Beyond those distinctions it boils down to wall finishes and perhaps some structural materials such as brick vs. framed. This article steps you through the various types of walls and options. Also check out our very cool parts and layers of a wall diagrams.
Table of Contents
I. Two Perspectives On Walls
Let’s jump into our discussion of different types of walls by differentiating between two perspectives. We can look at walls through the lens of construction work, or design.
From a construction perspective, there are two basic kinds of walls: load-bearing or not. Load bearing walls hold the weight of the flooring above. To tell if a wall is load-bearing or not, you need to check out the anatomy of the wall.
On a load-bearing wall, there will be joists straight over each stud, so that the point load of the stud all the way to the slab below. Secondly, if there are floor joists above running perpendicular to the wall, it is likely that it is a load bearing wall.
From a construction point of view, load-bearing barriers provide strength and structure to the building. When remodeling to create an open-concept kitchen, for example, you couldn’t merely remove load-bearing walls. You would need to redistribute and support the weight of the flooring above in some way before taking the wall out.
As you can see, it is very necessary to differentiate between walls using these two groupings. Let’s look into each group a bit closer.
A load-bearing wall is usually constructed with sturdy, durable materials such as thick wooden beams, concrete, brick, or steel. The wall functions to hold up the weight of the house above it by distributing the weight down to the foundation.
Retaining walls, which are common in outdoor spaces, are also considered load-bearing. Instead of holding “up” house material, a retaining wall is holding “back” earth. It manages the lateral pressure of the land behind it.
The way a retaining wall is constructed will depend on the layout of the slope behind it, as well as the ground-water conditions and budget. In many states, retaining walls of over four feet in height need to be designed by an engineer who understands these factors and can create a safe and effective structure.
2. Non-Load Bearing
Structures that don’t hold up the flooring above are non-load bearing. They are used to divide an area into smaller portions and are sometimes called “panel,” “partition” or “curtain” walls.
Since they are used to divide a space, not holding up significant amounts of weight, they can be constructed with more delicate materials. You may not see the massive beams that are used in load-bearing construction.
Often, panels are created with two-by-fours and sheetrock, with insulation in between. You may also see partitions made with terracotta, hollow bricks, facade bricks, steel panels, wood, or sheet glass.
Partitions are much less vital to the structure of your home than load-bearing barriers. Because of this, they provide a great deal of potential for remodeling. You can remove the materials to create an open-concept space.
You could also install a sliding barn door or window without worrying too much about the integrity of the structure. Also, it is relatively easy to erect a partition in a room, because the process is less involved than for a load-bearing wall.
3. Glass Partition Walls
Glass Walls are glass panels that work as a transparent divider. They are made of high-quality safety glass and do not support any weight. Their primary functions are space management, provide an open space environment, and let daylight penetrate deep into the building.
Glass partitions walls are built with either an aluminum frame or frameless. Either of these two types of glass walls system that is used could easily fulfill their functions. It would only change the way they look.
Glass partition walls are frequently used in modern homes, especially in spaces that function as offices; this is perfect when creating separation and privacy without interrupting functionality in the room.
From a design standpoint, every wall in your home is like a blank canvas that can be used creatively. Top interior designer Lella Vignelli says, “Even when I enter into a space that I have to design for a client I listen to what space says — the walls, the windows. You can’t change what that space wants to be.”
Each wall is an integral part of the design of the room and will affect the atmosphere of the place. An exposed brick wall may create an industrial, rustic feel, while Venetian plaster could develop a sense of luxury.
A space with many partitions will feel different than vast open space. Some room dividers are created with many openings so that air and noise can flow from one portion of the room to the other. From form to finish, walls are a vital element of design. First, let’s discuss some types of wall finish. Next, we’ll go over form.
1. Wall Finish Overview
The kind of finish that you use on your room’s surfaces affects your color-scheme and style. As the industry of interior design evolves, we see more and more exciting wall finish options on the market. One trendy new look is plywood as a wall finish.
Light colored plywood has a unique texture that looks natural and warm. When used in place of plasterboard, it adds a fun twist to a traditional partition. Other exciting new looks have emerged from technological advances.
For example, homeowners can now create a cement finish, even if the wall is not made of concrete all the way through. This is thanks to new techniques, such as mixing Ardex SD-M with white paint and applying it to the wall. Even with all of these new, exciting finishing options, traditional finishes are still prevalent. Here are four of the most popular finishing options.
