Does A Door Frame Need A Header?

Deciding to get a header for your door frame is critical in all home construction projects. Often disregarded, a door frame header carries the weight of the door. It is also important to consider the concentrated load of the walls and the roof above. We have researched from the experts to help you decide if you will need a header for your door frame or not.

Door headers support the weight of the structure surrounding the door frame. Headers also carry the load of the roof, ceiling, and wall. Although essential for structural integrity, adding a header to a door frame may not be necessary. You will need a door header for heavy doors, exterior door frames, and load-bearing walls. Adding a header is only optional for interior door frames on non-load-bearing walls.

Deciding for a door frame header is not easy. Aside from the door frame and wall, the width and length of the door are also important to consider. The weight and sizes of your door also determine the suitable header thickness. Read further to learn more about door frames headers.

Exterior of a house inspired with a rustic design, Does A Door Frame Need A Header?

When Are Headers Required For Door Frames?

There are technical construction issues to tackle when deciding to install headers for your door frames. It is not a simple DIY project because improper installation of headers can cause damage to the house. You can refer to your architect or structural engineer if you want headers for your door frames. Nonetheless, you also need to learn the basic concepts about headers.

To decide whether to add a header, you will need to identify if the door frame is on a bearing or non-bearing wall. Aside from the type of wall, check if the door frame is for external or internal purposes. The door weight and size also affect your decisions on installing a header. Keep reading for the factors that determine whether you need a header or not.

A white painted porch with glass window panes and a glass header

1. Types Of Walls

Based on a construction perspective, the two main types of walls are load- or non-load-bearing walls. You will have to examine the anatomy of your walls to distinguish the two types. Find out their differences below:

Load-Bearing Walls

These walls carry the load or weight above them and other elements of a house. They are a structural element. Load-bearing walls distribute the load from the top to the foundation of the house. Based on This Old House, you can determine a load-bearing wall by the following:

  • The wall is perpendicular to floor ridges and joists.
  • The walls and beams connect directly to the foundation.

Load-bearing walls fortify the wall's strength and maintain the structure of a wall. Hence, it is a must to install a header if your door frames are on a load-bearing wall.

Non-Load Bearing Walls

These walls do not support a home's structural load. If you have a non-bearing wall, a header is optional. Non-load-bearing walls are common for partitioning an area in the house. Most non-load-bearing walls only need two flat lumber pieces to support the door frame, nailings, and trims. There is only one stud that supports the frame for non-load bearing walls.

In general, installing a header for door frames on non-load-bearing walls and partitions is optional.

2. Exterior Or Interior Door Frame

You should also determine if the door frame is for the exterior or interior. Exterior door frames need headers to support their heavyweight. On the other hand, interior doors are smaller and lighter. You can still install a header for the interior door frames, but the materials will be less durable.

3. Door Weight And Size

Headers span the opening of a door. That is why it is important to consider the door weight and size to determine if you need a header for your door frame. The average weight of doors is around 25 to 38 pounds. Heavy and solid doors will need durable headers due to their weight when the doors open.

There are also varying door sizes depending on your home design. The common measurements for doors are around 36 inches in width, 80 inches in length, and 1 and 3/4 inches thick. For wide and tall doors, these will require thicker header sizes.

What Does a Header Do In Framing?

A header's main function is transferring the weight above the flooring to the foundation of the house. Headers are bridges that transmit the weight above to the floor below. Installing a header keeps the door frame and wall's structural integrity. If there is no header, the stress from the roof or foundation can cause damage to the walls.

The header transfers the load to two posts, namely the king and jack studs. Afterward, the load transfers down the stud to the bottom plate and the foundation. The number of studs you need varies based on the weight of the load. The load can be from the top of the wall, the roof, or the trusses above the door.

How Thick Should a Header Be?

Door headers vary in thickness. In general, the thickness of the door header is twice as thick as the door frame. These are the following elements to consider when getting the appropriate header size:

  • The span or length of the door opening
  • Weight of the floor and roof above
  • Walls (bearing or non-bearing)
  • Exterior or interior door frame
  • Type of wood species

If you are not well-versed in the things mentioned above, you can ask a professional to help you get the correct header size. An architect, engineer, or your local building official can guide you. If you are still in doubt, choose the largest header size, the double 2 x 12-inch header. The weight of the door opening it can carry ranges from 4 to 6 feet.

Here are the sizes of headers based on the International Building Code:

Header Size Maximum Span of the Opening Number of Trimmers
Double 2 x 6 inches 4 feet One
Double 2 x 8 inches 5 feet Two
Double 2 x 10 inches 6 feet and 1 inch Two
Double 2 x 12 inches 7 feet and 2 inches Two

Is a Lintel The Same As a Header?

Most people interchange lintels with headers. These two look the same, but there are some slight differences. You must know what to use based on the specific purpose for your door framing.

The similarities of lintels and headers include the following:

  • Both lintels and headers are horizontal in shape that serves as structural support for door frames.
  • Aside from this, both lintels and headers sit on two vertical supports above the door frame.
  • The common places to find lintels and headers are above door and window frames.
  • Lintels and headers are both for structural or ornamental purposes.

You can tell which are lintels or headers with these differences:

  • Aside from door frames and windows, you can find lintels above fireplaces, portals, and garage doors. In contrast, headers are on chimneys, staircases, and skylights.
  • The common materials of lintels include steel, concrete, and timber. For headers, these use lumber or plaster moldings.
  • Bi-fold door frames require a lintel, while headers are just optional.

What's The Difference Between a Beam And a Header?

Beams are horizontal in shape that supports some load over a distance. You can find beams at different parts of the house, like ceilings, walls, and floors. A header is one type of beam placed over a door frame for structural support. These header beams are common for exterior door frames and bearing walls. Header beams transfer the load from the opening above to the jack studs supporting it.

In Closing

Door frame headers are not necessary for interior and non-load bearing walls. You can use headers as structural support for door openings. Door header sizes are different, but the minimum thickness is at least two times the width of the door frame. Lintels are similar to headers, but the material and placements differ. Also, not to confuse, a header is only a type of beam. Always refer to professionals when dealing with door headers to get the right support for your door frames.

One comment

  1. Hey, good article. Why do you say a header is needed on exterior doors? Is it just the assumption that they are load-bearing. My front door is inset about a foot and not directly under the main wall.

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