How to Build a Shear Wall

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Shear walls increase the resistance of a structure to lateral forces. These walls use framing techniques similar to normal exterior walls, but use a sheath made of plywood, structural insulating panels or oriented strand boards attached to the outside of the frame instead of diagonal braces. This sheathing connects the vertical framing members of the wall, transmitting lateral forces toward the wall's foundation.

Things You'll Need

  • Plywood
  • Nails
  • Wood saw
  • Measuring tape
  • Hammer
  • Measure the overall length and height of your wall. Purchase enough plywood sheets to completely cover the exterior of the wall. Measure the length and width of any windows in the wall. Measure the distance between the top of your windows and the top of the wall frame, and the bottom of the window frame and the bottom of the wall frame.

  • Measure out rectangular sections on two plywood panels equal to half the size of each window so the sections will cover the windows when the panels are fastened to the walls around the windows. Use the measurements you took from the windows to space the marks on the plywood board. Mark the cuts for the first board on the right side of the board. Mark the cuts for second board on its left side.

  • Cut the boards according to the measurements you made and check them against the space for the window. Each board should completely cover the framing above, below and to the side of its side of the window.

  • Compare the width of your window panels with the spacing of your wall studs with a tape measure. Stretch the tape measure from the center of the window frame toward the studs on each side of it. Note the difference in distance between the total width of your panels and the center of the stud closest to the edge of the panel that does not exceed the width of the panel.

  • Use the measurement you took from the center of the window to trim away a section of the long side of each window panel opposite the holes you cut for the window. Mark the width of this cut so that the edge of the board reaches the middle of a wall stud when it is mounted.

  • Measure the width of any doors in your wall and the distance between the top of the door and the top of the wall frame. Cut a piece of plywood to match the length and width of the space above the door.

  • Place the panels you cut for your windows against the wall studs so the opening of the window is unobstructed and the edges of the panels meet above and below the middle of the window frame. Secure the panels to the studs behind them using nails driven through the plywood panels and into the studs.

    If your wall has a door, fasten the panel you cut for it to the studs above the door to span the width of the area above the door. Repeat this process of measuring, cutting and installing for each window and door in your wall.

  • Measure the remaining open space on the wall and cut plywood panels to fill it. Cut these panels equal in size and use as few plywood panels as possible. Make your measurements for these panels from the center of the wall studs so adjacent panels are fastened to the same wall stud. Fasten each panel to the wall to make each panel flush with the adjacent panel.

Tips & Warnings

  • Install extra nails in the wall studs at the edge of each shear wall panel. This increases its ability to resist damaging lateral forces from earthquakes or high winds. Consult local building codes to determine the optimal nail spacing required to resist conditions in your area.
  • Photo Credit Andy Reynolds/Lifesize/Getty Images
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