Bookcase room divider
January 1, 2016 6:33 PM   Subscribe

How can I use bookcases as a room divider safely in earthquake country?

I live in an earthquake zone. I am wanting to use 80"x31" Billy bookcases as a room divider. I had been thinking I would secure the first one to the wall and then use wood to back them and to run along the top to make it more secure. Would that be enough to make it secure? A friend told me that she would be worried that, in an earthquake, twisting and shaking would make the 3 bookcases come apart and fall. I have kids and want to use the bookcases to create a sleeping area. Is something going off perpendicularly like that just a big no-no? A friend suggested using airplane cable to the ceiling, but I have a popcorn ceiling, so that wouldn't be safe.

Any advice on how to secure things would be helpful. I looked at some past questions/answers, but they didn't address using three Billy bookcases, nor the earthquake issue.

I looked at Kallax (Expedit's replacement), but it's so short that there isn't much privacy, even if I added backer board. These Billy bookcases would be perfect, if I can get them to be safe. I've already bought them, but, if they are not safe at all, I can use them in other rooms, if need be.

There was a very minor (<5) earthquake here the day I bought these bookcases (!) and so I've been stuck about thoughts of this since.
posted by acoutu to Home & Garden (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you put in a post or two attached with brackets at the floor and ceiling, and then attach the Billys to the posts? I'd probably go with one at the free end and one where the two Billys meet.
posted by ctmf at 6:51 PM on January 1, 2016

Actual floor and ceiling joists, I mean, which would involve messing with the flooring and popcorn ceiling finish. If you're renting, that's probably not something your landlord would be crazy about.
posted by ctmf at 6:52 PM on January 1, 2016

I can't attach anything to the ceiling and I shouldn't touch the popcorn, because it is asbestos. And if I start using posts and things, it will cease to be furniture, which will cause problems.
posted by acoutu at 6:55 PM on January 1, 2016

My father, also in earthquake country, has solid wood bookcases set up as "stacks," much like you're proposing. The bookcases are freestanding, but are a) secured at the top via crown moldings, and b) stabilized at the bottom by being set into separate wooden bases. I'd be concerned that bookcases bolted at one end into the studs* would simply shear during a quake (especially the Billy bookcases) unless there were additional floor and ceiling braces.

* My own are set up that way, but I'm not in an earthquake-prone region.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:56 PM on January 1, 2016

If you can't attach them to anything, the answer is almost certainly "no". Particle-board bookcases with floating shelves, particularly no. Screws into cheap particle board will just shear out in an earthquake.

I'd consider a privacy screen instead.
posted by mhoye at 7:03 PM on January 1, 2016 [7 favorites]

Ugh, I wanted to wait for others to post, because I didn't want to be a negative nelly - but also being in earthquake country and having had many a Billy Bookcase in my life, this makes me nervous as hell. Would you consider a more squat bookcase (so it wasn't as top heavy) that you could attach the sides to the walls.

I appreciate wanting the bookcases for storage too, but having your kids sleep right under a pile of books during an earthquake isn't a great idea either. Would you consider a privacy screen or curtain instead?
posted by Toddles at 7:09 PM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I wasn't going to put anything in the bookcases above the third-way or half-way mark. It is just to create privacy, as I'd be scared things would fall out. I wasn't even going to put shelves above half-way.

I don't have a way to attach a curtain.

My child wrecked the screens I had and has a strong need to have non-see-through walls. PM if important.

I am concerned about the earthquake issue also.
posted by acoutu at 7:13 PM on January 1, 2016

For a truly lightweight option, what about running Ikea curtainwire (or similar from another store, there's nothing special about it) from one wall to the other and hanging a curtain from it? As long as you are allowed to put a screwhole in each wall, this would work. Bookcase dividers are nice but I agree with the concerns about how to anchor them without attaching to the floor or ceiling.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:24 PM on January 1, 2016 [4 favorites]

What about short bookcases (like the Kallax) back to back with a lightweight privacy screen like this one wedged between them?
posted by Night_owl at 7:28 PM on January 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can you use low bookcases and build a screen attached to the shelves without touching the ceiling? Put several vertical boards up from the shelving, add crossbars, then staple/glue fabric or fabric-covered foamboard to the framework.

