Plank House vs Balloon House

Everyday we step into this house it feels like we peel back layers of history.

This particular layer starts with a smell, to be honest. When we first did the walk through on this house, the smell of cat pee covered by air freshener was overwhelming. It was coming from everywhere, floors, walls, counters, it’s like 16 cats lived in this house and no one bothered to change the litter box. Ever. But I digress, this is a topic for another day (trust me).

With that lovely impression in mind, our first instinct was to do as much as we could to remove the odor – from removing the FUNKY carpeting in the kitchen (??) to the sloppily assembled bead board panels in the back room.

Side note: It was decided long ago, that out of the team of myself and my husband, my official title would be “The Picker” as I love to pick at anything that peels. Paint, plaster, drywall, walls, nails, scabs (no boogers though, please), you name it and I will pick it off.

Off to work we go, pulling down the bead board panels (by the way, who puts up full bead board panels in a room?) and encounter, of all things, paper.

Not wallpaper, but what appears to be a thick layered cardboard on the wall, covered by tattered wallpaper. Off to the internet I go to figure out why someone would put cardboard on their walls (and please don’t let it be asbestos) to discover it is paper board (a common brand name being Beaver Board) – a wall board alternative to plaster used back in the 1900’s – 1950’s +.


Check out this cool post about Beaver Board, with great pics!

I have yet to pull off a big enough panel to make out a brand name, but I have uncovered some newspaper stuck on it, which apparently was also used to cover the Beaver Board to prep for wallpaper or other finishing techniques back in the old days.

So down it has to come, because it looks pretty funky, and low and behold, behind this deteriorating paperboard is a plank of wood, then another, then a whole wall. First thought is – “oh crap, it’s the outside of the house!”, but as we pull more and more paper board down we realize that behind these boards there is insulation.

What. The. Heck.


Again, in steps the internet. Yes, those are in fact interior walls, and that the house is built with either to 2 methods of construction – plank construction (where the entire structure of the house acts like an exoskeleton – there is no framing at all) or balloon frame construction (called balloon frame as a joke, builders at the time thought the structure was too light and that it would just blow away). Seeing that we did have studs behind the planks (interestingly enough 24″ on center compared to the 16″ on center used in today’s building) we determined we have a balloon framed house.


So far, it appears the majority of the house has maintained the original balloon frame structure (including the ceiling), only a few rooms upstairs have the planks removed. As you can see from the picture above, the wood is beautiful, old-growth and charming. I think we will keep some of it exposed, it is just to lovely to cover up.