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josie's avatar

How did standard 2x4 wall stud length become eight feet?

Asked by josie (23344 points ) November 26th, 2010

Plus, how did standard distance between studs become 16 inches?
Go ahead and include other standards, like height of electrical outlets, cabinet heights etc.
I am looking for the actually “history” and/or technology that led to the establishment of these standards.
Not a homework assignment, but I am a decent “handy man” and I always wondered about this stuff.

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6 Answers

crisw's avatar

Fascinating question! I’ve taken a couple of building inspection classes and we went over all the minutiae of what the measurements were, but very little on why they were that way.

Of course, the actual stud length is short of 8 feet; it’s 92 5/8”. The studs are cut to facilitate a ceiling height of 97 1/8 inches (once the sill plate and top plates are added) but why this value was settled on I don’t know.

As for the 16” OC stud spacing, there seem to at least be lots of theories on that one! Everything from “length of a forearm” to “¼ of most common 48” sheet goods.” No one seems to have settled on a correct answer, though!

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

8 foot ceilings are perfect.If they were any higher,you would have cloud formation and possible thunderstorms.As for cupboards,I nailed mine shut.It makes ordering out an easier decision.
My guess is load bearing properties…that’s all I’ve got for you

BarnacleBill's avatar

I am taking a guess on this, but I would have to say post-WWII housing construction. That would be when normal ceilings were lowered from 9 – 10 feet, to 8 feet. Because so much housing had to be put up so quickly, and building materials were at a premium, construction standards changed to enable the fabrication of tract homes.

woodcutter's avatar

almost everything is in multiples of 48” in building matls. It’s that way so when a wall or whatever is being laid out it all comes out even without causing a lot of waste. It’s when the plans call for an odd length is when it gets tricky and matls will have to be cut at odd dimensions and that creates more waste. Is also why if someone wants to do something artsy- fartsy beyond the established nominal lengths, the cost of a job skyrockets because of the increase in time and material waste factors. To put it more simply. 16” stud placement will come out exactly for 48 ” goods such as sheet rock and wall sheathing. There will be 3 studs in a 48” run. The next combination of stud placements would be 24” on center and that is not sufficient for construction code. Going the other way, the stud layout of 12” on center is possible but is considered overkill in so many ways. It is never done.
8 foot ceilings is an established height that works. Odd numbers like 7 foot height again results in much waste and would seem too cramped. 10 foot ceilings are very common and even 12 foot heights but they are usually found in high end homes to give palatial spaciousness. If someone can swing 300K on a house they should be able to afford the crazy high energy bills it takes to heat and cool tall rooms, or in theory that’s how it’s supposed to work.

alamo's avatar

Something cool I learned a while back about stud spacing. There is 16 OC, 24 OC and 19 3/16 OC. Next time you look at at a tape measure, check it and see. 16 inch OC is 6 studs in a 8 foot run, 24 inch OC is 4 studs and 19 3/16 is 5 studs in a 8 foot run. I don’t know where you would use the 19 3/16.
Also, if you hold a hammer by the handle, flip it in the air and catch the handle, it will always flip the end. I’m easily entertained.

woodcutter's avatar

@alamo Heh heh. Don’t do that hammer toss if you’re standing on a tile floor. Another part of the system is in the wall insulation. The distance between wall studs inside to inside is 14½” across. So R-13 batts will squeeze in there perfect with the staple flaps covering the stud.
I’m thinking in order to facilitate building code inspectors, there had to be a system of uniformity in building materials so specs could be established and enforced. It must have been crazy before sheet goods were invented and carpenters just did whatever they wanted because nobody was watching them.

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