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Wall Framing Basics

Updated on July 15, 2017
alvairs profile image

I am a residential and commercial contractor by trade I love to design and build homes, I favour refurbishing old homes.

Sooner or later everyone who does home improvement needs to build a wall, a floor deck, or a roof. Whether you hire someone to do the work or do it yourself, there are four general rules to save money in this type of work, known as framing.

  1. Use high-quality lumber, but in dimensions slightly less than those traditionally used; in other words, don't buy framing lumber larger than you actually need.
  2. Use structural particle board sheathing or, if the appearance suits your taste, a structural siding such as textured plywood.
  3. When appropriate, use adhesive and modern fasteners such as framing hardware, cement coated nails, ring shank nails, and so forth to ensure a stronger wall, floor, or roof. Saving pennies on these items is pound foolish.
  4. Use pre-built trusses, instead of large (2 x 10 and 2 x 12) joists or rafters, if you are paying high labor cost for the work. Pre-built trusses are simpler to install and contain openings for running wires and pipes.

Framed exterior wall.
Framed exterior wall.

Framing Walls

Tradition holds that walls are made of 2 x 4 wooden studs spaced 16 inches apart. This method is so ingrained in building lore than any amendment to it is met with stubborn resistance.

But improved materials and an increased understanding of stresses have allowed carpenters to build strong walls in other ways. The traditional design for framing walls 2 x 4's 16 inches on center, was developed when lumber was roughly cut, ungraded, often not dried, and attached with old fashioned nails. Many carpenters frame walls ( and floors and roofs ) as if they were still using these old materials and refer to their method as the right way or called quality framing.

Testing, however, has revealed that walls framed in the old way are nearly always stronger than they need to be. Which also means that they are more expensive than they need to be.

However, there are alternatives ways to build walls which use smaller dimension lumber, space the framing member further apart, or both. Using such non-traditional methods cost less money initially or leads to savings over the long run.

We insert a caution here, however. Generally, the cost saving methods I recommend have been promoted by the national research and government agencies over the past 20 years. But may not be appropriate for all applications, or even approved by the local building code. Where loads are heavy, because of heavy equipment on floors or buildup of snow on the roof, these methods may not be sufficient. In addition, never build less substantially than the local building code requires. Ask an inspector if the method you choose is acceptable, either as a method specified in the code or as an equivalent. If the inspector says no, abide by the decision or appeal it.

Partition wall.
Partition wall.
Load bearing wall.
Load bearing wall.

Partition Walls

A partition wall is a non-bearing wall. it merely divides one space from the other and supports nothing. A partition wall can be removed and nothing is lost to the structure of the house; similarly, one can be erected anywhere in the house to divide space as long as the resulting room size meet the building code.

Distinguishing an interior non-bearing wall from an interior bearing one is tricky and usually is best left to an expert unless you are thoroughly familiar with the framing of your house, have and can interpret the blueprints, or know how loads are calculated.

Load Bearing Walls

Bearing means that the wall is supporting something above it-part of the roof, floor joist overhead, and so forth. These walls cannot be removed without temporary support of what is being supported from above, then putting something in its place-a new wall,a beam,of such-that does the work of supporting the weight above. Most exterior walls are bearing walls, although those that are at the end of gables or shed roof are technically not classified as load bearing. Some interior walls are load bearing. Construction which involves removal or replacing of a bearing wall requires a building permit almost every where in North America.


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      Joe S. 24 months ago

      First off great article, had some great points I had not considered. However, It should also be noted that the cheaper light weight construction in floor beams and rafters also buys you less time getting out of the house if it were on fire. It also will limit the salvage of some of property to to structural fatigue and gases given off by the glue used in lightweight construction. Sometimes saving money is not always the best answer....especially when it comes to stairs!