How to Build a Partition Wall to Divide a Room

  • mirror on the wall
  • Transcript

    LESLIE: With an economy really dictating that more people improve than move, homeowners are getting creative with ways to get the most out of their homes.

    How to Build a Partition Wall to Divide a RoomTOM: And one idea is to turn one big room into two smaller rooms by building a partition wall, a fairly basic DIY project that you can do with just a few steps. Here to walk us through is Tom Silva, the general contractor for TV’s This Old House.

    Welcome, Tommy.

    TOM SILVA: Well, thanks, guys. It’s nice to be here.

    TOM: You know, we’re basically talking about a room divider, right? I mean what do we need to know?

    TOM SILVA: Well, room dividers – how do you want to divide the room up? Do you want to make it two sizes the same space? You’ve got to think about how you’re going to get in and out of that room. You’ve got to think about whether or not you want to put a closet in one and not the other. So you’ve got to think about all kinds of little things.

    TOM: There’s a lot more than just putting this wall up, because you’re really changing the flow for the people that live in there. You can’t walk by one bedroom to get into the next bedroom.

    TOM SILVA: No.

    TOM: They’ve got to have their own, for example, separate point of access.

    TOM SILVA: Right. Years ago, they didn’t care about that. Bedrooms. You walked through one bedroom to get to the other on the second floor. I know. I lived in a house like that.

    But yeah, today, you’ve got to think about what ramifications are you going to cause by putting a partition up into a room.

    LESLIE: Tommy, I feel like there’s so many rules and regulations when it comes to building. Is there anything we should consider code-wise before we just divvy up a space?

    TOM SILVA: Well, depending on what that space is going to be divvied up for. If you’re going to divvy up a space in your basement, there’s not a problem. But if you’re going to divvy up a space in a room and make a bedroom out of it, you have to make sure that that bedroom has a second means of egress: in other words, a window that is fire-rated for access so that you can get in or out of that bedroom. Usually, the fireman has to get in.

    LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you have to get out.

    TOM SILVA: That’s true.

    LESLIE: And it has to be quick.

    TOM: And that’s the idea.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah.

    TOM: Now, the process of putting the partition wall up, that’s pretty straightforward? Just framing a wall?

    TOM SILVA: Pretty straightforward. You need a shoe on the floor and a plate on the ceiling and basically some studs in between.

    TOM: We’re just going to de-term this a little bit. The shoe on the floor is the wood stud that lays on the floor or 2×4 on the floor.

    TOM SILVA: Right.

    TOM: The plate is the 2×4 that’s up against the ceiling.

    TOM SILVA: Correct.

    TOM: Studs, of course, in between.

    TOM SILVA: Sixteen on center.

    TOM: Now, what about the mechanical end of this? Because when you have a basic bedroom, let’s just say – let’s assume that it was properly wired. You’re going to have an outlet over so many feet, you’re going to have light switches that are wired into, perhaps, ceiling lights or outlets. You’ve really got to think about what the impact is of dividing that off, because the original intent of the wiring design is going to change now.

    TOM SILVA: Well, think about it: if you’re in one room and that light switch is in that room, you’re going to turn the light switch on – you’re going to be turning the light on in the other bedroom? So …

    TOM: It depends on whether or not you liked your brother or sister that was living over there.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah. So you’ve got to think about that. You’ve got to think about whether or not an electrician has to get involved to change some wiring around.

    The other thing you have to have to think about is what type of heat you have. If it’s a radiator in one room and you’re building a partition against the outside wall, you may not have any heat in that other room. So you’ve got to think about that. Also, ductwork. You have to think about whether or not there’s a supply or a return in one of those rooms.

    LESLIE: And what does this really do for resale value? Is there ever a downside to adding an extra bedroom to a home?

    TOM SILVA: The downside is the way you do it and is – the room is really small. In some cases, bigger space is more helpful than a real small – two small rooms can be a hurt unless you have little kids. And then, eventually, they’re going to grow bigger and they’re going to move out and then you can open the room back up. But it really becomes a personal taste. You’re building the house or you’re modifying that house for the way you live.

    TOM: And that’s a good point, as you both made.

    Leslie, a lot of times, real estate values depended on whether it’s a two-bedroom house or a three-bedroom house. But if it’s really a two-bedroom house where you divided one of those rooms into half, you’re not instantly going to get more value.

    TOM SILVA: Yeah.

    TOM: Because there’s going to be one family that looks at that and says, “Great. There’s an extra bedroom. I don’t care that there’s two that are small.” And there’s another family that says, “This house is weird because it’s different than everything else in the neighborhood.”

    TOM SILVA: Yeah, exactly. It can hurt or it can help.

    TOM: Yeah, that’s absolutely right.

    Now, Tom, is – does it make sense because of that – let’s say you need to have that extra bedroom, maybe – to kind of build this in a way where you could just as easily take it apart?

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah, absolutely. I remember doing a story years ago where I actually showed how to make a temporary partition between two walls without doing any damage to the floor or to the ceiling. And that partition was for two young kids. They wanted their own space because, obviously, they didn’t sleep together well. Kept the mother and father up a lot at night with arguing. So, we built a temporary partition between that room but it could come right out easy.

    TOM: And Leslie, we’ve gotten those questions on the show, too. And there’s actually some décor solutions that perhaps you could do, as well, right?

    LESLIE: It depends on what the room situation is going to be. But there’s some beautiful divider screens. There’s some interesting panels that slide on a tracking system so they can open and close, as you desire, to divvy up that space.

    TOM SILVA: Oh, yeah.

    LESLIE: Of course, then, it’s a sound issue. How much privacy does that space need?

    TOM SILVA: Right. Right.

    LESLIE: But I think there’s a lot of temporary and permanent solutions that you can explore, depending on what your needs are.

    TOM SILVA: Right. And I like to think of it – if you’re going to build that wall and you’re going to drywall and everything, don’t cut open the ceiling and don’t cut it into the floor so that if it has to come down later on, when the wall comes down the floor doesn’t need to be patched and the ceilings are already there. So when you paint it, you can just skim it over a little bit with drywall and then you’ll never know.

    TOM: Right. So make it just as easy to take apart as it was to put together.

    TOM SILVA: Right, exactly.

    TOM: Tom Silva, the general contractor on TV’s This Old House, great advice on how to create a partition wall to divide up rooms when it’s needed.

    Thanks, Tommy.

    TOM SILVA: Thanks, guys. Nice to be here.

    LESLIE: You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For local listings and step-by-step videos on many common home improvement projects, visit

    TOM: And This Old House and Ask This Old House are brought to you by The Home Depot. The Home Depot, more saving, more doing.

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