Here in the Western mountains, we build homes with massive windows in every room to capture the 360-degree views. And as a framer, that's where the problem starts.
Architecture is a blend of art and science, two diametrically opposite disciplines. The artist wants the entire wall to be glass, like a giant landscape portrait; the scientist needs enough wall to hold the house up.
On one recent project the architect and engineer wrangled about a suitable window-to-wall ratio. The result was a system with massive timber columns, interior and exterior plywood, full-height steel rods, and about every size hold-down in the universe. It was costly and complicated, and we were installing hardware for weeks. So it was good news when we found Simpson Strong-Tie's newly code-approved (IBC, IRC, and UBC) Steel Strong-Wall shear wall, which will help resolve these complicated conflicts.
How It Works
The Steel Strong-Wall is designed to support vertical and lateral loads produced by wind or earthquakes, creating a strong but narrow shear wall. They're superior to, and can replace, Simpson HD and HDA hold-down assemblies and wood composition panels when attaching to a foundation.
The Steel Strong-Wall shear wall is a 10-gauge galvanized steel panel with a 2-by wood stud secured to either side and a steel plate top and bottom. The bottom plate attaches to the foundation with two concrete-embedded anchor bolts. The top steel plate is attached to the top plate of the framing or to a header from beneath with Simpson SDS wood screws. You can attach wood framing around the panel and apply sheathing directly over it, and it comes with holes for wiring.
The panels work for 2x4 or 2x6 wood-framed walls. A unit manufactured with 2x4 studs can be set to one face of a 2x6 wall and furred out. The end studs may also be removed and replaced with wider studs so long as they meet the manufacturer's specification. And the panel is available in relevant sizes (see "Flexible Layout," right), providing the flexibility I need to integrate them into various designs.
Where It Works
I like that I can integrate the Steel Strong-Wall into the framing specs of almost any interior or exterior wall on a foundation with a large opening in the center and narrow end walls, for example a freestanding garage or one of those landscape-portrait-wanna-be window walls we see so often in big custom homes. A couple of Steel Strong-Wall panels can deliver impressive horizontal strength to these potentially wobbly walls and simplify the framing required to get them right.
In many cases, only one Steel Strong-Wall panel may be required at a typical garage end wall. In a double door design, such as a 16-foot and 8-foot door combination, where three narrow walls exist, only two panels may be required.
There are three things to remember about installing the Simpson Steel Strong-Wall system: Get the bolts right, get the bolts right, get the bolts right. After that, you're good to go. The system relies on concrete-embedded anchor bolts, so you have to position them accurately during the pour. Step one is to make sure the forms are set level and true so the panel stands plumb when bolted into place. Since holes can't be widened or re-drilled, missing bolt locations is disastrous. I highly recommend using both the Simpson bolt guide and the Simpson bolts. The bolt guide helps ensure proper layout; the bolts are end stamped to show length and strength, which may prevent calling a special bolt inspection before you pour, too.
When you're ready to install the Steel Strong-Wall itself, stand it in place over the anchor bolts and secure it with the nuts that ship with the panel. Then frame your wall to fit around the panel. Secure the top plate or bottom of the header to the top of the Strong-Wall using SDS 1/4-inch-by-3-inch screws that ship with the unit. Additional studs can be nailed alongside the Strong-Wall as needed. The whole process is very quick.
Sheathing. Wall sheathing and drywall can be applied over the Steel
Strong-Wall and nailed into the wood studs on either side. If the width of the Steel Strong-Wall exceeds your desired on-center spacing, you can screw blocking to the Strong-Wall through pre-drilled holes.
Simpson doesn't set the retail price for its products. That's up to your local dealer and costs vary widely depending on various factors. Even though a Steel Strong-Wall may be pricier than typical 2-by stock and hold-down hardware, I also make sure to figure in the speed of installation and the peace of mind it provides when costing out a project. Bottom line: You can do things with this that you cannot accomplish with any other system.
To learn more about applications for the Simpson Steel Strong-Wall, check out the company's Web site, www.strong-tie.com, or call 800-999-5099.
Systems that are inflexible or can't be used on numerous sites are of little use to me–I'd rather stick frame the old way. But that's hardly the case with the Simpson Strong-Tie Steel Strong-Wall. The panel is available in 12-, 15-, 18-, 21-, and 24-inch widths. The 12-inch-wide panel is available in 80-, 93-1/4-, 105-1/4 -, or 117-1/4 -inch lengths for use in 7-, 8-, 9-, or 10-foot walls. The 15-inch panel is available up to 12 feet. The 18-, 21-, and 24-inch panels come in lengths of 7 through 13 feet. Panels for use in walls 10 feet or shorter are manufactured with 2x4 end studs. Panels taller than 10 feet have 2x6 end studs.
–Michael Davis owns Framing Square, Inc. in Albuquerque, N.M., and is a contributing editor for Tools of the Trade.