How to Design Shear Walls


Shear walls are framing walls reinforced to resist shifting along the horizontal axis. This extra measure of stiffness is supplied by reinforcing sheathing placed on the underlying frame wall. This extra stiffness provides extra strength to the structure of the wall and helps it resist damage caused by earthquakes or similar external forces. While large shear walls can have quite involved designs, a simple shear wall is a relatively simple design.

Things You'll Need

  • Tape measure
  • Graph paper
  • 2-by-4-inch boards
  • 10d nails
  • 1/2-inch plywood
  • 8d nails
  • Measure the height and width of the area where the wall will be constructed. Transfer the measurements to a sheet of graph paper.

  • Draw in the top and bottom plates of the frame wall. The top and bottom plates are constructed of 2-by-4-inch boards, laid on the broad side, so the height of the plates is 2 inches at the top and bottom.

  • Place a vertical 2-by-4-inch stud every 16 inches across the width of the wall, starting at one end and continuing across the wall. The spacing of the studs is determined from the center point of each board. Place the last stud even with the opposite end of the top and bottom plates, regardless of the distance. The studs will be cut to length and nailed to the top and bottom plates with 10d common nails.

  • Drill holes in the bottom plate 3 inches away from each end. Drill a corresponding hole into the subfloor. Secure the plate to the floor with 4-inch lag bolts.

  • Place plywood sheets onto the frame wall. Orient the sheets with the longest side facing horizontally. The sheets will be nailed to the studs with 8d common nails.

Tips & Warnings

  • Local building codes may have specific requirements for shear wall construction. Check your local building code to be sure.
  • Wear eye protection when working with power tools.

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