How to Select Correct Shelf Heights and Support Spacing

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    Tips for Correct Shelf Spans and Spacing

    White Dishes
    Shelf support spans are limited to by the shelf material being used. Jill Chen/E+/Getty Images

    Installing a shelf in your home or apartment is a popular home repair project that seems simple until you try to install one. In order to avoid sagging shelves you need to know the relative span limitations of different shelving materials.

    And don't forget to use the proper wall anchors if you cannot fasten the support directly into a wall stud.

    The span limit is the MAXIMUM distance you can place the shelving supports. Glass, particle board, lumber, plywood and other shelving material options...MORE can have span limitations between supports ranging from 18” to almost 5 feet! Books are usually the heaviest items you’ll put across the shelves so knowing the basic span capabilities of your shelving material when supporting books is useful so your shelving is not, well, overextended.

    The following information will identify recommended shelving spans and also the recommended height or distance between shelves for common storage items such as books and media.

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    Recommended Shelving Span for Various Materials

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    Select wall shelf spacing and height based on the shelf material and item being stored. fotolia

    Different materials have different strengths and spanning capabilities. The following list identifies different materials and their spanning distance ability assuming a load of standard hardback books.

    Plywood (¾”)
    Longest Span: 36”

    Nominal 1” thick lumber (actually ¾”) by 10”
    Longest Span: 24”

    Particleboard (5/8” to ¾”)
    Longest Span: 24” to 28”

    Nominal 2x10 lumber
    Longest Span: 48”

    Nominal 2x12 lumber
    Longest Span: 56”

    Glass (3/8”)
    Longest Span: 18”

    Acrylic (1/2”)
    Longest Span: 20”-24”

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  • 03 of 03

    Recommended Shelf Height Spacing for Various Items

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    Different media requires different shelf height spacing. fotolia

    Not all print and digital media is the same height of course, so use the following guidelines for clear bottom of shelf to underside of top shelf dimensions if you plan on storing any of these items.

    Paperback Books
    Clear Shelf Height: 8”

    Hardback Books
    Clear Shelf Height: 11”

    Large Hardback / Coffee Table Books / Catalog Books
    Clear Shelf Height: 14”

    Clear Shelf Height: 14”

    CD / Compact Discs
    Clear Shelf Height: 5”

    Clear Shelf Height: 8”