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What is a Shear Wall?

A shear wall is a wall that is designed to resist shear, the lateral force that causes the bulk of
damage in earthquakes. Many building codes mandate the use of such walls to make homes safer
and more stable, and learning about them is an important part of an architectural education.
Architects are obliged to think about these and other safety features when they design a structure
so that they can accommodate the walls to make the structure sound while also aesthetically
When a shear wall is built, it is constructed in the form of a line of heavily braced and reinforced
panels. In some regions, they are known as braced wall lines for this very reason. The wall
ideally connects two exterior walls, and also braces other shear walls in the structure. Bracing is
accomplished with metal brackets and heavy timbers or support beams that keep the wall strong
and sturdy.
An effective wall of this type is both stiff and strong. Stiffness alone will not be enough, as the
stiffer something is, the more brittle is becomes; a cracker, for example, is stiff, but no one would
rely on it in an earthquake. Strength alone is also not sufficient, because objects can be extremely
strong, but still very giving. A stiff, strong wall, on the other hand, resists lateral forces while
providing support.
In multi-story structures, shear walls are critical, because in addition to preventing the failure of
exterior walls, they also support the multiple floors of the building, ensuring that they do not
collapse as a result of lateral movement in an earthquake. When a building has a story without
these walls, or with poorly placed ones, it is known as a soft story building, referencing the idea
that the story without reinforcement will be soft and vulnerable in a crisis.
Because these walls are structural in nature, they cannot be moved or cut open. This is an
important issue for homeowners to consider when building a structure from the ground up; it's a
good idea to think about how uses of the space might change, to ensure that this wall does not
become a nuisance later. For people buying a home and thinking about remodeling, finding out
which walls are shear walls and which walls are not is a very wise thing to do before purchase, in
case remodeling plans hinge on the removal of a wall that cannot be touched.

What are the two functions of a shear wall?

o Strength and Stiffness

o Use example of a fishing rod strong enough to pull in a large fish and not stiff
good for fish but not for a house.

The figure shows strength and stiffness

o Strength
Shear walls must provide the necessary lateral strength to resist horizontal
earthquake forces.
When shear walls are strong enough, they will transfer these horizontal
forces to the next element in the load path below them, such as other shear
walls, floors, foundation walls, slabs or footings.
o Stiffness
Shear walls also provide lateral stiffness to prevent the roof or floor above
from excessive side-sway.
When shear walls are stiff enough, they will prevent floor and roof
framing members from moving off their supports.
Also, buildings that are sufficiently stiff will usually suffer less
nonstructural damage.

In reinforced concrete framed structures the effects of wind forces increase in significance as the
structure increases in height. Codes of practice impose limits on horizontal movement or sway.
Limits must be imposed on lateral deflection to prevent:

Limitations on the use of building,

Adverse effects on the behavior of non-load bearing elements,
Degradation in the appearance of the building,
Discomfort for the occupants.

Generally, the relative lateral deflection in any one storey should not exceed the storey height
divided by 500.
The figure below shows the deflected profiles for a shear wall and a rigid frame.

One way to limit the sway of buildings and provide stability is to increase the section sizes of the
members to create a rigid, moment-resisting frame. However, this method increases storey
heights, thus increasing the building cost. It is rarely used for more than 7 or 8 storeys.
Another way is to provide stiff, shear resisting walls liked to a flexible frame. These can be
external walls or internal walls around lift shafts and stair wells (a core) or sometimes both are


Monolithic shear walls are classified as short, squat or cantilever according to their height to
depth ratio.

Generally shear walls are either plane or flanged in section, while core walls consists of channel

In many cases, the wall is pierced by openings. These are called coupled shear walls because they
behave as individual continuous wall sections coupled by the connecting beams or slabs.

Normally the walls are connected directly to the foundations. However, in a few cases where the
lateral loads are relatively small and there no appreciable dynamic effects, then they can be
supported on columns connected by a transfer beam to provide clear space.


The shape and plan position of the shear wall influences the behavior of the structure
considerably. Structurally, the best position for the shear walls is in the centre of each half of the
building. This is rarely practical, however, since it dictates the utilization of the space, so they are
positioned at the ends.

This shape and position of the walls give good flexural stiffness in the short direction, but relies
on the stiffness of the frame in the other direction.
This arrangement provides good flexural stiffness in both directions, but may cause problems
from restraint or shrinkage. As does this arrangement with a single core, but which does not have
the problem from restraint of shrinkage.

However, this arrangement lacks the good torsional stiffness of the previous arrangements due to
the eccentricity of the core.
If the core remains in this position then it must be designed explicitly for the torsion. It is far
preferable to adopt a symmetrical arrangement to avoid this.