Do I Need Floating Walls in My Basement?
What are Floating Walls?
Mention “floating walls” to someone unfamiliar with the context of basement construction, and thoughts of a natural disaster may come to mind! Thankfully, in the world of basement finishing, when we talk about floating walls we’re not referring to large pieces of drywall floating down the street after torrential rainfall. In this case, “floating” refers to the fact that basement walls do not typically sit directly on a home’s foundation. Instead, they are hung from the first-floor joists and anchored to a floor plate with extra large, 60D nails. A small gap between the bottom of each wall and the floor remains, allowing the walls to literally float, so they stay intact if there is settling or movement in the soil.
Are Floating Walls in Basements Required in Colorado?
The soil along the front range in Colorado often contains bentonite, which contracts and expands with moisture and/or freezing temperatures. This movement can shift the entire foundation of a home and result in structural damage to it. The movement happens over time and is not noticeable until damage occurs. If the foundation heaves, non-floating walls can push up on the floor joists and cause significant structural damage to the floors above and throughout the home. Because of the likelihood of bentonite in the soil, many Colorado building codes require basement walls to be floating–hung from the first-floor joists above. This allows the basement walls to adjust to soil movement without creating serious damage. While some small, cosmetic cracks in drywall or floor tiles may still result, structural defects are avoided.
What Happens if Floating Walls are Not Used in a Basement?
Symptoms of structural problems from non-floated walls can include sticking windows and doors, and large cracks in drywall. In extreme cases, floors on the main level of the home and above can become uneven and noticeably sloping.
Benefits of Using Floating Walls
- The installation of floating walls requires less lumber, thereby conserving natural resources.
- Less lumber means less cost–always a bonus!
- The installation of floating walls makes the jobs of the framer, electrician, plumber, insulator, and drywaller easier and more efficient.
- Hanging drywall on floating walls results in straighter walls, as the drywall comes in less frequent contact with studs.