What is a continuous load path?

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Most people think of the structural failure of a house as collapse. But falling down is only one way a structure can fail, and gravity is not always the culprit. A building can also fail upwards, when a hurricane creates a pressure imbalance that literally sucks off the roof; and it can fail sideways, when high winds cause lateral pressure that makes a gable end wall hinge away from the rest of a wall assembly and fall over.  A earthquake can also put severe lateral and uplift loads on a house. 

    Nails are the traditional connectors for the wood structural components of a house, and they are excellent at keeping wood framing snug and aligned so that the weight of the structure, its furnishings, and occupants can be reliably transferred down to the ground without anything shifting. But nails do not work as well for uplift and lateral loads because they are often in what engineers call “withdrawal,” which means that when these unusual loads are applied they are typically in the opposite direction of the way that the nail was hammered into the wood and the nails simply “pull out” with little resistance.

    To avoid failure of a house structure from uplift and lateral loads each piece, from the roof down to the foundation, must be securely connected together like the links of a chain. This is called a continuous load path and, also like a chain, it is only as strong as its weakest link. 

    An example of a weak link is shown below: a metal anchor strap that connects a roof truss to the wood stud wall below that is secured to the truss with only two nails. The code-required minimum is three nails.

    Both metal connector plates and structural wood panel sheathing are used in a wood stud-framed house to create a continuous load path. The illustration below shows examples of the typical metal connectors to create a secure load path from the base plate up to the roof trusses.    A concrete block house utilizes concrete columns and concrete-filled cells with steel reinforcement running from the foundation/floor slab to the tie beam, then metal connectors to the wood components above it, to tie everything together. 

    Constructing a continuous load path is a building code requirement, and the Institute for Business and Home Safety (IBHS), an insurance industry group, has done extensive research into the best ways to create a continuous load path for home construction. The video below will introduce you to their work. 

    Also, see our blog post Why did so many concrete block homes collapse in Mexico Beach during Hurricane Michael?

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To learn more about exterior walls and structures, see these other blog posts:

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 What causes stair-step cracks in a block or brick wall?

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How can I tell if a diagonal crack in drywall at the corner of a window or door indicates a structural problem?

What causes the surface of old bricks to erode away into sandy powder? 

What are the pros and cons of concrete block versus wood frame construction?

Should I buy a house with a crawl space? 

Why is my stucco cracking?

There's cracks running along the home's concrete tie beam. What's wrong? 

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How do I recognize serious structural problems in a house?

What is engineered wood siding?

Should I buy a house that has had foundation repair? 

Should I buy a house with asbestos siding?   

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What do you look for when inspecting vinyl siding?

Why is housewrap installed on exterior walls under the siding? 

How do I recognize serious structural problems in a house?

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Should I buy a house with structural problems? 

What are those powdery white areas on my brick walls?

What causes cracks in the walls and floors of a house?

How can I tell if the exterior walls of a house are concrete block (CBS) or wood or brick?

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• What are the warning signs of a dangerous deck?

How can I tell whether my house foundation problems are caused by a sinkhole or expansive clay soil?

        Visit our EXTERIOR WALLS AND STRUCTURE page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles. 


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