One of the considerations when you are building a house or any building concerns the internal walls. It is easy to forget that there are two main purposes for a wall – as a divider and as a load bearing wall. So how do you know which is which and whether you should choose stud or solid walls for your self build?
Many times, self builders don’t think about how internal walls should be built. If you have involved an architect or a designer, they will complete plans and you will follow them. Often, they will suggest a system such as using timber frame or SIPs (structural insulated panels). This will mean taking the package on offer from the company you are using to source materials and simply putting them in place.
But is it worth giving the topic more consideration?
Is a wall loadbearing?
There are two simple categories of walls inside a property – loadbearing and non-loadbearing. Visually it is often difficult to tell the difference between the two but from a structural viewpoint, there is a big difference.
Loadbearing walls are the support system for the roof, for a floor above, a beam or even another wall. This means it needs to be much stronger than a non-loadbearing wall. It also needs the right support under it, usually in the form of a foundation trench.
When you are building a new build property, structural issues will be handled during the design stage of the process and this means that there isn’t too much to worry about when actually doing the self-build. But during renovation projects, the subject is even more important because you have to be aware of the purpose of a wall before you remove it.
For example, you need to know if a wall is load bearing:
- If it is, you will need another means of support in place of the wall and this often means having a professional building survey done to see what options are available
- If it isn’t, then you can remove it as you want without any additional work
Stud or solid
The other big question surrounding the walls of a house is the way that they are constructed. There are a number of ways these can be made. For example, in block built homes, it is common for blockwork to be used for load bearing walls and timber studwork to be used for other walls. So, you might have blockwork walls on the downstairs of the home and timber studwork upstairs, especially if the roof is constructed with trusses that transfer the weight to the side walls of the house.
Studwork can also be used for some load-bearing walls. In timber-framed homes and buildings, for instance, timber stud walls are used for everything. And studwork doesn’t have to be timber – some builders use steel channels because they are lightweight and quick to put into place as well as being ideal for partition walls which aren’t loadbearing.
Blockwork is a more straightforward option for loadbearing walls than studwork which requires more effort and often the use of doubling up of uprights. However, there is a downside of using blockwork – it is much heavier, and this means you need support at the floor level to ensure it can handle this weight.
This often means extra work is required. This might mean adding foundations or beams to make the floor strong enough to support the blockwork wall. Or there may be a reinforced flooring system used to ensure it can handle the weight. It may be that the design is simply switched to studwork instead because the work cannot be done on the floor.
As well as being strong and loadbearing, blockwork is popular for internal walls for another reason – it offers good soundproofing.
Soundproofing levels between the rooms of a house come under the Building Regulations – Part E2 in Wales and England and Part 5.2 in Scotland. These both call for a minimum sound reduction of 40 decibels between rooms – but in reality, this isn’t too hard to achieve with most of the main construction methods.
Blockwork will achieve this naturally, but studwork does require a little help to get there. This is normally done by packing it with acoustically enhanced wool insulation and finishing it with 15mm or acoustic grade plasterboard on the walls. This ensures it meets the standard, but you can add a second layer of plasterboard if required.
Cost is a consideration when building a house. Studwork is cheaper than blockwork but does require extra spending to get the insulation levels. However, even with this, it is usually cheaper. Other steps can be taken to add to the soundproofing of a room including:
- Adding an acoustic door set (these are expensive but an option)
- Placing built in cupboards between rooms that you need to isolate
- Placing switches and sockets away from noise sensitive walls
En-suite bathrooms can also be a problem but are exempt from Part E. However, it is often worth having their walls reach the same standard to ensure the insulation of the entire property.
One final consideration is when it comes to adding wall hangingsand features such as radiators, basins and mirrors. One way to deal with this is the addition of timber known as noggins that go between the vertical studwork and are able to carry weight.
Other options including using loadbearing wall boards at the plastering stage of the building. These cost a lot more than normal plasterboards but allow heavy objects such as radiators to be fixed to them. They also help with soundproofing the property. You can also fix lighter loads such as pictures or wall hangings with the use of plasterboard wall plugs.
It can be a good idea to photograph studwork before it is covered to ensure you can easily located studs afterwards. Some self-builders even record where studs are located but often a stud finder can be used – a special type of metal detector that can also pick up on nails and screws used to fix the boards in place.