BRACE FOR IMPACT! Bracing Design for Cold-Formed Steel Studs

While consideration of bracing is important for any structural element, this is especially true for thin, singly symmetric cold-formed steel (CFS) framing members such as wall studs. Without proper consideration of bracing, excessive buckling or even failure could occur. Bracing is required to resist buckling due to axial or out-of-plane lateral loads or a combination of the two.

There are two methods for bracing CFS studs as prescribed by the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) Committee on Framing Standards (COFS) S211 “North American Standard for Cold-Formed Steel Framing – Wall Stud Design” Section B1. One is sheathing braced design and the other is steel braced design.

Sheathing braced design has limitations, but it is a cost effective method of bracing studs since sheathing is typically attached to wall studs. This design method is based on an assumption that the sheathing connections to the stud are the bracing points and so it’s limited by the strength of the sheathing fastener to stud connection. Due to this limitation, the Designer has to use a steel braced design for most practical situations. AISI S211 prescribes a maximum nominal stud axial load for gypsum board sheathing with fasteners spaced no more than 12 inches on center. AISI S211 Section B1 and the Commentary discuss the design method and assumptions and demonstrate how to determine the sheathing bracing strength.

CFS Curtain Wall Stud Steel Clip and Bridging Bracing
CFS Curtain Wall Stud Steel Clip and Bridging Bracing

Sheathing braced design requires that identical sheathing is used on each side of the wall stud, except the new AISI S240 standard Section B1.2.2.3 clarifies that for curtain wall studs it is permissible to have sheathing on one side and discrete bracing for the other flange not spaced further than 8 feet on center. The wall stud is connected to the top and bottom tracks or supporting members to provide lateral and torsional support and the construction drawings should note that the sheathing is a structural element. When the sheathing on either side is not identical, the Designer must assume the weaker of the two sheathings is attached to each side. In addition, the Designer is required to design the wall studs without the sheathing for the load combination 1.2D + (0.5L or 0.2S) + 0.2W as a consideration for construction loads of removed or ineffective sheathing. The Designer should neglect the rotational restraint of the sheathing when determining the wall stud flexural strength and is limited by the AISI S100 Section C5.1 interaction equations for designing a wall stud under combined axial and flexural loading.

Steel braced design may use the design methodology shown in AISI S211 or in AISI Committee on Specifications (COS) S100 “North American Specification for the Design of Cold-Formed Steel Structural Members.”

AISI S211 Table B1-1 Maximum Axial Nominal Load Limited by Gypsum Sheathing-to-Wall Stud Connection Capacity
AISI S211 Table B1-1 Maximum Axial Nominal Load Limited by Gypsum Sheathing-to-Wall Stud Connection Capacity

Steel braced design is typically either non-proprietary or proprietary “clip and bridging” bracing, or “flat strap and blocking” bracing periodically spaced along the height of the wall stud.

CFS Wall Stud Steel U-Channel Bridging Bracing
CFS Wall Stud Steel U-Channel Bridging Bracing
CFS Wall Stud Steel Flat-Strap Bracing and Blocking Bracing
CFS Wall Stud Steel Flat-Strap Bracing and Blocking Bracing

Proprietary wall bracing and wall stud design solutions can expedite design with load and stiffness tables and software as well as offer efficient, tested and code-listed solutions such as Simpson Strong-Tie wall stud bridging connectors.

Simpson Strong-Tie Bridging Connectors
Simpson Strong-Tie Bridging Connectors

Steel braced design is a more practical bracing method for several reasons. First, during construction, wall studs go unsheathed for many months, but are subjected to significant construction loads.This is especially true for load-bearing, mid-rise structures. Second, some sheathing products, including gypsum wallboard, can be easily damaged and rendered ineffective if subjected to water or moisture. Third, much higher bracing loads can be achieved using mechanical bracing. IBC Section 2211.4 permits Designers to design steel bracing for axially loaded studs using AISI S100 or S211. However, S100-07 requires the brace to be designed to resist not only 1% of the stud nominal axial compressive strength (S100-12 changes this to 1% of the required compressive axial strength), but also requires a certain brace stiffness. S211 requires the Designer to design the bracing for 2% of the stud design compression force, and it does not have a stiffness requirement. . AISI S100 is silent regarding combined loading, but S211 provides guidance. S211 requires that, for combined loading, the Designer designs for the combined brace force determined using S100 Section D3.2.1 for the flexural load in the stud and either S100 or S211 for the axial load. In addition, the bracing force for stud bracing is accumulative as stated by S211 Commentary section B3. As a result, the periodic anchorage of the bracing to the structure such as strongbacks or diagonal strap bracing is required.

