What is the difference between 2x4 and 2x6 Construction?

When a house is being built, the most common method, in New England, is "stick" framing, which is using pre-cut machine milled wood as the main support for the house. This type of construction has two main types: 2x4 and 2x6. Two-by-Four construction is by far the most common, and is based on the ubiquitous 2x4. Two-by-Six construction is the main alternative. Builders will often tout one way or the other as the best way, and I will use this space to talk about some of the perceptions, myths, and facts about these two construction types.

 

Which option, 2x4 Construction or 2x6 Construction Make a Stronger House?

2x6 Construction May Allow for the Character

of a Younger Home to Model and Older one.

The answer to this question is really neither. Housing codes are designed to have a home support a certain amount of weight on a square foot basis, and the larger 2x6 framing members are typically spaced much further apart, negating any additional strength. To be sure, there are typically strong preferences and opinions in this area, but most of the experts I've discussed this with say on balance it's a wash.

 

Which option, 2x4 construction or 2x6 construction is better for heating bills?

There are two elements to dramatically adjusting your heating bills when construction a home. Buying the most insulation with the highest R value (insulation capabilities), and making the house "tight", or restricting the air flow between the outside and the inside. Regardless of the construction, a tight home is likely to have the far greater impact than which framing members are used. Similarly, better insulated windows may also have an outsized effect. There is a difference though. Due to the depth that 2x6 construction has in the wall cavities, you can add more insulation - and increase the R-value of the home overall. But that is dependent on the builder adding the additional insulation, which they typically do not (If you are considering building a 2x6 home, check your specifications to see what R-value they are doing in the walls, and whether it is over and above the code or not). Unfortunately, the insulation increase in 2x6 is often theoretical, and not actual. There is a school of thought that the larger 2x6 studs will conduct less heat outside than 2x4 members, both because there are fewer of them and because they are thicker, front to back. This is logical, and makes sense, but will not be nearly as important as the insulation factor in the walls and windows.

 

Which option, 2x4 Construction or 2x6 Construction Looks Better?

2x6 Casement Window

Note the deep feel of this window, which is

often seen with 2x6 construction.

At first, one might think, "Well it's inside the wall, so it will look the same!" and technically, that is true. But the greater depth of 2x6 construction - the deeper walls - allow a builder to add deeper window wells as part of the home building process. This allows even humble homes to possess charm, adds character, and can do a surprising amount to the feel of a home. Homes where builders have utilized this technique I believe will sell faster and for more money - because they feel richer and less utilitarian than homes built with 2x4 construction often do. Having said that, if the builder doesn't take advantage of the depth, if won't improve the interior, and the advantage is lost. Savvy house hunters will pick up 2x6 construction that has been featured in the windows and doors quickly, as it makes a noticeable and pleasing difference.

 

So Which One is Better?

2x6 Window shade

Note how the large blind fits inside the deep

window well, giving a rich and deep look. With 2x4

construction, there is often not enough depth for 

a large blind.

When executed properly, the look and feel of a 2x6 home will be evident, and there will be cost savings as well, so from that perspective they have the POTENTIAL to be better. But look close. If the features aren't there and you have regular old insulation, there's no real substantial difference between the two construction methods.

 

What are your thoughts on 2x4 or 2x6 construction? Let Me Know in the Comments!