2. Wall Finish: Paint
Although painted rooms are common, they are anything but boring. Painting provides endless possibilities regarding design. You can use vibrant colors, various brush strokes, or specialty paint to create the look that you want. Two types of specialty paints that are new on the market are chalkboard paint and metallic paint.
Chalkboard paint can be used in a child’s nursery to provide a source of entertainment, or in a bathroom or kitchen for a fun, funky look. Imagine writing out your grocery list on the wall! Metallic paint can be used to add a sense of luxury to a bedroom or bathroom. You can paint a wall a solid metallic color, or use the paint to create a patterned effect.
Because there are so many varieties of paints to choose from, it can be a challenge to decide on one. Professional designer Patty Jones recommends narrowing down your preferences and then buying a quart of each type you are seriously considering.
Next, she advises “painting it on the wall in as large a swath as you can reach – say something like 4’ x 4’ and put it on all four walls and then look at it at different times of the day”. This is because the lighting will change the color of the paint. Using the decision-making process that she recommends could save you a lot of time and money.
3. Wall Finish: Wood
There are many varieties of timber finishings — from sleek and polished wooden panels to rustic-chic repurposed barn boards. Wood comes in many colors and can be completed with a smooth and glossy stain, or not finished at all. Because of the wide variety, a wooden-finish can look great in any style of a room.
Wood can also be painted to change the coloring.Because of the inherent texture, the wooden foundation adds character to the finished surface. In some cases, such as pickling, the wood’s texture is still clearly visible beneath the paint.
4. Wall Finish: Decorative Plaster
Decorative plaster comes in four primary forms: structural, textural, Venetian and mineral. Plasters are applied over wood or sheetrock for a luxurious look. You can use plaster on interior portions of the house or exterior portions.
Each type of plaster has specific instructions, and you need to read the directions carefully before working with it. For example, you can only apply some varieties of exterior plasters in temperatures above thirty degrees. If you try to apply it in the cold weather, it will not adhere to the foundational surface.
Some plasters are toxic, and should only be used in ventilated areas. This is one reason why reading instructions, as we mentioned before, is essential.
Structural plasters are designed to create a pattern over a surface area. Most structural varieties have a non-uniform appearance once used as a finish. Usually, the consistency is quite thick, and it needs to be applied by hand.
Textured plaster can create reliefs, murals, or unique patterning that can then be painted over. Venetian plaster, is a type of plaster that can be lime-based and was traditionally used in Italy. Mineral plaster has pieces of minerals mixed in, such as marble, quartz, or clay.
5. Wall Finish: Tile
You can use tiles on your wall for a decorative touch. While this finish is often seen in bathrooms and kitchens, it could also be used in other rooms of the house. Tile can be quite small, as in the case of mosaic work, or on the larger side. In bright colors, this type of finish would be very eye-catching. It represents one way to make a surface into a work of art.
6. Wall Height Overview
7. Wall Height: Partial
Partial walls, which don’t touch the ceiling, can be anywhere from knee height, to almost reaching the ceiling. This structure is sometimes referred to as a “pony wall” because they were initially used in horse stables so that horses could see out.
Partial structures create exciting opportunities as far as design and functionality go. The model can serve to impose a distinct border while retaining a sense of spaciousness. The structure can serve as a bookcase, or you may turn the top surface into a place for displaying art or other items.
Around a patio, a knee-height wall may give you the perfect surface-area for potted plants. If a wall extends to about a foot from the ceiling, you could line it with books for a cozy, rustic style.
Partial barriers allow sound, light, and heat to travel from room to room. This can be helpful if you have a fireplace in the living room, for example, and want the heat to transfer out to the bedrooms around it.
8. Wall Height: Full
If a structure extends from floor to ceiling, it is a full wall. Because of the top-to-bottom design, you’ll get maximal privacy. If more openness is desired, you might consider inserting moving panels which can be slid apart on some occasions, and closed on others.
But sometimes, a closed-off space is just right. A bedroom, for example, can become a peaceful sanctuary of the house when completely closed off from the rest of the unit with full walls. The top-to-bottom structure also works well with bathrooms, where privacy is critical.
