Richard McLain, PE, SE

It is fairly common for light wood-frame commercial and multi-family buildings to include shaft walls made from other materials. However, with an increase in wood construction nationwide, many designers and contractors have come to realize that wood-frame shaft walls are a code-compliant means of reducing cost and shortening construction schedule.

This excerpt of a WoodWorks paper provides an overview of building code considerations and detailing. For information on fire design requirements, construction constraints and other potential differences associated with specific applications such as stairs, elevators and MEP shafts, read the complete paper at

Fire Barrier Construction

Figure 1: IBC Commentary Figure 707.5 – Continuity of Fire Barriers

Shaft enclosures are specifically addressed in Section 713 of the 2015 International Building Code (IBC). However, because shaft enclosure walls are to be constructed as fire barriers per Section 713.2, many shaft wall requirements directly reference provisions on fire barriers found in Section 707.

Provisions addressing materials permitted in shaft wall construction are given in both the shaft enclosures section (713.3) and fire barriers section (707.2). These sections state that fire barriers can be constructed of any material permitted by the building’s type of construction. This means that light-frame wood construction or mass timber may be used for shaft wall construction in Construction Types III, IV, and V per the construction type definitions in IBC Section 602. The one exception is when shaft walls in Type III or IV Construction are also exterior walls. This requires that the exterior/shaft walls be fire retardant-treated wood framing or non-combustible framing.

Per IBC Section 713.4, shaft enclosures are required to have a fire-resistance rating of not less than 2 hours when connecting four or more stories. A fire-resistance rating of not less than 1 hour is required for shaft enclosures connecting less than four stories.


IBC Section 707.5 states the requirements for fire protection continuity of fire barriers. It requires that fire barriers “extend from the top of the foundation or floor/ceiling assembly below to the underside of the floor or roof sheathing, slab or deck above and shall be securely attached thereto. Such fire barriers shall be continuous through concealed space, such as the space above a suspended ceiling.” This is one of the main distinctions between a fire barrier and fire partition. A fire partition (for example a corridor wall) is permitted to terminate at the underside of a fire resistance-rated floor/ceiling or roof/ceiling assembly while a fire barrier is required to extend up to the underside of the floor/roof sheathing.

Stair Landing Beam Shaft Wall Structural Penetration Prior to Fire Caulk Installation

This continuity condition is depicted in the code commentary in simplistic form where the shaft wall runs parallel to the floor framing (Figure 1). However, in platform-frame buildings there will usually be shaft walls that directly support perpendicular framing elements. It is important to understand that continuity of the assembly can be maintained, even in these scenarios.

Having a single fire resistance-rated assembly running from the bottom to the top of a shaft enclosure with no interruptions, such as a masonry wall, is considered by some to be the clearest path to meeting this requirement. However, given the potential costs and structural challenges associated with integrating masonry shaft walls in wood-frame buildings, wood-frame shaft walls are becoming increasingly popular. The requirement is for continuity, but this doesn’t dictate the use of only one assembly. Since fire protection continuity doesn’t equate to wall framing continuity, using means of fire protection other than the tested wall assembly in the depth of the framed floor can be an effective way of providing the required continuity.

Ultimately, the detail used will reflect what the building official accepts in terms of fire protection continuity of the shaft wall’s required fire-resistance rating. In varying degrees (depending on the detail) the shaft wall will need to be interrupted to attach the adjacent floor framing and floor sheathing. The methods used at this floor-to-wall intersection will also depend somewhat on the floor framing configuration. See “Detailing Floor-to-Wall Intersections” below for examples of ways designers have detailed this condition.

Structural Shaft Wall Penetrations

It is often necessary to penetrate a shaft wall with a structural member such as floor sheathing, a landing beam, or floor joists. The allowance for these penetrations comes from IBC Section 713.8, which states that “Penetrations in a shaft enclosure shall be protected in accordance with Section 714 as required for fire barriers. Structural elements, such as beams or joists, where protected in accordance with Section 714 shall be permitted to penetrate a shaft enclosure.”

IBC Section 714.3 requires that penetrations into or through shaft walls comply with Sections 714.3.1 through 714.3.3. Section 714.3.2 requires that either:

1. Penetrations shall be installed as tested in an approved fire resistance-rated assembly (i.e., incorporated during the conduct of an ASTM E119 test of the wall or floor assembly, per Section 714.3.1.1) or, more commonly,

2. Protected by an approved penetration firestop system installed as tested in accordance with ASTM E 814 or UL 1479, with an F (flame) rating of not less than the required fire-resistance rating of the wall penetrated (per Section 714.3.1.2).

As noted, the option given in IBC Section 714.3.1.2 is the most common approach and typically involves the use of a tested, approved firestop system to seal around structural penetrations in shaft walls.

