How to Select and Install Shelves

The kitchen in my house has a closeted area for laundry, where the washer and dryer take up the floor space. But there's 50 square feet (5' wide x 4' high x 2.5' deep) of space above the washer and dryer that was going unused. So, I started researching shelving systems. I began online at Home Depot, Lowe's, etc. But this isn't something you can do online unless you've worked with that exact system previously and know exactly what to order. After speaking with someone at the local Home Depot, I ended up going with a ClosetMaid ShelfTrack system that has several parts that all need to be coordinated carefully to get a working system. That is the system I will describe in detail in this post. But I'll also allude to other options.

First, note that this is a system especially suited for situations like mine where you're working exclusively within the top half of the space between the ceiling and the floor. Here is the component list for the ClosetMaid ShelfTrack system, also referred to ClosetMaid's web site as Adjustable Mount Hardware.

Shelf End Caps
Hang Track
Superslide Shelf

  • Hang Tracks. Installed horizontally near the top of the shelving area. Create one-step leveling and prevent the need to level each standard separately. The length of the Hang Track should be as much a as possible without exceeding the length of the space in which you plan to install the shelving system.
  • Standards. Installed vertically. The notches at the top of the standards fish tail with the Hang Tracks so that the Standards lock into and hang from the Hang Tracks. The height of the Standards should be a much as possible without exceeding the height of the space in which you plan to install the shelving system.
  • Wire Shelving Brackets. Attach to the Standard at the desired height and spacing such that Brackets sit parallel to the floor and support the shelves. The Bracket size (e.g. 16'') should match the depth of the Shelves you intend to install.
  • Superslide Shelf. There are several kinds of CloseMaid Wire Shelves that can sit on top of the Brackets. Superslide Shelf is the one that seemed most appropriate for my purpose. Shelves come in fixed lengths. So, I had to buy a 72'' Shelf and have it cut down to 60''. And when you cut a shelf, you end up with sharp edges at the cut end. So, it's best to cover up those sharp edges with Shelf End Caps. (I did consider wood shelves but somehow could not find the right size. Also, the CloseMaid Wire Shelves snap onto the back of the Brackets so that they don't move around once they placed on the Brackets.)
This system cost me around $150.

Wall Clips
Wall Brackets

Support  Bracket

At this point I should mention a major alternative, suitable for situations where you're only planning on one or shelves and aren't worried about being able to adjust the height. Fittingly, this is the system listed under ClosetMaid Fixed Mount Hardware. Broadly, it consists of Wire Shelves and the following.

  • Wall Clips. These are used for attaching the back of the Wire Shelves to the wall.
  • Wall Brackets. These are used for attaching the front of the Wire Shelves sideways to the wall.
  • Support Brackets. The top end attaches to the front lip of the Wire Shelves and the bottom end is screwed into the wall. 

Although picking a shelving system and buying the right shelving components that fit well together is hard enough, the part that stumps most people is the correct methodology for screwing these pieces into the wall. In most Western houses, walls are erected by screwing sheets of dry wall to wood or steel frames setup along the perimeter of each room. The frame is typically made up of 1" x 2'' or 2'' x 4'' slabs of wood, also known as studs. Whenever possible, you want your screw to go into a stud so that it will be more secure and will support enough weight. However, locating studs isn't easy and involves either knocking on the dry wall to use the change in sound to detect the existence of studs or the use of a stud detector ($10 to $50, depending on the level of sophistication). And when you're installing something horizontally (as is the case for our Hang Track) you will be lucky if you're able to line up one or two of the 6 screws with a stud. The remaining screws will go into dry wall, also known as hollow dry wall. And this where most people get stumped. If you use regular wood screws to screw your Hang Track into dry wall, the Hang Track will not have must support and will come down like a house of cards as soon as you put some weight on your shelves.

Dry Wall Installation

So, an entire cottage industry has evolved for coming up with creative ideas on how to more successfully drive screws into dry wall (and have them stay there). The primary choices are as follows.

Dry Wall Screw With Anchor
Dry Wall Screw With Self-Drilling Anchor
Dry Wall Toggle Bolt
Dry Wall Screws (Hybrid or Triple)
Dry Wall Screw (Anchor-less)
  • Dry Wall Screws With Anchors. You first drill a pilot hole and tap the anchor into the dry wall with a hammer. Then, as you rotate the screw into the anchor, the anchor typically expands on the other side the dry wall, thereby locking the screw in. These are cheaper and are a good choice for low load situations, e.g. if all you're planning to put on the shelves is pillows.
  • Dry Wall Screws With Self-Drilling Anchors. This is a bear claw style anchor (as opposed to the expanding style) and has the advantage of not requiring a pilot hole to be drilled first. You just drill in the anchor and then put in the screw. These are more expensive and are a good choice for high load situations, e.g. if you're planning on loading the shelves with cans of soup or books.
  • Dry Wall Toggle Bolt. This is actually a bolt with spring-loaded wings that expand once they get past the dry wall. As you continue to screw in the bolt the wings will eventually be flush with the other end of the dry wall and will lock the bolt in place.
  • Dry Wall Screws (Anchor-less). This is an all-in-one option that is typically best for situations where the leading half of the screw is going into a stud. However, it may not work in many situations because the hole in the part you're trying to screw into the wall isn't wide enough for this type of screw.
  • Dry Wall Screws Hybrids. Sometimes also known as triples, these are futuristic looking anchors (generally plastic) that implement multiple locking strategies as described above.
Here's how my ClosetMaid ShelfTrack system looks fully assembled (except for the rod at the front, which is handy in case you wish to hang clothes -- but I didn't need to).

I hope you found this useful. Happy shelving!


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