Homes with congested layouts may lack the open floor plan and design that you would like. I remember my grandparents house which had 20 separate rooms, only problem was they were all 9×9. Older and smaller homes tend to have tight floor plans that lack functionality and the spacious floor plan that seems to be desired by homeowners today. One option you may want to consider is removing a wall to redesign your layout. You will not only increase the functionality of your house but you will develop a feeling of spaciousness.
That doesn’t mean you should grab a sledge hammer and start taking out walls you feel would “open up the house”. Some walls in your home are load bearing. Load bearing walls support weight above them and distribute that weight into the foundation below. Remove one of these walls without properly supporting the weight above and you will have some major structural problems. I’m going to teach you how to identify a load bearing wall and what is required to redistribute the weight the wall supports.
Identifying a Load Bearing Wall
You must determine if a wall is load bearing before even considering taking it out. The following tips will help you determine if a wall is load bearing.
- View the original building plans of your house if you still have them. If you recently built the house ask your builder to tell you which walls are load bearing.
- All exterior walls on your house are load bearing. However, I doubt you’re considering removing an exterior wall unless your adding on to your house or really going for that “open outdoor effect”.
- If you have a two story home and the wall in question has a wall directly above or below the wall you are looking at removing it is probably a load bearing wall.
- Head down to the basement and look for foundations, girders, or support beams. Any walls directly above these are supporting walls.
- Walls running perpendicular to the rafters in your ceiling are load bearing walls.
- If you don’t have any building knowledge you should call a structural engineer. A structural engineer will also be able to tell you what size of beam you will need to put in if the wall is a load bearing wall. The size of the beam is determined by the weight above it that it needs to support. Use the wrong size beam and you won’t have the strength to support the weight and you will put yourself in a bad situation.
Removing a load bearing wall can be very dangerous if not done properly. Unless you have a structural engineering degree and are a master craftsmen, I’d you must hire a professional. The first time I removed a load bearing wall I had to hire a structural engineer and a general contractor to assist in the entire process. No matter what, you will need some help as the header beam will be heavy and need several people to get it into place.
Once again, a load bearing wall can’t just be torn out. The weight it supports need to be transferred. This is accomplished by placing in a header beam and depending on the length the header has to run and the weight it will be supporting you may need support posts. You have to hire a structural engineer to perform the calculations and tell you what kind of beam you need and if and where you need support posts. Most beams will either be steel or a combination of compressed woods and epoxies. The type of beam necessary and whether or not you need support posts will vary from job to job.
One of the most important things when removing a load bearing wall is the temporary support wall that must be built until the new header is in place. Usually your structural engineer will design this for you as well. If the weight above isn’t properly supported you will have structural problems and find it nearly impossible to get the new header in place.
Make sure to hire a general contractor who has several referrals. Structural work on home may not show problems for some time so you want to do your home work on whoever it is that you hire. Some simple tips to look for while your overseeing a project that are a red flag to stop whoever is doing it are the following.
- The header should be placed along the existing wall before the existing wall is torn down and support wall put into place. Several times I have seen people who didn’t know what they were doing build the temporary wall and then realize they weren’t able to get the new header beam into place as a result.
- Your GC should have some jacks with him. If not it’s a sign of a first timer. Most headers are very heavy and require some serious effort to get them into the precise resting place. Usually you will need some jacks to adjust them the final few inches.
- The contractor should be referring to your structural engineer’s plans precisely. Support pivot points need to be exact or your header may not be serving your purpose.
- No matter how good of a job you feel your contractor has performed ask your structural engineer to review the work. You want him to do this before any cosmetic work is done over the header beam.
Once again if you’re looking to remove a load bearing wall make sure to hire the correct people if you don’t have the expertise. I’ll assume if you did a search on this topic and are reading this article you need to hire a general contractor. The last thing you want is to be enjoying a family dinner and the ceiling drops in on the party. Follow these tips for identifying and removing bearing walls and you will open up your house and increase the functionality of rooms.
For more great carpentry tips visit Tim Carter’s Website.