Assemblies & Intersections

The first step in detailing shaft wall construction is to select the rated wall assembly that is appropriate for the application. The assembly type chosen will depend on several application-specific constraints, including space available for the wall assembly, accessibility to finish gypsum wallboard, height of the shaft, acoustic needs, and construction efficiency. In some cases, the floor-to-wall intersection detailing necessary for plan approval may affect the type of wall assembly chosen.

Several options for 1- and 2-hour fire resistance-rated, wood-frame wall assemblies that could be useful for shafts are presented below.

1-Hour Single Wall

  • UL U305
  • GA WP 3510
  • UL U311
  • IBC 2012 Table 721.1(2), Item 14-1.3
  • UL U332

1-Hour Double Wall

  • UL U341

2-Hour Single wall

  • UL U301
  • UL U334
  • IBC 2012 Table 721.1(2) Item Number 14-1.5
  • IBC 2012 Table 721.1(2) Item Number 15-1.16

2-Hour Double Wall

  • UL U342
  • UL U370
  • GA WP 3820

The double wall options provide opportunities for higher acoustically-rated assemblies and/or a way to decouple membrane continuity and structural support. In particular, better acoustical performance may be desired when shaft walls separate the shaft from a residential unit or other occupied space. For more information on acoustical performance of light-frame wood walls, see the WoodWorks publication, Acoustical Considerations for Mixed-Use Wood-Frame Buildings.

Figure 2: Floor-to-Shaft Wall Intersection Detail with Blocking between Floor Joists

Some designers also utilize shaftliner panels. Shaftliner panels are typically thicker than a normal gypsum panel (1-inch-thick is common) and come in sizes that can be installed easily between CH-, CT-, or H-studs. These studs are cold-formed steel sections that hold the shaftliner panels together and eliminate the need for gypsum panel joint finishing. Some assemblies are tested with a supporting wood structure (UL U375) and others are not (GA ASW 1000). This is an important distinction to make when discussing continuity and structural support. Even if included in the tested wall assembly, the wood walls are usually assumed not to be providing part of the wall’s fire-resistance rating. The 1-hour or 2-hour rating can typically be accomplished solely with the shaftliner panels. If tested with a supporting wood structure, only lateral bracing of the shaftliner panels is assumed. The weight of the panels is carried through the panels to the foundation unless specifically detailed otherwise.

Assemblies such as UL U336 have an option for a single wood-frame wall supporting a double shaftliner gypsum membrane. A second wood wall could be used on the other side of the double gypsum membrane to support floor framing (i.e., stair and landing framing). Alternatively, only one wood wall could be used (on the non-shaft side) and the gypsum membrane could face the inside of the shaft. This allows structural support of the main floor and roof framing to occur without penetrating the membrane.

1-Hour Wall with Shaftliner

  • UL V455
  • UL V433

2-Hour Wall with Shaftliner

  • UL U336
  • UL U373
  • UL U375
  • UL V455
  • UL V433
  • GA ASW 1000

Detailing Floor-to-Wall Intersections

Once the typical wall assembly for the shaft has been selected, the detail at the floor-to-shaft intersection should be addressed. The look of this detail will depend on the floor framing type and bearing condition.

Figure 3: Floor to Shaft Wall Intersection Detail with Gypsum Extending to Underside of Sheathing between Trusses

One method used by designers to demonstrate continuity of the shaft wall through the floor cavity is having the wall gypsum stop at the underside of the floor framing and installing wood blocking in the floor cavity. The concept is that approximately every 1.5 inches of wood blocking thickness provides 1 hour of fire protection. This rationale is codified through IBC Section 722.1, which references Chapter 16 of the American Wood Council’s National Design Specification® (NDS®) for Wood Construction for calculated fire resistance of exposed wood members. NDS Chapter 16 indicates that the nominal char rate of a number of wood products, including solid sawn lumber and structural composite lumber, is 1.5 inches per hour. See Figure 2 for an example of this detail.

Another option would be to extend the wall gypsum on the floor side of the shaft wall up to the underside of the floor/roof sheathing between the floor/roof joists. This would require interruptions of the gypsum at the joists. See Figure 3 for an example of this detail. The joist is simply a structural penetration, which is allowed in shaft wall construction as noted above, when protected according to Section 714.

A third option would be to install a floor beam parallel to and just inboard of the shaft. This beam would be used to support all of the framing perpendicular to the shaft wall such that the only element penetrating the shaft wall is the floor sheathing. This option is only feasible if the length of the shaft wall is such that a reasonable beam size can still be used. Walls or beams parallel to and just beyond the ends of the shaft are used to support the ends of the above mentioned beam.

A final option would be to run the gypsum continuously behind the floor joists up to the underside of the floor/roof sheathing. The joists would be hung from the wall with a top flange hanger capable of spanning over one or two layers of gypsum.

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