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What is a Door Header?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A door header is a support which is built in above a door, and it may be known simply as a “header.” Windows also have headers. Classically, a door header is about twice as thick as the surrounding framing, and it is supported by the king studs, another integral component of door and window framing. Headers are important for structural integrity, and they are required by law in many regional building codes. The term “header” is also used to describe ornamental molding positioned over the top of a door.

When doors and windows are framed, extra reinforcement is required. There are two reasons for this. The first is that doors and windows are points of structural weakness, because studs must be omitted or moved to accommodate the opening. The second is that doors and windows place strain upon a structure as they are used. Doors in particular are weak points, as the opening and shutting of a door puts strain on the surrounding framing.

Many building codes have specific regulations about how doors should be framed. King studs are run along the side of the frame to provide support and take some of the weight and strain of the door, and the door header bridges the top of the door, supported by the king studs. Some door headers are solid beams which have been chosen for their thickness, while others are made by attaching several pieces of lumber.

Average individuals never see the door header, because it is hidden under the walls, along with the rest of the framing of the house. Door headers can become an issue during renovations, as older homes may have smaller and therefore weaker headers, and headers are at risk of rot, just like other framing components. A contractor may recommend that the door and window headers be replaced when doors and windows are replaced, even if the framing does not need to be redone to accommodate a new door or window.

In the decorative sense, headers run along the tops of doors to make them more visually interesting. Headers are usually made from wood or plaster molding, and they may vary from relatively restrained classical designs to elaborate friezes, depending on the look and feel of the house. Ornamental door headers are typically easy to replace, and changing the ornamental headers can be a great way to change the look of a room without spending a great deal of money on remodeling.

About Mechanics is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon50734 — On Oct 31, 2009

I am removing a door and making the opening from the kitchen to the dining room bigger about eight feet. i have taken the drywall off and want to cut the studs out but it's a load bearing wall and i'm not wanting the bedroom upstairs to be in my kitchen, if you know what i mean! what can i do?

By anon41116 — On Aug 12, 2009

What size of header should I use for a 3ft X 3ft window? 4x8, 4x10 or 4x12? Thanks very much in advance.

By anon30850 — On Apr 25, 2009

I want to put an exterior door where a window is. My total height to the bottom of the header is 81 inches, and as you know, I need about 82. Is it possible to raise the header? this is a basement door (walk-out basement), so the back wall is wood framed. thanks.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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