're building a big enough house, then it's probably less sense to spend the extra money in case you want to expand some day in the distant future.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 8:41PM
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The nice thing about stick framing is you have the flexibility of making changes during the framing process vs. with trusses, they are locked and loaded once ordered.

Then again, if you framer/builder is not the type to be flexible for changes and works only according to the plan, then that will be of no value.

In New England, I've been told that the truss vs. stick lumber price difference is negligible. I'll find out soon and report back as my original lumber quote was with trusses, and we ended up going stick (have only gotten the first bill, so far, so don't have a final comparison. I'm DELIGHTED with the change because my framer is a 'master craftsman' and has given me so many additional ideas that really make the house even that much more custom. He's been able to change things on the fly and would not have been able to do so with trusses.

He says lazy framers use trusses :)

    Bookmark   June 5, 2014 at 9:47PM
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Trusses can make good sense, especially on more modest homes. Our new house is a simple ranch, and the 5/12 roof pitch makes the attic unusable for anything other than attic storage. The trusses were cheap, and I installed them in half a day with a couple friends and a crane operator.

There are much better options than putting A/C ducts in the attic. Why run cool ductwork through super-heated air? In our case, we went with mini-splits, so no ductwork at all. The only things in our attic are overhead light wiring and a few bath and plumbing vents.

You can specify some things to have better trusses built. I specified a wind rating at 50% higher than local code. I also had 'raised heel' or 'energy heel' trusses built which allow full insulation all the way out to edge of the house. Make sure that whoever installs the trusses follows the design provided by the truss builder. There is usually site-installed cross-bracing, and bottom stringers, which help brace the structure. Finally, make sure the trusses (or any roof framing) are well connected to the wall structure. I used the biggest hurricane clip made, which added about $50 to my cost. I also added bracing to the gable walls. They are usually made with the framing the flat way, so I added 2X4's mounted edgewise to stiffen them. These are FL techniques, but I went ahead and did them on our SC home 'just in case'.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 7:34AM
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A rafter framed roof rarely needs a ridge beam unless there is a cathedral ceiling instead of an attic.

The houses I have renovated have often been larger than 4,000 s.f. As families grow they need more space or more privacy. The youngest houses I have renovated were several that were bought while they were being built.

Often a usable attic space is not desired for future expansion but for resale. Planning for the future use of an attic can be a very good investment since the additional cost of rafters is often quite small.

I did not suggest putting HVAC ducts in a hot attic. Obviously the attic space would be conditioned with insulation in the rafters not the ceiling of the space below.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 7:53AM
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The use of trusses in roof framing, are in modern times, an engineered convenient way to accomplish a labor intensive phase of construction through the use of smaller dimension lumber to cover longer spans.

As in everything else, increasing the complexity, increases the cost.

A Google search will reveal the myriad of possibilities and how advanced truss engineering has evolved.

While a ridge beam, a 3 or 4x member, is common when planning for a finished attic, as are knee walls, trusses beyond the knee walls to the rafter eaves, the insulated ducting for the conditioning is contained in the area beyond the knee walls.

Just as a ridge board, just referred to as a ridge, is commonly construed as a 2x framing member and in instrumental in stick-built, conventional ceiling and roof framing.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2014 at 9:48AM
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red lover - We just looked at trusses vs. stick built for our entire house. Originally we designed the house to be stick built so we could eventually finish out the attic space (over 2000 sf of unfinished space - we figured this would be a good investment). But... when we had to sit down and cut costs, going from stick built to trusses (and reducing the roof pitch) saved us over 150k. That's alot of money to pay for unfinished space. It can also really mess up the appraisal value. I do think it depends alot on the builder and whether they have a dedicated framing crew, etc. I wish I had known all this before designing the house! The house designer thought the cost would be comparable. One of those moments when I wish I had hired a GC as a consultant from the beginning. ;)

    Bookmark   June 7, 2014 at 4:31PM
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Redheadeddaughter- There is now way the difference in price from trusses to stick is $150,000. Obviously, your framer does not like to stick build. That's too bad. What area of the country are you in? I'm in the northeast. I don't have a final cost on what the difference is (but will soon), but for labor, there is no difference in price (from my framer) between trusses and stick.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2014 at 9:30AM
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Lots of good information here. I'm surprised at some of it. Our trusses were so expensive in this house, somehow I thought stick built might be cheaper.

