Joist vs. Truss

What's the Difference?

Joist and truss are both structural elements used in construction, but they serve different purposes. A joist is a horizontal member that supports the floor or ceiling of a building. It is typically made of wood or steel and is used to distribute the weight of the structure evenly. On the other hand, a truss is a framework of beams or bars that is used to support a roof, bridge, or other structures. Trusses are designed to bear heavy loads and provide stability to the overall structure. While joists are commonly used in residential buildings, trusses are often used in larger and more complex structures.


Photo by frank mckenna on Unsplash
DefinitionA horizontal structural member used to support a floor or ceilingA framework of beams or bars that supports a roof or bridge
ShapeTypically rectangular or squareCan have various shapes, such as triangular or polygonal
FunctionProvide support for floors or ceilingsProvide support for roofs or bridges
MaterialCommonly made of wood or steelCan be made of wood, steel, or other materials
SpanShorter spans compared to trussesCan span longer distances
ConstructionUsually built on-siteCan be pre-fabricated or built on-site
CostGenerally less expensiveCan be more expensive
FlexibilityLess flexible in terms of design optionsOffers more design flexibility
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to constructing buildings, two common structural elements used are joists and trusses. Both joists and trusses play a crucial role in providing support and stability to the overall structure. However, they differ in terms of design, materials used, and their applications. In this article, we will explore the attributes of joists and trusses, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.


Joists are horizontal structural elements that span between walls, beams, or girders to support the weight of the floor or ceiling above. They are typically made of wood, steel, or engineered wood products like laminated veneer lumber (LVL) or I-joists. Joists are commonly used in residential and light commercial construction.

One of the key advantages of joists is their versatility. They can be easily customized to fit different building designs and layouts. Joists can be spaced closer together to support heavier loads or spaced further apart to reduce material costs. Additionally, joists allow for easy installation of utilities such as electrical wiring, plumbing, and HVAC systems, as they can be notched or drilled without compromising their structural integrity.

However, joists have limitations when it comes to longer spans. As the span increases, the size and depth of the joists need to be increased to maintain structural integrity. This can result in higher material costs and reduced headroom in the space below. Furthermore, joists may be susceptible to sagging or deflection over time, especially if not properly designed or if the building experiences excessive moisture or load variations.


Trusses, on the other hand, are pre-engineered structural frameworks made of wood or steel that consist of interconnected triangles. These triangles distribute the load evenly across the entire structure, providing excellent strength and stability. Trusses are commonly used in both residential and commercial construction, especially for roofs and floors with longer spans.

One of the main advantages of trusses is their ability to span longer distances without the need for intermediate supports. This allows for more open and flexible floor plans, as well as larger uninterrupted spaces. Trusses are also highly efficient in terms of material usage, as they can be designed to carry heavy loads with minimal use of materials. This makes trusses a cost-effective option for larger structures.

However, trusses have some limitations as well. Due to their pre-engineered nature, trusses may not be as flexible in terms of design modifications during construction. Any changes to the truss design may require additional engineering analysis and approval. Additionally, trusses can be more challenging to install compared to joists, as they often require heavy machinery and specialized expertise.


Now that we have explored the attributes of joists and trusses individually, let's compare them based on various factors:

1. Span Capacity

Joists are suitable for shorter spans, typically up to 20 feet, depending on the material and size used. Trusses, on the other hand, can span much longer distances, ranging from 30 to 60 feet or more, making them ideal for larger structures or buildings with open floor plans.

2. Load-Bearing Capacity

Both joists and trusses can be designed to carry heavy loads. However, trusses have an advantage in terms of load distribution due to their triangular shape. The interconnected triangles in trusses efficiently transfer the load to the supporting walls or beams, resulting in higher load-bearing capacity compared to joists.

3. Cost

Joists are generally more cost-effective for shorter spans and smaller structures. They require less material and are easier to install, reducing labor costs. Trusses, on the other hand, may have a higher upfront cost due to their pre-engineered nature and the need for specialized manufacturing. However, for larger structures with longer spans, trusses can be more cost-effective in the long run due to their efficiency in material usage.

4. Design Flexibility

Joists offer greater design flexibility compared to trusses. They can be easily modified on-site to accommodate changes in the building layout or to accommodate utilities. Trusses, being pre-engineered, have less flexibility for modifications during construction. Any design changes may require additional engineering analysis and approval, potentially leading to delays and increased costs.

5. Installation

Joists are relatively easier to install compared to trusses. They can be cut and installed on-site using standard tools, requiring less specialized equipment and expertise. Trusses, on the other hand, often require heavy machinery and specialized knowledge for proper installation. This can increase the complexity and cost of the construction process.

6. Aesthetics

When it comes to aesthetics, joists have an advantage. They can be left exposed, showcasing the natural beauty of wood or other materials. This can add warmth and character to the interior space. Trusses, on the other hand, are typically hidden within the structure, as they are not designed to be exposed. However, some architectural designs incorporate exposed trusses as a design feature, providing a unique and industrial look.


Joists and trusses are both essential structural elements used in construction, each with its own set of attributes and applications. Joists offer versatility, easy customization, and cost-effectiveness for shorter spans and smaller structures. Trusses, on the other hand, excel in longer spans, larger structures, and open floor plans, providing superior load-bearing capacity and material efficiency. The choice between joists and trusses ultimately depends on the specific requirements of the project, considering factors such as span capacity, load-bearing capacity, cost, design flexibility, installation complexity, and desired aesthetics.

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