Do Basement Doors Need Headers?

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Deciding what to use your basement for is a fun and exciting feat - whether you want it to function as a storage area or extra living space. But deciding on how to make your door frame suitable for your basement is a lot trickier, especially when you don't know if your basement door requires a header. We've done the research to give you the answer to this question.

Whether your basement door needs a header depends on the type of door and the type of wall it will be installed on. Interior doors or doors installed on non-load-bearing walls do not require headers, while exterior doors or doors installed on load-bearing walls do. The size of the header depends on the size and weight of your basement door.

There are many factors to consider when it comes to framing your basement door and deciding on headers for it. Keep reading to find out more about door headers and what factors you need to consider when installing them.

A stairs of home with carpeted treads that leads down to the basement door, Do Basement Doors Need Headers?

What are door headers?

A door header is a beam that runs at the top of the door frame, providing support for the weight above the door opening. Often compared to a bridge, it helps shift the load from the roof and the ceiling to the floor and foundation. This allows the installation and use of doors without weakening the surrounding structure.

The size and quality of a door header are crucial to the operation of your door. A weak or small door header can make opening and closing doors difficult. It can also compromise the structural integrity of your home.

Aside from their practical use, door headers also serve aesthetic purposes. Door header moldings come in all types of designs, from classic to modern. Homeowners also place decorative trim around their headers for a personalized touch.

Should my basement door have a door header?

There is one major factor that determines the need for a door header: the type of wall where the door will be installed. This comes down to two types, namely load-bearing walls and non-load-bearing walls.

1. Load-bearing wall

A load-bearing wall bears the weight of the entire structure of your home. It supports the roof and floors and all structural elements above it along with its own weight.

Exterior walls are always load-bearing, with very rare exceptions. It's best to assume all the exterior walls in your home are load-bearing. On the other hand, some interior walls are load-bearing and some are non-load-bearing.

There are ways to determine if your wall is load-bearing, though you will still need to verify your assessment with a professional. A few tells include:

  • If you can see support beams
  • If the walls are perpendicular to the joists
  • If the walls reach all the way to the ceiling

Because load-bearing walls are responsible for carrying the weight of the entire building, a door header is necessary for a door frame installed on it. This is crucial to keeping the structure intact.

2. Non-load-bearing wall

A non-load-bearing wall only carries its own weight and does not support the frame of the building. Also known as curtain walls or partitions, they serve to create divisions in the house.

Since non-load-bearing walls don't support the gravity loads of the structure, a door frame installed on it doesn't require a header. Many still install headers, though. Double 2x4 headers are commonly used for interior doors on non-load-bearing walls.

How big does a door header need to be?

The size of your door header will depend on several factors, including:

  • The width of the door frame
  • The length of the door opening
  • The weight of the floor, the roof, and other structural elements above
  • The type of wall (exterior or interior; load-bearing or non-load-bearing)

Hunker shows a simple method to calculate the size of your header based on the width of your door frame. If your door frame is 4 feet wide or less, install a 2x6 header. If it's 4 to 5 feet wide, install a 2x8. Any wider than that requires a 2x12.

Make sure to check the span tables from your local building codes to guide you in installing the right size for your door header.

What kind of wood is used for door headers?

Door headers are usually made from dimensional lumber. Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) is commonly used to make dimensional lumber. In most cases, the type of wood used for your door header will vary depending on the type of wood used for your door frame.

How do you frame a basement door?

Shot of a basement door in the dark with bright sunlight bursting through the bottom

To frame a basement door, you will need the following tools and materials:

  • Measuring tape
  • Circular saw
  • 2x4 boards
  • Hammer
  • Nails
  • 1.5-inch thick plywood
  • Level

There are several steps involved in framing a basement door. Here is a quick run-through of how to accomplish this task:

1. Take measurements.

Get the width and height of the basement door with a measuring tape. Add 2 inches to the width and 1.5 inches to the height; this will serve as the measurements for your door frame. For instance, if you have a door that is 32 inches wide and 80 inches tall, your door frame should be 34 inches wide and 81.5 inches long.

2. Install the top plate.

Mark the edges of where the door frame will be. Then, using your circular saw, cut the top plate. It should be the width of the rough door opening. Nail it to the ceiling by driving the nails into the ceiling joists.

3. Install the bottom plate.

Cut out the bottom plate or the soleplate with your circular saw. Nail it into the floor joists. Remember not to nail it in the middle or between the edges because this part will be removed later on.

4. Install the king studs.

Create the first set of king studs by cutting two pieces of wood to the height between either end of the top plate and the bottom plate. Nail them to the sides of the rough opening.

Then, create the second set of king studs by cutting two pieces of wood to the width of the door with an additional five inches. Nail them to the first set of king studs.

5. Install the jack studs.

Cut out two pieces of wood to the height of your basement door with an additional 1.5 inches. These will serve as your jack studs. Nail them to the set of inner king studs. You can also opt to nail the jack studs into the king studs through the header later.

6. Create the header.

Cut two pieces of wood to the width of the jack studs and the length of the gap between the jack studs. Put the two pieces together with a 1.5-inch plywood around the middle. Nail the header into place on top of the jack studs.

7. Install the cripple studs.

Cut one or two pieces of wood to the width of the gap between the header and the top plate. These will serve as your cripple studs. It's best to use two if you have a wide door.

Nail the cripple studs into the bottom of the header and the top of the top plate.

8. Finish the frame.

Cut out a portion of the bottom plate that's between the jack studs. Then, you can put in your door!

What is the standard size basement door?

View of cellar doors known as Bilco Doors

The standard size of an interior door is 32 inches in width and 80 inches in height. The standard size of an exterior door is 36 inches in width and 80 inches in height.

Since the basement is commonly used for storage, it's best to get a wider door that allows bigger items to get through without difficulty. A 36-inch wide interior door is more ideal for a basement than a standard 32-inch one.

In Closing

Door headers are important parts of door frames, but they're not necessary for interior or non-load-bearing doors. However, you can still opt to have them for aesthetic purposes and extra security.

If you find that deciding whether to install a door header or framing your basement door on your own quite difficult, it's always best to consult with a professional. That way, you can be sure your basement door has the optimal frame for smooth and easy operation.

Want to learn more about the right use of and safety rules for your basement door? Take a look at these two helpful posts:

Should A Basement Door Be Opened Or Closed In The Summer?

Does A Basement Door Have To Be Fire Rated?

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