What Is a Header In Construction?

All the basics about building headers you should know as a homeowner

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To most homeowners, a door or window header may seem to be a not-very-important part of the building. However, this seemingly unessential structural member has a significant impact on the overall stability and safety of your house!

Today, we will tell you more about headers in a house. In particular, you will learn about the meaning and role they play in homes and other buildings. Also, we will explain a header structure to you. Finally, you will learn the architecture of headers and the basic purposes of their use.

What Is a Header In Construction?

A header (also called a lintel) is a structural member that is typically placed above a window, door, or another opening. Simply speaking, it is a beam that spans the opening distance and spreads the overhead load of the building/structure horizontally. This overhead load is then transferred to the nearest vertical members and down to the foundation. 

Headers should only be engineered by a professional! This way, you will ensure they are correctly made and installed for the live, dead, wind, and seismic loads they must resist. Such accuracy in header installation is based on the span distance they are meant to cover. 

Headers providing support for windows and doors in a construction project
Headers in Construction: Purpose and Materials. itishouse.com

Most commonly, simple headers that are used in simple structures are composed of 2 pieces of lumber and plywood, or OSB (commonly 1/2″). To make these pieces of lumber/plywood/OSB match the thickness of the wall framing, they are fused or mechanically attached.

In most cases, headers are only needed on structural load-bearing walls where the weight will be placed on top of the void. Non-structural walls usually don’t require headers. See, such walls almost never have weight placed above the opening. As a result, there is no need in headers there.

Purpose Of House Headers Use

As you can understand, windows and doors require a header on top since this construction member helps supporting the load above them. Without the header, the weight would be placed on the window or door, which would lead to damage and/or total failure!

Other parts of the header are also essential. For example, framing members called king and jack studs that are located on the sides of the header transfer the load placed onto the header down to the foundation. 

As long as the header and studs are framed correctly and accurately, no weight will bear on the window, door or whatever you place inside the opening. As you might guess by now, the primary purposes of using headers include the following:

  • Supporting the load above the windows and doors
  • Distribute the weight placed inside the opening
  • Help to avoid door or window damage due to the wrong weight distribution
  • Prevent window and door failure
  • Help builders to span distances
  • Allow builders to create voids for things like windows and doors

Now that you know the essential functions headers carry on, let’s see when they should be used and what materials they are made of.

When Structural Headers Should Be Used

Although seemingly simple, headers are an essential part of a home’s structural framing, as well as any framing in any kind of building. Without headers that are correctly made and installed, builders wouldn’t be able to create openings in an exterior wall. Simply speaking, our homes and office buildings would have no windows or doors!

There are several areas of use for a header when it comes to framing a home.

  • It can be used above windows and door openings.
  • It can be used on the sides of a set of stairs to frame a stair opening between floors.

There is a common belief that headers are only made of wood, but this is not quite correct. In fact, this structural member can be made of different materials, which we will discuss in the section below.

What Materials Are Used For Wall Headers Construction

People often think that headers are made from wood. And to be honest, most headers are made out of wood indeed. Wood is still a surprisingly widespread construction material! However, some headers can be made of other materials, too. For example, there are headers made of masonry, steel, engineered wood, etc. 

Since a header is a type of beam, its major purpose in construction is to span a distance and carry a load. This is why window and door headers need to be strong enough to cope with these tasks. This is also why it is crucially important to size all the beams in your home or another building correctly! If you use a beam too small to span the distance or carry the load on top, it could fail or sag, causing damage and making the space potentially dangerous.

This is why in most residential construction, window and door headers are made from either traditional lumber or engineered lumber. Steel is an excellent material for beams too. However, it is not that common compared to wood. 

Steel is mainly used when the spans are very long, or the load is hefty. This is why in most residential homes, steel beams above windows and doors have no practical meaning. Instead, steel headers are used in many modern homes with walls of glass since they typically have large spans.

Finally, there are masonry beams. They are usually made out of concrete reinforced with steel rebar. Such headers are solid and can span long distances while carrying a heavy load. However, this type of header is also very uncommon in residential construction.

Now you are more knowledgeable about headers in construction. You know what headers are and what they are used for. You even learned what materials are used for making them! Moreover, we explained why it is so essential to install headers and do it correctly with the help of skilled professionals.

 

Rough framing is an important part of construction that involves building the basic frame of a structure before adding finishes and other elements. Headers play a crucial role in this process, as they provide the necessary support for windows and doors that will be installed later in the project. During rough framing, it is important to ensure that headers are installed correctly and at the appropriate height, as this can impact the overall stability and safety of the structure. 

Additionally, rough framing provides an opportunity to inspect headers and other framing elements to ensure they are structurally sound and will be able to support the load they are designed for. With proper attention to detail and the use of high-quality materials, headers can help ensure the success of a rough framing project and the safety of the structure for years to come.

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