Ask the Builder

A Wall That Goes Up With Ease and Comes Down Without Harm

By Tim Carter
Saturday, August 11, 2007

Q: DEAR TIM: I'm moving into a rental house and need a temporary wall to partition off part of the living room to create an office. My idea is to put in an L-shaped wall in the corner to create a 6-by-9-foot office. Is it possible to put in a temporary partition wall that I can take down without damage before I move out? Ideally, I'd like the small office to be as noiseproof as possible because I have small children. -- Brian M.

A: DEAR BRIAN: It is possible to build temporary walls that can be removed without any damage later. The skills and tools required are minimal, though you will need several helpers for certain parts of this job. The hardest part will be holding the top plate of the wall -- the part of the wall framing that runs parallel to and along the ceiling -- up against the ceiling as you tap a few of the vertical studs in place.

The temporary wall partitions can be friction-fit between the floor and ceiling, but I would not recommend this if little children will be playing nearby. If you make a mistake, a wall could fall down, causing injury or even death.

All you have to do to keep the wall from tipping over is to make it fit tightly and use a few fasteners through the top plate into the ceiling.

These small holes will need to be spackled and painted when you take down the wall.

It's common for remodeling contractors to build temporary partitions. The walls support loads as bearing walls are removed and replaced with beams. Once the job is done, homeowners don't want to see any traces of the temporary wall -- just as your landlord doesn't want to see you damage his building.

I have discovered many tricks over the years that have helped me make sure temporary walls don't cause damage. To protect the ceilings, floors and walls from damage and to help with soundproofing, I installed a 1/4 -inch-thick piece of foam between the rough lumber top and bottom plate faces and the surfaces they contact. This product is sold in rolls and called sill-plate sealer. It is used to stop air infiltration between the top of a house foundation and the first piece of lumber installed on top of a foundation.

Before any cuts are made to the vertical wall studs, determine where the wall will go and take precise measurements between the floor and ceiling. Check the measurements in many locations, because floors and ceilings are sometimes out of level. The foam will help you achieve a tight fit if you cut the vertical wall studs three inches less than the distance between the floor and the ceiling. This assumes the bottom and top plates you install are each 1 1/2 inches thick.

Start with your longest wall, and cut the two end vertical studs first. Have your helpers hold the top plate in position as you tap the end studs in place. If they are loose, you can close the gaps with tapered wood shims. Once the studs fit snugly, use a drill to create angled holes at the ends of the studs that allow you to drive three-inch-long drywall screws through the studs and into the top and bottom plates. The screws will lock the studs into the plates. Screws can be removed easily when it is time to remove the wall.

Do not even think about installing electricity in these walls, as it would be a significant safety hazard. The power for your office equipment will need to come from outlets on the permanent walls.

Before you put up drywall, install sound-batt insulation in the stud cavities. This will not eliminate noise, but it will help. You can also help reduce noise by installing different thicknesses of drywall on each side of the wall. Use 1/2 inch on one side and 5/8 inch on the other. This eliminates noise caused by sympathetic vibrations.

Tim Carter can be contacted via his Web site, http://www.askthebuilder.com/printer_Submit_Question.shtml.

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