Removing Load Bearing Walls
Many people these days are opting to remove walls between rooms and create a more open floor plan. In a similar fashion we are also seeing a lot of people ask for doorways to be enlarged as much larger trimmed openings, sometimes two or three times the size of the original opening.
Many times this work is as simple as removing a non-bearing wall partition. It only gets tricky when the wall is a load-bearing wall. Then the work involves structural support and beam installation.
What’s the Difference Load and Non-Load Bearing?
The difference between the two is a load
With load-bearing the weight of the ceiling transfers downward from one wall or post to the one beneath, and then to the basement foundation or column footings.
Tips to Determine A Bearing Wall
When removing bearing walls there are several things to consider. Often times this determination requires an experienced contractor or structural engineer to make the call.
1. Load-bearing walls typically run in the same direction as the roof ridge.
2. Look inside the attic and identify the direction in which the joists travel. Many bearing walls will run perpendicular to the joists and often be in the center where the joists overlap.
3. Look at and establish the direction of the joists above the wall you want removed. If the joists run parallel to the wall you want to remove you are most likely dealing with a non-bearing wall partition.
Even if a wall is parallel to the joists, it might still bear weight, the next step would be to see if there is a double ceiling joist sitting on the wall which might indicate load bearing.
4. Inspect the basement joists, note placement of beams, columns and any walls. Any joist or wall with a wall directly above, running parallel, might be a load-bearing wall.
5. Homes on cement slabs may use load-bearing walls throughout.
6. Walls sitting on top of walls are typically load bearing as well as walls sitting on top of basement beams.
There are exceptions and sometimes there is no wall below but a flush beam instead. You won’t see this beam unless you open the ceiling below.
Removing or Replacing a Load Bearing Wall, Header or Beam
Whether you are enlarging a doorway, cutting a new opening in a wall or removing a wall the principles are the same. If the wall you are working on is load-bearing you need to install a header, or beam.
Most contractors today use LVL (laminated veneer lumber) or steel beams. I recommend using a structural engineer or specialized lumberyard service to size your new beam, the building inspector will need to review and approve your final plan.
Note – Sometimes you may need to add or enlarge footings beneath support columns to accommodate additional point load created by your new work.
Will the New Beam Be Flush or Protrude Down?
Depending on the situation, application, size of beam and budget the beam can be placed under existing ceiling joists and protrude lower than the ceiling below or recessed up into the ceiling [flush] and hidden.
When removing a large section of wall the replacement beam often is larger than the ceiling joists above and can not be hidden. Many times we deal with this situation by creating large trim cased openings as opposed to opening the walls and creating one single room.
In some circumstances we recess the larger beam into the ceiling space and leave a portion of the beam protruding lower than the ceiling.
Preparing To Remove A Wall
Before cutting away any framing members I like to remove all of the wall board to expose the framing for inspection and identify any wires, pipes or duct-work that need to be relocated.
If the wall is non-bearing we simply remove it. If it is a load-bearing wall then it’s time to build temporary supporting walls.
Note – Many times you also will need to open up 1 – 2 feet of ceiling on either side of the wall to be removed to access the ceiling framing and relocate wires, pipes, etc.
This is especially true if you are cutting the ceiling joists and installing them in joist hangers onto the new beam.
Temporary Support Wall:
Using 2x4s build a temporary supporting wall 2 -3 feet back from the wall to be removed or opened to leave room to work and get the new beam in place.
If the ceiling joists above are single and continuous then only one temporary wall is needed.
If the ceiling joists are overlapped over the wall to be removed you will need a second temporary supporting wall on the other side.
Removing the Wall Studs:
Remove the old wall studs by hitting the bottom of the studs with a sledgehammer or cutting them in half with a reciprocating saw and pulling them out.
Pry out the top and bottom plates and pocket studs if necessary. Relocate any wires or plumbing as needed.
Installing the Beam:
At a minimum and in perfect circumstances I like to have 3 inches or more of the new beam supported on both sides by “‘jack stud or trimmer stud” vertical supports.
The beams we install are typically are made up 2 or 3 LVL boards. Determine the length of beam, cut to size and install one at a time – its easier to lift and maneuver in place.
To set and hold the beam boards in place we cut two 2×4 cradles 1/4 – inch shorter than the bottom of the new beams location. these 2x4s are used to temporarily hold the beam in place while we are fitting it and fastening it to the framing.
We install all of the LVL beam boards and fasten them to the framing and to each other with Structural screws. when possible we try to fasten the beam to the framing with direct nailing or “face nailing.” For fasteners use at least six evenly spaced 16d nails or structural screws designed for that purpose.
Beam Vertical Support
After the beam is in place install a minimum of two “jack studs or trimmer studs” which will be the beams permanent vertical supports at both ends of the beam.
We cut these studs exact to size or slightly longer and then gently drive them in place with a hammer or small sledge. To do this tip the bottom of the stud in place and then drive the the top into place. It should not tale a lot of force to drive them in place. Toenail or face-nail each one into place with at least six evenly spaced 16d nails.
NOTE – You may have to add two solid blocks directly below each pair of the new vertical supports to carry the weight load to the foundation.
Remove the support walls once complete.