Do most builders even know how to do trusses anymore?

Redheadeddaughter...150k... Wow. Amazing. I wondered how your project was going. What did changing the roofline do to the appearance of the home? Did it change it significantly? That is a lot of potential sq footage to lose but 150k? I can see why you made the decision.

Nepool--so if your labor is the same the only difference in price should be the difference between stick built and trusses. Don't trusses use more lumber meaning yours should be cheaper?

Anyone.....my architectural drawings are going to construction phase now. Can this be changed from one to the other or does it have to be whatever the architect specifies? I may be a little confused still on this subject. Can you get bids on both stick built and trusses.?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 12:07PM
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We asked the same question about re-designing from stick to truss after the plans have been submitted to the county (or the reverse, should we have the funds to change our minds. ;)) and around here it will require 1) a change with the county at around $150 per change and 2) possibly a visit to the structural engineer to update the plans. Our builder, who has built more homes than anyone else we talked to, is very comfortable taking on these changes "on site." We are not making any changes with the designer on the plans. (Partly because of time constraints with our site approval) I'm not sure a more inexperienced builder would be comfortable with that? When we sent the plans out to bid we specifically requested cost saving ideas and that was one of them. The main pitch will go from 8/12 to 6/12 so in our case it will be a pretty significant change to the elevations. I'm not sure how much of the cost savings was the pitch change rather than the trusses. I really pushed on the trusses though, and our builder has done everything (I love our builder!) to try and make me happy. That was one of the few places he firmly said the cost would be "significantly" more if we kept that attic space. If you are able to find a builder that can build it without trusses, that would be my first choice. Isn't this an exciting phase though!?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 12:48PM
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We are very excited. This has been a slow process. We wanted to get this house built partly to be closer to our kids school. A couple of weeks ago I made 5 trips round trip to town in one day. It gets old. By the time we get it built they will be grown!!

Show us pics when you are ready Red.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 2:15PM
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" redheadeddaughter "

You absolutely need to run that change by the engineer.

Your "faith" in the builder being able to change from trusses, "on the fly," is a mechanical issue, however that change can substantially affect loading and sheer and subsequently the engineers calcs.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 11:54PM
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snoonyb: Yes, I wasn't very clear in that regard at all. Absolutely the structural needs to be looked at again. I meant that "possibly" there might be some extra cost there because occasionally the structural or civil or landscaping engineers will do adjustments without additional charge. But we aren't counting on that. ;) The builder and the engineers have all worked together for decades. I think we are in good hands. We are in earthquake territory so nobody would approach that kind of change casually, for sure. I didn't mean to imply that, but completely see why it reads that way. Yikes.

red lover: How far is "town" from your current house? I know what you mean about them growing up while the house is being planned. It seems they went into hyper-speed since we bought the land... I can't keep up!

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 10:05PM
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If you have started the plan check process, they may not add to the municipality charges, but there may be some delays for an additional review.

Especially here on the truly left coast.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 10:18PM
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Red--it takes me about 20 minutes to get to school, so not so bad I guess. But our property although still in the country is 3-4 minutes from their school. Plus, our property is in a really good public school district if I would decide I wanted to take them out of the private school that they are in now. Not likely, but at least my options are open.

The older they get the more driving you do. Until they get their license. Then it's really scary.

They definitely grow up too fast.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 10:53AM
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We are mid-construction and we used trusses. We used some 'attic trusses" for the upstairs living areas. They have the living space built in trusses with the knee walls.

We're in the South and trusses are typical around here. However, our framer did stick frame one of the front gables, and some other "parts" that he said he could stick frame cheaper than we could get trusses, or he wanted more control over. We trust him and he did an awesome job. He works with our truss guy all the time so I guess he just knows.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2014 at 4:15PM
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We were planning on trusses one way or another. We reduced the initial roof pitch from 11/12 to 6/12 and had an approximate 20% reduction in building costs. This was consistent across 3 different bids. So, reducing roof pitch can be a very significant cost savings.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 3:07PM
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We were planning on trusses one way or another. We reduced the initial roof pitch from 11/12 to 6/12 and had an approximate 20% reduction in building costs. This was consistent across 3 different bids. So, reducing roof pitch can be a very significant cost savings.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 9:13PM
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