Interior Non-Load Bearing Wall Construction Methods

Quote of the Day

When people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together.

— Isaac Asimov. I completely agree – you can be wrong and you can be REALLY wrong.


Introduction

FIgure 1: Putting a Non-Bearing Wall Into Position.

Fig. 1: Wall Lift Into Position (Source).

I am an hobbyist carpenter who is about to do some wall building. I was reading a forum discussion on the best way to build a non-load bearing, interior wall as part of a remodeling project. The forum conversation was very thoughtful, but no real conclusions were reached. This makes sense because each forum contributor was making assumptions about the construction conditions – the construction conditions dictate which method would be "best."

In fact, I have used every construction method mentioned in the forum discussion because different circumstances dictated different methods. I thought I would summarize the discussion here and provide my opinions on what works best – I have tried them all.

The right answer depends on the situation. You need to answer questions like:

  • Do I have room to build a wall on the floor and tip it up?
  • Are the ceiling and floor parallel?
  • Are their soffits to work around?
  • Am I being thrifty and need to minimize the amount of material I am using?

Options

The tradeoffs are most easily described in list form. Again, the  forum discussion was excellent on the pros and cons of each approach. At the bottom of the post, I also verify the geometric argument of one builder who "tips" walls into place with the help of a 16 pound "persuader" sledge hammer.

  1. Stick Frame in Place.
    • Method: Put in the plates and studs one-at-a time, and toe-nail it all together (Example).
    • Advantage
      • Can handle any situation, like soffits and non-parallel floor and ceiling.
      • Thrifty with material.
      • Easily done alone.
    • Disadvantage
      • Slow because each piece may need to be cut to size. Some pros dispute this statement, and I am sure they get very fast because they do this sort of thing all the time. However, I am not that proficient with this approach.
      • Toenailing is a pain without a nail gun.
    • I have had to use this method more than you might you think because I have not had room to assemble the wall on the floor.
    • It is my method of last resort.
  2. Build Flat On the Floor and Tip Into Position.
    • Method: Build flat on the floor with studs nailed in from the bottom of the plates. Tip the wall into position.
    • Advantage
      • When applicable, it is the fastest wall framing method available.
      • Can be used when floor and ceiling are not parallel, but you will then need to shim.
      • Thrifty with material.
    • Disadvantage
      • Requires room on the floor to build the wall.
      • Usually requires a helper because the wall is heavy.
      • If you do not make the wall slightly short (see here), tipping into position requires lots of pounding. I have seen people pound so much that they cause cracking in the floor above.
      • If you do make the wall slightly short, you need to shim so the wall remains firmly in position. This is what I do when I have a very simple situation.
  3. Frame the Opening and Lift the Wall Into Place.
    • Method: Mount plates on the ceiling and/or floor first, then lift the wall into position (Figure 1 illustrates this case).
    • Advantage
      • After your plates are in place, assembly is simple – just set your wall into frame created by the top and bottom plates.
      • You may be able to get by with just putting in one of the plates.
      • Wall is a bit smaller than #2 and you may be able to build it in another room and move it (by holding vertically) to where you need it.
      • It is quick compared to #1, not as fast as #2.
    • Disadvantage
      • More assembly steps because you have to install the plates and build the wall.
      • Usually requires a helper because the wall is heavy.
      • The ceiling and floor should be fairly parallel. If they are not parallel, you will have shimming to do.
      • Basements often suffer from non-parallel floors and ceilings.
      • Uses more material.
    • I use this approach when I cannot do #2.

How Short To Make A Wall For Easy Tip Up

You only need to trim the stud length by 1/16 inch for standard 8' tall walls. Figure 2 illustrates why trimming is necessary. The diagonal distance from the bottom plate to the top plate is 1/16" longer than the wall height will make tipping the wall into place impossible – at least without a bunch of pounding, which can cause damage.

Of course, cutting the wall short means it likely will need some shimming to mount securely. Some carpenters cut down by more than 1/16 inch so that they can use larger shims.

Figure 2: Diagonal Length of a Stud Wall.

Figure 2: Diagonal Length of a Stud Wall.

Figure 3 shows the algebra.

Figure 3: Calculation of the Diagonal Height of a Standard Wall.

Figure 3: Calculation of the Diagonal Height of a Standard Wall.

 
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