Home & DIY

How to Identify Load Bearing Walls to Safely Remove

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Bearing Walls: What You Need to Know

A newlywed couple is looking to open up the living space in their home. To do so, some interior walls must go. They consider several plans, take a sledgehammer to their drywall, and are well on their way to living in their dream space. However, before they can open up floor joists and tear down the framing, a structural engineer suddenly reveals that the partition wall they want to remove is a Bearing Wall.

The homeowners’ faces fall. Will this ruin their plans? What will the cost be? Tension is thick, and there is a good chance this couple may not sleep well at night. The professionals assure the homeowners they can work around this issue and discuss options for redistributing the wall’s weight.

If you enjoy watching house flips or interior design shows on TV, you’ve probably seen this episode before. As soon as homeowners hear the word “loadbearing,” the music gets louder, and the camera zooms in to show worried expressions on everyone’s faces.

However, you don’t have to experience the drama present on TV in your personal home remodel. There are many ways to tell which walls in your home are loadbearing – and which are non-load bearing walls – before you rip the drywall off. Understanding the structure of your home will help you create a trustworthy plan for opening up your space.

What Are Bearing Walls?

Although loadbearing walls can make remodels more challenging, they are an invaluable part of your home’s structure. Structural stability begins with the foundation of your home. Foundation structures usually run the length of a house and are built to support its full weight.

Joists stretch across the foundation to support your home’s width. This means they run perpendicular to foundation structures, creating 90-degree angles that frame the base of your home. Joists typically meet in the middle of your home and rest on another foundation structure there. Note: the direction of the joists is a critical data point.

Structurally, most loadbearing walls run parallel to foundation structures and perpendicular to joists. There are exceptions, but this is a good general rule for determining which walls in your home are loadbearing.

Exterior walls are almost always loadbearing, and typically a wall that runs lengthwise through the middle of your home is also loadbearing. If you have a gable roof, the wall that sits underneath the peak is most likely loadbearing.

What Do Bearing Walls Do?

Loadbearing walls are a key part of the structure of the house. They built to distribute the weight of your home down through its foundation and into the ground. They may be made from wood, can be masonry walls, or simply a steel girder running through the center of the house. That’s why you can often find these walls running parallel to foundation structures along the length of your home.

Your house is framed according to building codes that ensure it’s structurally sound and won’t collapse on top of you. Unless there are hidden structural supports in your home, loadbearing walls are usually stacked on top of each other to safely support your home’s weight.

However, it can be tricky to identify bearing walls if the framing is finished with drywall. Although you could rip into your internal walls, you can often identify likely load-bearing walls by looking at the supporting structures in your attic and basement.

In the space underneath your home, you may have pillars or other structural supports that can help you locate the beams helping to support the upper floors of your house. If your attic is unfinished, you may be able to see the joists and any supporting walls where they meet.

The Importance of Bearing Walls in Home Structures

Bearing walls are an incredibly important part of your home. Similar to bones in the human body, the framing inside the walls of your house supports the entire structure and makes everything you do in your home possible. They support everything from the lower level to the entire roof structure.

Under no circumstances should you take down a wall before you know if it’s loadbearing. Because it can be difficult to determine this on your own, you should always check with a structural engineer or architect before you start your remodel or other renovation project.

If your project does involve removing a loadbearing wall, an engineer will be able to design a structure member or other structural supports that allow you to complete your remodel safely. Working with a structural engineer to ensure your home’s safety usually costs between $300 and $1,000.

If you remove a bearing wall without support, there will be several terrible consequences. First, your walls are likely to shift and crack. Over time, your home’s structure will become more and more unstable. Without the proper support, the roof will eventually fall in on top of you. You really don’t want your upper floor occupying your first floor.

How to Support a Bearing Wall

There are two common ways that structural engineers recommend redistributing weight so that you can remove a bearing wall and open up your space. Both of these methods involve inserting a strong beam into the ceiling in place of the previous wall. This support structure is designed to manage the weight of the structure.

Before removing a likely load bearing wall, a professional contractor will add temporary framing to your home on both sides of the wall. Then, they’ll carefully remove the drywall and interior framing. Depending on the structural design you’ve chosen, they may leave some of the framing intact rather than removing it all the way to the ceiling.

Next, a structural engineer will help you choose a support beam or other structural member to span the area where the bearing wall used to be. The carpenter will add two strong posts on either end of the loadbearing wall and then secure the beam on top of them. Once the new supporting structure is in place, this temporary “partial wall” framing can be removed.

Some homeowners prefer the new beam to run under the ceiling where it will show. Installing a beam below the ceiling is easier, and it can be stained or covered to look like part of a home’s design. However, it’s also possible to install a loadbearing beam above the ceiling by integrating it into the floor or attic above the space.

What to Know About Bearing Walls

Bearing walls are essential to the structural integrity of your home. Before you decide to remove any wall in your home, you need to determine whether or not it’s loadbearing. If you can access the blueprints for your home, they’ll tell you which walls are carrying the weight of your house. Blueprints are the easiest way to know for sure.

Although there are many ways to determine which walls are loadbearing, it’s very important that you check with a professional before you start your remodel. Although you can save a lot of money if you complete the work on your own, damaging your house can have a high cost.

You may want professional help even if you’re sure the wall you want to remove is a non-load-bearing wall. There may be electrical wiring or parts of your HVAC system running through the walls, and it can be difficult to relocate these in some homes.

Even partial walls may be loadbearing. Many people move into homes that have been lived in and worked on for many years. If your home isn’t new construction, it may be difficult to tell what has been changed structurally. If you suspect a structural wall was removed and support wasn’t added, you should contact a professional immediately.

Built to Last

Loadbearing walls are not something to mess around with during home renovations. It can be very tempting to assess your home’s structure and open up the space on your own. However, this could end very badly and isn’t worth the risk of damaging your home’s stability or compromising your family’s safety – not to mention significant structural damage.

If you’re concerned about mounting costs or simply prefer to complete remodels on your own as a DIY project, there are several ways you can remodel on your own terms while ensuring your home remains stable for years to come. Start by assessing your home on your own, and then shop around to get a professional opinion for a reasonable rate.

Unless you’re an experienced general contractor or architect, it’s best to hire someone to complete the actual work of reframing your home. You can talk to several different contractors to find someone who suits your needs and fits your budget.

Remodels are an investment in your future, so tread carefully when it comes to bearing walls. Anytime you decide to make major structural changes to your home, the time and funds you put into the project will be high. However, all the work will be worth it once you’re enjoying a bright, open space.