I've been building load bearing walls with the header located at the top of the desired window or door opening, but have had a couple people comment on how I should be putting the header directly below the top plate to save time. I find it actually takes more time to come back later and toenail a horizontal 2x6 exactly where I want the window or door opening to be and then later curse myself when I want to attach j channel or 5/4 trim on the top portion of the window since the window flange uses up most of the 2x6 I have used for the opening.

It seems this doesn't matter in terms of structural support as long as people put in the cripples below the plate and above the header to connect the load transfer.

Is there any other reason I should consider keeping the headers at the very top of the walls? I did read that span ratings vary if the header is connected to the top plate vs only connected to the king stud and cripples.

  • Both answers below seem correct. I was always asked to put the header right above the window and cripplers for the space above. This as mentioned requires less material in regards to king studs and making up the height and as mentioned, fixing decorative hardware for the windows. Oct 7, 2019 at 17:23
  • When framing 8' walls, do you still do this? Or do you just use a larger header so the window or door would just set in under the header? I hate cutting the cripple squash blocks and trying to get them in without splitting.
    – CCCBuilder
    Oct 8, 2019 at 12:49
  • Did you ever get this resolved? If so, please give a check-mark to the answer that helped you the most, or write up your own answer explaining what you did to get it fixed and give yourself a check mark. That will help others with this kind of problem know that this has a resolution and is a good place to look for their answer.
    – FreeMan
    Aug 15, 2020 at 18:44

4 Answers 4


I was taught to put them slightly above the opening and blocking between the header and top plate. But have seen others do it at the top. For a small opening I doubt that it matters but for larger windows I would want my header close to the window for stability especially in a windy area.

  • So on an 8' wall you wind up cutting the cripples that range from 3 to 6 inches? Or do you use larger headers?
    – CCCBuilder
    Oct 8, 2019 at 12:51
  • The headers I use are sized for the width of the opening. On sliding doors for instance because of the wider span the header fills the space with just enough space to rough in the door frame.
    – Ed Beal
    Oct 8, 2019 at 13:44
  • Ed, doing this means most windows, those in range of 2'-3' in a triple lumber scenario with snow load of 30-35 psf means your average window header is only needing to be a triple 2x6. If that's the case then you'd still have 6" of cripples above/below the header. Are you in a higher snow load area requiring use of 2x10 for most windows? I'm thinking about using 2x12 material only on the next house. Or 2x10 with two horizontal 2x6's to get proper window height.
    – CCCBuilder
    Oct 12, 2019 at 14:43
  • We do have unusual years of snow , last year I lost ~120’ of roof on my barn. Not the main barn but the 16’ extension along the side. I changed the slope by eliminating 2’ of clear panels for light this increased the slope and prevents the snow from dropping that 2’ and piling up quickly(that’s what caused the collapse. I usually use doubled 2x8 + plywood for most windows better safe than sorry.
    – Ed Beal
    Oct 12, 2019 at 15:14
  • Dang! On this specific home I have used 2x8 for everything thinking it would make life easier. Nailing the spacer/cripple blocks to get the window the same height as the doors has been pure frustration. I frame with doug-fir studs because I can get a bunk with only 10-15% waste versus the locally sold pine/spruce mix studs where easily 25% are waste. The one issue is any blocks less than 6" are almost guaranteed to split since it's harder wood and I'm using .131 x 3" or 3-1/4" nails. That is what lead to this question, debating how smart 2x12 headers throughout would be on the next job...
    – CCCBuilder
    Oct 12, 2019 at 16:28

This is entirely a matter of personal preference in most cases, coming down to your workflow and jobsite conditions.

Potential benefits to low headers:

  • Better lateral stability for long openings (wind flex, door slam wiggle)
  • Better backing for curtains, etc.
  • Easier wall lifting (lower center of gravity)
  • Less lumber used (long openings call for doubled plates at top of R.O. if header is high)

Potential benefits to high headers:

  • Flexibility in rough-opening size and height when specs aren't yet known
  • Better lateral stability (and therefore higher load limits) due to anchorage into floor or roof system

Another potential benefit to a higher header is greater ease if you ever need to change the window under it. If you're doing temporary work or just know that down the line you might have other plans for the space.

Raising a header would be much more work than adjusting some jack studs.


The purpose of the header in a load bearing wall is actually to support the top plate over the span created...so the header on a load bearing wall you always abut (go up against) the top plate. The top plate in a load bearing wall, and the load that it bears, will not be supported properly if you drop the header away from the top plate.

  • 3
    Don't the cripples support the top plate and cause it to bear on the header? Got some references that support your statement?
    – FreeMan
    Nov 16, 2022 at 12:26
  • @FreeMan Absolutely they do, I've done lots of framing since this original question I posted. Ideally the header goes up top to keep things simple but on a 10' wall with a 6'8" door, I like the header above that standard door opening for example as more meat/deadweight. Not required, but the door rattles less lol.
    – CCCBuilder
    Jul 14, 2023 at 22:51
  • That was my point, @CCCBuilder. The cripple studs, between the top plate and the header will support the top plate exactly the same way the full studs to the left & right of the header will support the top plate where there is no header. I was questioning the logic in this answer, as I believe it to be incorrect.
    – FreeMan
    Jul 15, 2023 at 11:27

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