Load-bearing walls carry and support the structural weight of a house. They feature double top plates placed horizontally on the ends of the vertical lumber pieces that form the frames of the house. All exterior and some interior walls are load-bearing walls.
Non-load-bearing walls are found in the interior of a house. They are non-load-bearing in that they do not have to support the weight of the house, and primarily serve as partitions. For example, a wall that separates two bedrooms that are next to each other would be a non-load-bearing wall. Non-load-bearing walls are not aligned above support beams, as are load-bearing walls, but they often run perpendicular to joists for floors and ceilings.
Exterior walls shape and define the “envelope” of a home or building. The walls can be made of structural insulating sheathing panels, Oriented Strand Board or plywood, attached to the exterior studs, and then covered with a polymer house-wrap material or an asphalt-treated building paper. Exterior walls have a “cavity” opening, which includes insulation materials to protect the home from weather penetration. After the house wrap or building paper is attached, the surface is clad with the material visible from outdoors, such as brick, wood siding or stucco.
The sole plate is typically a 2-by-4-ft. piece of lumber nailed to the sub-flooring material. The studs serve as the ribs of the walls and are vertical framing members, usually spaced 16 or 24 inches apart, and are typically 8 ft. tall in most homes. Studs can be made of wood or metal. The top plate is a horizontal framing member that is attached to the studs and typically supports the ceiling joists. "Header" is the name for another horizontal framing member that connects to the trimmer. After all of the interior wall framing members are attached, sheathing material such as drywall is nailed directly to the frames so the interior walls can be finished with paint or paneling.
Systems-built walls are constructed off-site at manufacturing facilities. Systems-built walls are delivered by flatbed trucks to building sites and then installed. Homeowners and builders have many of the same choices of customized designs and use of materials as when building a house on location. Because system-built walls are transported, they have to pass inspections that are even tougher than those for walls built on-site. As a result, prefabricated systems-built walls are sometimes sturdier and more durable than traditional walls built from the ground up.