Removing Load-Bearing Walls
Bring down the walls! It seems like open-concept is a trend that isn’t going away anytime soon, a fact that we are totally on board with. Almost every main-floor consult that we go to the client is asking, “can I remove this wall? How about this one?” We're pretty sure that if most people had their way, they would remove all the walls on their main floor--which could be awkward for guests using their bathroom, but think of all the room for activities!
For those of you that only want to remove the more appropriate walls, we can’t stress enough the importance of having a professional come in to assess and tell you which walls should and can come down. Even us, as construction experts, still consult with an engineer when it comes to taking down any wall on the inside of a house. It’s always safer to have someone come and check because the load bearing walls are what hold up everything above you in your house.
To give you an idea of what you are dealing with before you have a contractor come in, let’s talk about how you can usually tell whether a wall is load-bearing or not. The first way to identify which walls are load-bearing is the thickness of the wall. If it is around 4.5 inches thick, then you are most likely looking at a 2 by 4 framed, non-structured, and potentially removable wall. Whereas if the wall is closer to 6.5 inches thick that is the first indicator that it is a load-bearing wall where the house builder was told by an engineer that they needed to use 2 by 6s to carry the load of the floor or roof above that area. We are telling you this not so that you can take a sledgehammer to your thinners walls, but so that you will have a better understanding before bringing in any contractors of what things are going to cost you. Removing a load-bearing wall will cost you more than a regular partition wall.
So, now that you have identified your thicker walls, you will want to go down into your basement and see if you can see where the steel beam and steel post are in relation to the wall you are wanting to remove. If the wall is located directly above that steel beam, than it is definitely a load-bearing wall. There are structural points in your house called point loads, that carry the weight of the house up through the house to the roof. If you remove one of those point loads, your roof is going to come down, your second floor is going to come down and now you have no house. Now you have a much bigger job on your hands.
Hopefully you have now identified whether or not you are working with a load-bearing wall. What is your next step? Call in a contractor or an engineer to look at the wall(s) in question and they will be able to size and spec what beam needs to go in place of the wall(s) to carry the weight above. Most of the time walls can be removed, it is just a matter of the work that goes into it. When the builder was building your house, they were likely not thinking about the walls being removed, so there are other things that could be running through the walls. You could have HVAC, heat lines, plumbing, and/or electrical that would need to be relocated. Most of those things can be relocated but each would come with varying costs to make that happen. When you have a contractor come in they can identify the different things that might be in the wall, if they can move them, where they could relocate them, and what the approximate cost would be. They will also be able to estimate the amount of additional structure that will be needed. In some cases, replacing a wall with a beam also requires added support in the basement. This is where you should take the order of which you plan on doing renovations into account if you plan on renovating multiple spaces in your home. When you are looking at doing renovations, doing the main floor before you finish your basement is a great idea because it gives the contractor the ability to change the footprint and add structure where they need to if you are removing any walls. Whereas if you already have a finished basement, then you have the additional cost of potentially breaking up floors and restructuring.
So, what happens next? Once you have your contractor in and they have the properly engineered drawings and any necessary permits, they are going to build two temporary walls on either side of the wall you want to be removed. These temporary walls will hold up the load while they take apart the load-bearing wall. Now they are able to open up the wall and move any plumbing, HVAC or electrical before removing the wall completely. They can then put in a post and/or beam where needed and properly structured to the drawings. Once that is all in place and fastened together they can remove the temporary walls. Now you have the open footprint you were looking for and your house won’t collapse!
Something to be aware of is that after installing a new beam it is not always possible for a completely flush ceiling. Sometimes the height of the beam is greater than the floor joists that are holding up the second floor, or the plumbing/HVAC from the second floor can’t be relocated and in these cases you will require a bulkhead. There are plenty of different ways that you can dress up or disguise a bulkhead. The simplest approach is to simply drywall it and paint to match your ceiling, but you can also wrap the beam with barn board to make it look more like an intentional timber detail, or use trim to incorporate it into a design. One of our recent projects involved plumbing that couldn’t be hidden up in the ceiling so we incorporated a bulkhead esthetic feature with a raised panel look in the beam that mimicked the shape of the island that was below it. This created a custom lighting and trim detail for the space as opposed to a simple bulkhead.There are always ways to make things look good.
We hope that this helps you out in your future projects, and please never ever ever ever ever remove a wall without first consulting a professional! To hear a bit more about this topic and see our mini live demo on CityLine click on the image below. Cheers, The BroLaws
*The after pictures were taken by the lovely and talented Thalita Murry who worked with us on that project. https://www.instagram.com/thelearnerobserver/