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Planning to Build a Climbing Wall

Establish Training Objectives. To start the planning phase, you need to define your objectives, or why you need a climbing wall. This is key to developing your plan to build a climbing wall.

Find a Location. The key to developing the plan to build a climbing wall is to find a good location. You can adjust the size to fit the location. If space is a problem, you can still plan and make a pretty awesome campus board with just 4 X 8-foot panel on part of a wall. Smaller walls can be just as useful for your training. Be creative. Imitate rock shapes, design curves, turns, angles and other interesting shapes. Read about defining your training in the section on Training Plans.

Define Training Needs. What type of training do you need from the climbing wall you are planning to build--generally, if endurance, keep it vertical; if strength use overhangs. Consider specific muscle groups, balance. After defining your objectives, visualize basic shapes that meet these goals. Picture shapes, sizes, overhangs, angles that will make your wall interesting. Blend objectives, available area, funding, and your building/construction trades experience into a realistic mental plan to build the climbing wall.

Example 1: Model Climbing WallBuild a Model. The plan to build a climbing wall will come from the model. Form the climbing wall's shape with the model. This is a creative planning process. The results of this phase should be general. By contrast, the design phase deals with specific and quantifiable aspects. Measurements, calculating quantities, sizes, dimensions are all aspects of design. The design phase is not creative, but analytical. It is helpful to consider the planning phase separately to avoid losing a lot of time with the details of design. Treating planning separate from design will help avoid redoing calculations if you need to change the basic concept later.

Example 2: Model Climbing WallTake some measurements of the site. Get the height, length and width. If necessary, adjust the plan to a realistic size so you have enough assembly and workspace when you start building the climbing wall. Using the measurements of the site, build a scale model. Use a heavy poster board or construction paper. build the model to an easy scale to convert. If you are using feet and inches, a good scale is 1" = 1'. The scale or units of measure are not too important, as long as the model size is easy to work on and visualize. Poster board can be easily shaped, but don't cheat and bend it to "make" angles fit. 3/4" plywood won't be so forgiving. Building a scale model is very important. Climbing Walls are three-dimensional but on paper, plans for a climbing wall are two-dimensional. It is difficult to develop a basic concept of a three-dimensional shape by using two a dimensional paper drawing. In the planning stages, a three dimensional model is a very good way to develop the overall conceptual plan to build the climbing wall. The climbing wall model will help refine the details, will help you visualize the finished wall, may highlight some conceptual flaws that may not have occurred to you otherwise, and will help you during the design phase. Use the model to establish the height, width basic shapes and angles of your wall. Use the model to work out the balances between the amount of space you have, establish a ballpark cost and create interesting shapes.

Attached to an Existing Structure. If you plan to attach your climbing wall to an existing structure it will eliminate some support braces, be easier to plan and build, but will "lock you in" to that location. The existing structure becomes part of your planning considerations. You must ensure that the existing structure is strong enough to support the additional stresses the climbing wall will add to it.

Freestanding. A freestanding climbing wall is the most versatile. Advantages: 1) will not damage an existing structure; 2) will be more transportable; 3) more suitable for renters; 4) do not have structural sound existing wall supports to anchor the climbing wall into. Building a freestanding climbing wall will cost more that a fixed wall and will be a little more difficult to design. You must take on the additional responsibility to create a structure that will be balanced (not tip over if all the climbers are on the same side at the same time) and support it's own weight.

Modular. This type of plan means it can be reassembled in a different order, or have other sections added at a later time. This will allow you to take it apart in sections and rearrange them to help keep your training interesting or to focus in on a specific aspect of training. When finished building the climbing wall it will be heavy. If you plan and build the climbing wall in small modular sections it will be easier to assemble.

Adjustable Angle. Consider adding an adjustable section. This will also be more difficult to plan and build but will give you the ability to work different aspects of training by adjusting the angle.

With these considerations, work with your model and develop a creative shape that meets your training needs, space constraints and budget.

Estimate Cost and Time. Do this by using a pre-design, or planning estimate. The planning estimate is used to make a "go, no-go" decision before proceeding to the design phase. Planning estimates are accomplished by using planning factors. A planning factor provides you a way to quickly estimate the cost for building materials and the time the project will take. Not surprisingly, there are no established planning factors to build a climbing wall (at least to my knowledge). The following planning factors seem to give reasonable results. The planning factor for cost is (2 x cost per sheet x number of sheets). For example: If the cost of one sheet of plywood is 45 ($Â¥L units of any national currency), and the wall will use 4 sheets of plywood, the formula is (2 x 45 x 4 = $Â¥L 360). (OSB is cheaper, so why use plywood? See Plywood vs OSB for Use on a Climbing Wall) Planning factors provide a quick cost estimate prior to developing a bill of materials. If you do not use some kind of pre-design planning estimate, you will not have any idea of the cost until after you finish the bill of materials, which is at the end of the design phase. Planning estimates are common at all levels of design-build projects in the pre-design phase. If you are interested in more detail about pre-design planning estimates you can visit the RS Means™ website at

Work Space. Make sure you have enough area to assemble the pieces separately, fasten them together, then stand them up. As a planning factor for work area, allow about twice as much area than the wall will require when built. This of course will vary based on the degree of overhang and height. Make sure you have enough clearance to stand the wall up with out getting it wedged against the ceiling before it is in place. Use your model to think through the assembly step. If necessary modify the concept model slightly to fit the reality of your physical constraints.

Common Tools. Note: these lists should be used to jog your memory, not as a definitive list.

Building Permits. A personal climbing wall in your home, which does not alter the structure of the existing facility, most likely will not require a building permit. You will need a building permit if building the climbing wall requires renovating, remodeling or new building at your home. Check the specific requirements for your location. Permit Place™ is an excellent source of information about building permit requirements, has links to most US States' building or environmental permits, and has a description of when a permit is required.

A common misperception is that local building authorities will hinder you to build a climbing wall. This is not true. Their purpose is to review and help avoid a disastrous mishap and maintain minimum building standards. This is in your interest. If you have any question call your city's building department.

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