CFS Wall Stud Diagonal Strap Steel Bracing Anchorage
CFS Wall Stud Diagonal Strap Steel Bracing Anchorage

Some benefits and challenges of steel clip and bridging bracing include:

  • Proprietary solutions, such as the Simpson Strong-Tie SUBH bridging connector, can significantly reduce installed cost since many situations require only one screw at each connection.
  • Unlike strap bracing, u-channel bracing can be installed from one side of the wall.
  • U-channel bracing does not create build-up that can make drywall finishing more difficult.
  • Extra coordination may be required to ensure that u-channel bridging does not interfere with plumbing and electrical services that run vertically in the stud bay.
  • Bracing for axial loaded studs requires periodic anchorage to the structure, such as using strongbacks or diagonal strap bracing.
  • Bracing of laterally loaded studs does not require periodic anchorage since the system is in equilibrium as torsion in the stud is resisted by bridging (e.g., U-channel) bending.

Some benefits and challenges of steel flat strap and blocking bracing include:

  • May be installed at other locations than stud punchout.
  • Required to be installed on both sides of wall.
  • Bumps out sheathing.
  • Bracing for axial loaded studs requires periodic anchorage to structure, such as using strongbacks or diagonal strap bracing (same load direction in stud flanges).
  • Bracing for laterally loaded studs requires design of periodic blocking or periodic anchorage to the structure (opposite load direction in stud flanges).

There are several good examples Designers may reference when designing CFS wall stud bracing. They include AISI D110 Cold-Formed Steel Framing Design Guide that may be purchased from www.cfsei.org, SEAOC Structural/Seismic Design Manual Volume 2 Example 3 that may be purchased from www.seaoc.org, and the Simpson Strong-Tie wall stud steel bracing design example on page 60 of the C-CFS-15 CFS catalog.

AISI S110 Cold-Formed Steel Framing Design Guide
AISI S110 Cold-Formed Steel Framing Design Guide
SEAOC 2012 IBC Structural/Seismic Design Manual Volume 2
SEAOC 2012 IBC Structural/Seismic Design Manual Volume 2

Cold-formed steel framing is a versatile construction material, but Designers need to carefully consider the bracing requirements of the AISI specification and wall stud design standard. What cold-formed steel wall bracing challenges have you encountered and what were your solutions?

Jeff Ellis

Author: Jeff Ellis

I’m a licensed Civil and Structural Engineer in California, Hawaii and Illinois with 25 years of experience. Prior to coming to Simpson Strong-Tie in 2000, I was a practicing design engineer for small and large commercial, institutional, residential and forensic projects designing with wood, cold-formed steel, structural steel, masonry and concrete for more than nine years. I’ve been working at Simpson Strong-Tie for 16 years beginning as a branch engineer for the southwest regional offices. Later, I served as a senior engineering project manager, and then in a dual role as code-report manager for the company and branch engineering manager for the southwest regional offices. Currently I’m the Director of Codes & Compliance and manage Simpson Strong-Tie’s code reports and our participation in the codes, standards and technical groups, as well as working on special projects such as product and system development and enhancement. I’ve had the honor and good fortune to participate in several industry organizations over the years – for example, as a board director and president of the Structural Engineers Association of Southern California (SEAOSC), a board director of SEAOC, a California Building Officials (CALBO) Structural Safety Committee member, and a member of the International Code Council Evaluation Service (ICC-ES) Board of Managers. Also I’ve served as chairman of the AISI Committee on Framing Standards (COFS) Lateral Design Subcommittee for several years and as president of the Cold-Formed Steel Engineers Institute (CFSEI). In addition, I was the primary author of the CFSEI “Cold-Formed Steel Framed Wood Panel or Steel Sheet Sheathed Shear Wall Assemblies Design Guide,” which was published in 2009. I’ve truly been blessed to work with so many talented, dedicated and passionate folks here at Simpson Strong-Tie, as well as within the larger industry.