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What's beneath that nice finish?

As a follow-up to last month's article on landscape walls, we are reviewing building wall construction types.


When you walk into a building do you look around and wonder, “What are those walls made of?” or “Look at those timber trusses. How are they supported?” or “I wonder if that wall is braced by another floor or should I run if there is an earthquake?!” As an engineer, these are the thoughts that go through my mind whenever I walk into a building.


In general, I think it is a good idea to understand what type of walls you have in the structure of the building you live in, rent or work in. This knowledge will help in little ways including how and where you want to hang your shelves or artwork, what you can do to open up space in the building or whether you can add openings to a wall to increase sunlight.


Walls can be constructed of wood-framing, steel-framing, concrete and masonry. These are the most common types of wall construction, however, there are others like straw bale, structure insulated panels and other more progressive types that are becoming more mainstream. In this discussion, we will focus on wood-framed walls which are very common and used in both residential and commercial buildings.



Most wood-framed walls around the perimeter of a wood-framed structure are bearing walls. They are typically framed of 2x studs at 16” on center (o.c.) with exterior sheathing and siding and gypsum wallboard at the interior. Older structures may just have siding at the exterior and plaster on the interior. Interior walls, some load-bearing, and some non-load bearing, typically have gypsum wall finish in newer buildings and plaster or similar finish in older buildings. Interior wood walls are typically framed with 2x studs at 16” o.c. but sometimes the studs have been spaced at 24” o.c. Interestingly, some contractors have started framing walls with manufactured lumber to provide straighter walls. In addition, some will use manufactured lumber in walls they are attaching cabinets to so that they have nice straight walls to work with.


The great thing about wood-framed construction and wood walls is that they can be modified at reasonable costs when compared to wall types like concrete and masonry. Wood-framing has a long history and you can expect that an experienced contractor will know how to modify and work with this type of construction.


If you want to modify any wall, you should know what you have behind that interior finish; this can be done by a licensed contractor or design professional.

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