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Whether you’re hanging pictures or a new TV, a little wall decor works wonders in making a room feel cohesive and complete. But before you pick up that hammer to put the finishing touches on your space, stop to think about what you’re hanging on.
For securely hanging anything heavy – substantial pictures, wall shelves, a mirror or technical material, for example – you will need to locate a wall stud, a vertical framing piece in your walls, says Rachel Rothman, chief technologist and director of engineering at the Good Housekeeping Institute. Otherwise, whatever you hang won’t have something solid to hang, leaving your room prone to falling out, which can damage your wall in the process.
Here’s how to find a stud in the wall quickly and easily, with or without a stud finder:
1. Locate the nearest light switch or outlet
The most reliable method, finding a light switch or an outlet, says Rothman. Electrical boxes are usually attached to studs, so start by locating the one closest to the area where you want to place something that needs a little extra reinforcement. Then measure 16 inches from there, because wall studs are typically spaced 16 inches apart per code, she explains. (Some are spaced 24 inches apart, you may need to measure twice.)
2. Look for dimples in the wall
Although less reliable than the above method, dimples are a telltale sign of where drywall is attached to the edge of a stud, especially in plaster walls, says Rothman. You can sometimes spot them with the naked eye, but a flashlight can be useful to illuminate the faint dimples in the wall. To try this trick, hold the flashlights vertically, parallel to the wall.
3. Use Windows as a guide
Windows usually have a stud on each side, but finding the edges can be difficult, making this method less reliable than the ones mentioned above, Rothman explains. Yet when all else fails, locate the edge of your window and measure 16 inches from there can help provide general advice.
4. Tap the wall
To check if you have found a stud without damaging your wall, strike or gently tap the area with your hammer, says Rothman. If you hear a hollow or empty sound, press lightly to the left or to the right. When the sound is muffled, you’ll know you’ve hit a stud.
5. Drill a hole
Whichever method you use, you should always confirm your findings before continuing to hang your piece. To do this, drill a hole in the wall. You’ll know you’ve hit wood (an amount!) If you feel resistance.
6. Fish with a metal hook
If you can’t find the stud even after drilling, there is another technique you can try – take a wire hanger and untwist it, shaping it at a right angle. Use your new tool to fish behind the wall, Rothman says. When the wire comes in contact with a firm object, this indicates that you have found a stud.
7. Try a stud finder app
Today there is an app for just about everything – and that includes finding studs. Most stud finder applications are magnetic, which means they rely on your smartphone’s built-in magnetometer to locate metal objects inside the wall. While this can help you find a wall stud, it can also generate a false positive because the app can detect things other than studs, like nails or electrical wires, Rothman explains.
8. Or just use a stud finder!
The easiest way to find a stud: with a stud finder, a portable gadget, like this, that hunts for you. To use a stud finder, decide where you want to hang your item, then position the stud finder in the approximate location where the mounting hardware would be. Hold the tool flat against the wall, sliding it slowly horizontally to the left or right. Depending on your model, it will flash or beep to alert you of a stud.
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