The height of this type of wall will depend on the height of your ceiling because the wall will extend from the floor to the ceiling. Some interior design tricks can change the appearance of the height, even though you won’t be changing the ceiling placement.
One trick is to use paint to trick the eye into thinking that the ceiling is higher or lower. You can also add a border around the top edges of the surface, or paint the ceiling with a metallic color and use lighting to create reflections.
As designer Jessica Lagrange points out, reflecting light “opens up the room and makes the ceiling look as if it goes on forever.” So, although full walls will technically be the height of your floor to your ceiling, you can use tricks to change the appearance of how tall the wall is. This can make a small space look and feel bigger than in actually is.
II. Outdoor Vs. Indoor Walls
Some walls are designed to be a border between the outside and the inside of the house. Others are interior and are not exposed to the outdoors at all. This difference creates some dramatic differences in structure and design.
The structure of your exterior walls will depend on the method of construction that you or a crew decides to use for your house. The different types of structures include wood frames, steel frames, precast concrete, poured-in-place concrete, structural insulated panels (SIPs), or insulated concrete forms (ICFs).
The wood framing technique is traditional and is very common. Some drawbacks are that if too much wood is used (a common error), the building will be less thermally efficient. Too much lumber may also add to construction costs.
Steel is less traditional, but we see it more and more in house construction. Especially in the south, where termites are often a problem, steel can be used in place of lumber. However, steel tends to accumulate condensation when the temperature changes, so proper use of foam around the steel is critical.
Concrete exterior barriers are also an up-and-coming trend in construction as a wood alternative. Whether the concrete is in the form of a preformed panel or poured in place, this technique is highly efficient and produces a durable end product. Foam is used between layers of concrete to create an insulating effect.
Interior sections need to be finished differently than the exterior sections of your home. Interior finishes do not need to stand up to natural elements like rain, direct sun (in some cases), or wind. For this reason, interior finishes are often more delicate than exterior finishes.
Interior paint, for example, is usually water-based-latex, which has an excellent finish but wouldn’t hold up well in a rainstorm.
III. More Details
Hopefully, by now you see the incredible potential that walls offer. Historically, these structures have been used in a primarily functional manner — each room had four walls which acted as borders between rooms of the house. Now, however, homeowners and interior designers have started to think about barriers in a whole new way.
Through learning about the different types of walls, you have seen that the shape of the walls in your living area will genuinely affect the atmosphere that you create. We’ve discussed the difference between load-bearing structures and partition dividers, as well as some exciting wall finishing options.
Now, let’s go over a few remaining details that will help you create the look that you want in your home.
A. Cost of a Wall
The cost of your wall depends on the type of wall (non-load bearing, load-bearing or exterior) and the wall finish (paint, tile, stone, etc.). Of course size matters too. The longer and higher the wall, the more materials and labor will be required.
But, to give you a ballpark price, the cost of an interior wall will run you $2,500 to $6,100. It isn’t cheap, but that does include the cost of hiring a contractor to do it. The cost of a drywall expert is pretty high on its own.
A final detail to bring up about types of walls is that the kind of wall that you decide upon will affect the construction process that goes into creating it. If you are hoping for a DIY project, you’ll need to decide upon a type of wall that you can create without using other designers, construction workers, or engineers.
Consider your strengths and limitations before attempting the project. You can also begin to watch videos, read books, or talk to experts to learn as much as you can about constructing the structure that you have in mind. This education may expand your abilities so that you can tackle a project that seemed impossible before.
If you have it in your budget, consider working with professionals. Regardless of the type of wall, you have in mind, be it a stone wall in your garden or a partial wall between the living room and kitchen, input from a professional will likely help you get a top-quality result.
C. Sourcing Your Materials
If you choose to pursue a DIY project, you can buy all of the materials needed online. After you do your research, make a list of necessary supplies. Then, check out a trusted store and begin shopping.
If you are doing a project for the first time, like learning how to apply Venetian plaster, you might be unsure about how much of a product to buy. Start by purchasing the items you need for the first step, like one wall.
Once you begin to get an idea of how much of the material you are using, you can make a better estimate of how much the entire project will require. Avoid ordering too much, which will be a waste of money.
When choosing between brands, read reviews to help you avoid faulty materials. Buy from sellers with an excellent reputation for delivering high-quality goods. Here are some suggestions: