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We are trying to add bookshelves onto our apartment wall; specifically, elfa system shelves (site is in Swedish, but I'm sure you can get the gist based on the photos). However, we are somewhat concerned as to whether or not the wall can support the shelves.

Our concern, however, is that the wall itself may not be ideal to mount into. It is built over the brick exterior of the building with approximately 5cm of empty space between the plaster wall and the brick. The drywall itself, unfortunately, does not run all the way to the ground: due to a water pipe that runs along the floor to a radiator, the plaster doesn't sit directly on the ground, nor on anything, really.

A sketch of the base of the wall A photo of the underside

We have used a stud finder, but what it has found is... inconclusive. We could not really consistently find any indication of what the plaster is mounted on that we could use to also mount our shelves into, and so our only hope would be to mount the shelves directly into the drywall.

We are aiming to mount the rails with these kind of drywall anchors, but the concern of course is that I assume any description of how much weight they can support is predicated under the assumption that the drywall itself is well-supported. Unfortunately, we can't really tell if that is the case or not.

Our questions are the following:

  • Is possible and safe to mount bookshelves directly into the drywall?
  • If not directly, is there something we can do the help support the shelves?
  • More generally, how can we get a sense of how much weight can be safely supported?

We should not that this shelf would be above our living room couch, so since we don't relish the idea of always wearing safety gear while relaxing, we want to ensure that our shelves will be stable enough.

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Not possible by just going into drywall. The achors are not designed to bear that kind of load. The reason this won't work is because of torque. Drywall anchors are designed to support loads that are very near the wall (i.e. pulling, more or less, straight down along the wall). Your shelf will probably have the load offset from the wall by a few inches, which will eventually pull the anchors out of the wall. This is because of torque. The farther you go from the wall the more torque you have. While the shelf may hold for a while I would not trust it.

The torque on the anchors can be mitigated by putting in angle brackets. These effectively redirect the load from the edge of the shelf back to the wall. This is better, but I still wouldn't trust this shelf unless it is secured into something more than drywall.

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  • I assume that you mean either molly or toggle bolts (according to this article: howtogeek.com/319669/…), when you are talking about angle brackets? Or are you talking about L-shaped brackets that support shelves? – Simon Rose Jan 24 at 15:37
  • I meant something like these: homedepot.com/p/…. It's important to have the diagonal piece since that transfers the load directly to the wall. If you are set on doing this then maybe a combination of this and boards running down the wall (as suggested by JACK) would be best. The boards will help distribute the load over more drywall, which helps. That said, I still wouldn't do it. – tnknepp Jan 24 at 18:45
  • Ok, that's what I thought you may have meant. I may be wrong, but I think that the shelving system is meant to serve the same purpose: it's a rail that you attach to the wall, and then the brackets to support the shelves snap into that. I believe that that should solve the torque issue that you raise. – Simon Rose Jan 24 at 19:46
  • However, I admit that it sounds like our concerns about whether or not the wall can support this weight are somewhat well-founded (unlike the wall!). – Simon Rose Jan 24 at 19:47
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I am doubtful of the ability of your wall to carry the load of elfa shelves for any load, but especially for books. I think books are so heavy that they should be in a bookcase supported by the floor.

I have installed a lot of elfa in the US in old 1/2" drywall nailed to wooden 2x4" studs spaced 24" apart. I always tried to go into as many studs as possible and would drill extra holes in the rails to secure to a stud. I did also use the drywall anchors.

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I have installed book shelves into properly installed drywall using those same anchors you're planning on using. I did drill extra holes in the supports to attach to the walls though. Those anchors are good for 40 pounds of holding power. Ideally, going into studs are preferable.

Your problem is you have no idea how that drywall was installed. It appears to be a facade and not well supported. There's no way we can tell that from here. You could get some 1"x4" planks and run them from the ceiling to the floor and use 3" Tapcons to attach them through the drywall into the brick wall. Then mount your shelf brackets to the planks.

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  • Are you suggesting putting the planks behind the drywall? We don't easily have access to that without tearing down the drywall in the first place, so at that point we may as well just rebuild the wall correctly :D – Simon Rose Jan 24 at 16:07
  • @SimonRose No, on the surface of the wall and then paint them to match the wall of brackets. – JACK Jan 24 at 16:19

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