Before hanging heavy items on a wall, it's important to find a wall stud. If you hang things on the wall without anchoring them in a stud, they could fall off your walls and damage your drywall. Fortunately, finding studs is relatively easy, especially when you use the best tools.
What Is a Wall Stud?
Wall studs are the vertical wooden or metal posts that keep your walls upright. They frame your home, and contractors attach drywall to them. Most wall studs are made of two-by-four-inch wood that extends from the floor to the ceiling. Depending on building codes, contractors need to place them either 16 or 24 inches apart, so each room will have several wall studs. Because studs are under drywall or plaster walls, you cannot see them.
When Do You Need a Wall Stud?
Most people rarely think about their wall studs unless they need to make repairs or decorate their homes.
Hanging Heavy Items
If you're hanging any item with substantial weight, you will want to anchor the item to a wall stud. The items you should anchor to studs include televisions, tech equipment, shelves and heavy pictures. Anchoring heavy items to studs prevents them from falling off the wall, breaking and damaging your drywall and floors.
Drywall can generally only hold around 1–2 pounds per square foot without using a stud. You can increase its load-bearing capacity with various types of anchors, but these usually max out at about 50 pounds each. For heavier items, you'll need to make sure you find a stud.
Patching a Hole
When you have a drywall hole to patch, you'll need to attach the new drywall to a stud. You'll have to find the stud to fix the wall, even if the hole is far away from them. Contractors screw drywall to wall studs, then cover the screws with drywall mud.
How To Find a Wall Stud
You can find studs with or without tools so you can complete DIY projects on your own.
Look for Outlets
Without any stud-finding tools, the easiest way to find a stud behind drywall is to locate your electrical switches and outlets. Contractors attach outlets and electrical switches to studs. They also attach wires to the studs, so you won't want to hang items above outlets or switch plates.
Keep in mind, the stud will be on only one side of the outlet, so you'll need to knock on either side and listen to the sound. The side that sounds less hollow has the stud, so measure about 3/4 inch in that direction to find the center of the stud. Once you've established a starting point, you can find the next studs by measuring 16 or 24 inches to the left and right (it's usually 16 inches in newer homes). You'll need a yardstick or tape measure to determine the approximate location of the studs.
Knock on Your Walls
Another useful way to find a stud is to knock on your wall. If you knock and get a hollow sound, you are in a space between the studs. If you hear a thudding sound, then you have found the stud. This method is only reliable with drywall, however, not with denser plaster walls.
Use a Stud Finder
If you want to be certain where the studs are in your home, you can invest in a stud finder. You slide this simple tool horizontally across your wall, and it lights up when it detects a stud. Stud finders can be as inexpensive as $20. Some smartphones even have stud finder apps that use the magnetometer to find the metal objects in your walls.
How To Make Sure You Have the Studs
If you do use a stud finder, it's not going to tell you where the center of the stud is, and you might detect other objects like pipes or electrical conduits. Before you hang anything, you want to be sure you have a stud and that you know where the center is.
To find exactly where the stud is, use painter's tape and stick it horizontally on your wall, near the area where you plan to hang your heavy item. Then, run the stud finder horizontally along the tape. When the stud finder lights up, signifying the presence of the stud, mark the far left side, then mark the far right side. You should end up with a 1 1/2-inch space between your markings on the tape (the width of a two-by-four). Continue sliding the stud finder along the tape to find other studs, marking the tape as you go.
Know Your Home
Taking care of your home involves understanding how it's built. Being able to find a wall stud to hang items can help you reduce drywall repair costs and help keep your costly entertainment and decorative items on the wall. You're on your way to being an expert, seasoned homeowner!