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  • Jessica Foster

How is the Construction of Walls Regulated?

The guidelines set by the International Residential Code are minimum requirements that must be adhered to, with specific parameters being set to ensure the safety of inhabitants. Walls must be able to support the weight of a roof, sometimes multiple stories, and withstand exterior forces such as weather. These factors are considered with each regulation in wall construction. The IRC states that “wall sheathing shall be fastened directly to framing members and, where placed on the exterior wall, shall be capable of resisting certain wind pressures”. On the topic of strong walls, interior load-bearing walls are held to the same standard as exterior walls, so they are constructed, framed, and fire-blocked in the same manner. This includes following the same fastening schedule, which dictates space, location, types of nails used, and number and types of fasteners. Interior non bearing walls have much more loose restrictions. They are permitted to be constructed with 2x3 wood studs, with the studs spaced 24 inches on center as per IRC code. Each building/design situation must account for different standards of construction.


Top and bottom plates refer to horizontal framing members attached to the tops and bottoms of walls, with top plates supporting the ceiling joists and rafters and bottom plates carrying loads to the floor joists. The IRC states that “wood stud walls shall be capped with a double top plate to provide overlapping at corners and intersections with bearing partitions. Plates shall not be less than 2 inches nominal thickness and have a width not less than the width of the studs.” If a single top plate is used as an alternative, “the rafters or joists shall be centered over the studs with a tolerance of not more than 1 inch.” Meanwhile, bottom plates have similar requirements “studs shall have full bearing on a nominal 2-by or larger plate or sill having a width not less than to the width of the studs.” This is all to ensure the plates can properly support the weight placed on top of them.


Headers are another aspect of load-bearing wall construction with specific design criteria. When a wall has an opening, such as a doorway, a header is placed in order to make up for that missing support. Walls are constructed with loads placed on them in mind, and in the event of their absence, headers are installed to take that weight and spread it out. The IRC dictates the minimum design requirements, based on how much a header is supporting (a roof, multiple stories, etc), how many studs are required to support each end of the header, the header span, and so on, with the IRC providing a table to show how these variables must interact with each other.


Walls serve to support a building’s structure, and the IRC guidelines are there to assure that walls can do their job at a minimum. Here at Fine Remodeling, we are your Delaware contractor devoted to making sure to not only construct walls within IRC parameters, but to go beyond those minimum standards. Your project deserves to be more than just satisfactory. Call to review your next renovation project with us so you can be sure it’s done right the first time.



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