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Installing an Urban Grain Shelving System…

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The workshop has finished building the customer’s shelving system and we have been asked to install them. Seeing the shelving system erected in the workshop allows an understanding of the first installation issues: how big is the system; to what extent will it need to be broken down for ease of transportation and access into the relevant space in the customer’s home; what working space in the customer’s home will be needed to reassemble the system; how many contact points are there for attachment to the wall; how heavy is the unit; is the weight distributed between floor and wall or wall only; is it secure in it’s own right or does it need securing and if so how much to be safe for its usage and it’s environment. If there’s even the remotest chance a child is going to try and climb up it we need to make sure it’s safe as a climbing frame as well as a storage system!
Once we’ve arrived at the customer’s home and managed to catch our breath after carrying the system and many boxes of tools, fixings etc up the undoubtedly many flights of stairs it’s time for a cup of tea (hint, hint) and a chance to assess the space we are working in.
The primary concern is whether all the measurements are ok and that the unit will definitely fit it’s space as planned. The usual culprits that may require on-site adjustment are skirting boards, plug sockets, and radiators. But let’s keep fingers crossed this is going to be straightforward!
The next factor – probably the most important – is what the walls, to which the unit is going to be attached, are made of.
We need to look at exactly where the flanges (the scaffolding piece that attaches to the wall) are going to be fitted. No measurements are as good at doing this as actually constructing the system and putting it in place, making sure it’s all level, and then marking the flange positions.
Our installation fantasy will be exposed solid brick – oh how well the day will go. No possibility of hidden cables or pipes and the knowledge that drilling into brick and then using a suitable rawl-plug and coach screw will give us a good strong fitting that we (never mind a child) can swing off.
Incidentally a coach screw is a type of screw that comes in a variety of sizes but has a hex head (pictured below) which needs to screwed in with a spanner/socket rather than a screwdriver. Other types of screw are just as good particularly if used with a washer – it’s personal preference and we just prefer the look of a coach screw.

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The most often used flange has four holes for screws to go through. Drilling four holes so close together into a single brick gives the possibility that the brick could crumble or shatter. It would also be overkill. We’d be happy with two good fixings per flange into brick but this doesn’t look great cosmetically so I’d try to position the two remaining holes over a mortar line and maybe use a couple of shorter coach screws with smaller rawl-plugs and a shallower drilled hole. Therefore we’ve got two good solid fixings per flange and two less solid but still useful fixings – and we think it looks complete (see photo below).

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The next best option to an exposed brick wall is one which is still solid brick but has been plastered over. It will still give a good solid fitting using the above method but there are a couple of things that need watching for – pipes and wires. In theory these could be hidden anywhere behind the plaster but we can look for clues. Are there plug sockets, light switches or taps directly above or below where we might be drilling? If so – try and avoid. Either way, when drilling, try and be sensitive. The drill will go very easily through the plaster – then stop – tap the drill bit against the next layer you meet. Does it feel solid (hopefully like brick) or does it feel softer or even metallic? If in doubt avoid or widen the hole enough to get more of an idea. It may seem you’re making a mess of a perfectly good plastered finish but it will be a lot less than the mess an electrician or plumber will need to make if they’ve got to cut into the wall to fix a mistake!
Additionally you won’t be able to see whether you’re drilling into brick or mortar – but you should be able to feel it with the drill and you’d be very unlucky to drill more than two holes out of four into mortar. Even if the holes are in mortar you can still get a good fitting but you may have to use longer screws, more than one rawl-plug, and a bit more patience and carefulness.
Plaster board on a stud wall is the next most common and is potentially difficult. You can usually tell what it is by the hollow sound it makes when tapped and the fact that it’s more common on interior non-supporting walls. If the shelving unit is to be mounted on the wall without any floor support we’ve got to proceed with great caution – or if possible avoid. Under the plaster board is usually a wooden frame and sometimes we can get fixings into that but it takes some investigation to find the right places. You can use various types of plaster fittings to get a get a good fitting but if all the weight of the unit is being held by these fittings, all onto plaster board, then you’ve got the chance that the loaded shelving unit will just pull the plasterboard off its wooden frame and you’ll see the whole lot come crashing to the ground. Proceed with caution!
Better with this type of wall is a shelving system that bares its own weight on the floor and just needs a couple of good wall fittings for stability.
There are some good plaster fixings on the market. We prefer the metal “split driva” plaster fittings (see photo below) but be careful to use them as per the manufacturer’s instructions and not to over tighten. And don’t use too many together – spread them around. Popping a few of these into a small area of plasterboard will just perforate it and make it weak. A couple per flange will be enough.

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Again under the plasterboard may be wires, pipes etc. Make a hole of the size that’s needed for your relevant plaster fitting – but be careful to go slowly and drill no further than the plasterboard itself. Then insert a narrower screwdriver into the hole and waggle it around – hopefully you’ll feel anything that may be behind and can avoid as appropriate.
The final type of wall we’re going to describe is “dot and dab” plasterboard normally covering old, uneven brickwork and its potentially the most difficult to attach to. The plaster board has usually been stuck to a brick wall with large “dabs” of plaster cement placed at the board’s corners and centre. The “dabs” are large – allowing a gap between board and brick to compensate for any undulations in the brick work, allowing multiple boards to be flush with other giving an even, flat finish.
We can’t hang onto the plasterboard directly as we can’t rely on it having enough strength. We can drill through the plasterboard, through the void and then into the brick. However the fitting we use has got to be really (!) substantial because it has got to be far enough into the wall to get a really good fix – bearing in mind that the weight is going to be taken a good few cm’s from the brick wall. When the flange is being attached to the wall if the screw/bolt is over tightened the flange has the potential to pull through the plasterboard. Plus if the brick wall was in such a bad shape to require the “dot and dab” method the bricks/mortar may be crumbly and weak.
If you’ve not had experience of fixing to this before we’d advise you get some help as it could be messy and frustrating! A local handy-(wo)man is the best option – they’ll be experienced in all of the above and shouldn’t cost too much.

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