On preview, running a curtain across the room /over the low bookcases would also work.
posted by maudlin at 7:29 PM on January 1, 2016 [3 favorites]

I don't think this would be safe even in non-earthquake country. Someone falling against a tall bookshelf set up like this could knock it over, even if it was reinforced.
posted by gnutron at 7:31 PM on January 1, 2016 [2 favorites]

The kallax shelves have the advantage of being wider plus if you use the drona boxes on the bottom shelf you can make them more stable by filling the bottom row with heavy things. They won't be as tall as the billy bookcases but if someone is laying down in the sleeping area the height for privacy doesn't need to be as high. I agree with those who say that the billy cases wouldn't be stable even in non earthquake country (which I am in).
posted by kitten magic at 7:45 PM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

OK. Because a family member started on this and there has been some attachment of things to one wall, I am wondering if it might be safe to have just one Billy attached perpendicularly and only put stuff at the bottom. Or have two. Then maybe I can do the half bookcases or a curtain across or something. It's a really long run. 15'.
posted by acoutu at 7:45 PM on January 1, 2016

The Ikea curtainwire is almost 16.5 feet, so it might work in your space. Either on its own or between and above the bookcase(s). Your kids maybe could even help pick out the curtain material.
posted by primate moon at 8:22 PM on January 1, 2016

I am wondering if it might be safe to have just one Billy attached perpendicularly and only put stuff at the bottom. Or have two. Then maybe I can do the half bookcases or a curtain across or something. It's a really long run. 15'.

Personally I'd be fine with a bookcase on either side attached to the wall, and a curtain between them. But I'm not a structural engineer or an expert in earthquake safety in any way, so adjust accordingly. A lot depends on where the beds are relative to the bookcases, too.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:24 PM on January 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

In a similar situation (trying to divide a room without attaching anything to the ceiling), I used two POS sign stands similar to ones in department stores, extended them to full height (around 7 feet tall), and ran a curtain rod between them.

(Here's what the POS stands look like).
posted by Umami Dearest at 10:54 PM on January 1, 2016 [5 favorites]

Can you bolt them to the floor?
posted by DarlingBri at 11:07 PM on January 1, 2016

i have ikea shelves as a room divider (and they survived the chile 8.3 in 2010), but i (1) used hejne, which bolt together in a very permanent way and (2) have a "corner" section" which i cannot find on the ikea site, and which may no longer be available, that connects to more shelves to make an "L". the final L-shaped "unit" is very solid.

also, the hejne (or whatever similar thing i bought, 10-15 years ago) is unfinished pine. so it all looks a little crude, which may not be your thing. you can sand and paint/varnish it, of course.

(even so, you mention children and a sleeping area. in a strong quake you'd have things falling off the shelves - would they land on the children?)
posted by andrewcooke at 3:50 AM on January 2, 2016

The closest current match for Hejne is the Ivar system. They have corner shelves, too. But the L would take more space than a row of shelves, and I'm not convinced it would be that sturdy. I remember my old Ivar shelves as being a bit wobbly.
posted by maudlin at 10:41 AM on January 2, 2016

I can't bolt anything to the floor.

I wasn't planning to put anything above the half-way or third-way mark for shelves. I was really just going to use this to divide the room and maybe my child would put a few things on the bottom.

Would one bookcase be sturdy enough? Assume I don't put anything on it and I'm simply using it for privacy.

I live in Vancouver, not California. So earthquakes are very infrequent, but I also don't want to be stupid.
posted by acoutu at 11:35 AM on January 2, 2016

that ivar corner does look weak. mine is less an extra corner than "normal" shelves with one end cut at 45 degrees (and all fastened together with what i remember as 3" bolts).
posted by andrewcooke at 12:09 PM on January 2, 2016

I like the IKEA curtainwire and have used it in a couple apartments. However, with a run that long you're going to need to install one - preferably two - supports in the ceiling along the way. Also, to keep the wire taut requires quite a bit of force - more like 3-4 screws that must be in a stud or they'll rip out of the drywall.
posted by bendy at 5:37 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's a thing, cattle panel. You can use them as a reinforcement to a bookcase/rooom divider. Cut out portions on either side as necessary.
posted by yesster at 8:08 PM on January 2, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks. I had an engineer I know look at it and take into account comments here. They did a bunch of calculations and looked at the centre of gravity put a whole bunch of things in place - but I didn't use 3 bookcases and, as noted, I won't be using the full bookcase or putting shelves above half way. I had no idea sine was so useful and wish someone had told me I'd need it for this in high school!
posted by acoutu at 10:47 AM on January 4, 2016 [1 favorite]

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