Open floor plans are highly-desired in today’s homes because they can increase opportunities for connection and interaction between people. One way to achieve and increase these together times for friends and family is by removing obstacles that limit visual connection and impair access.
For instance, a popular remodeling project to achieve a bigger kitchen is to remove the wall between the kitchen and dining room which visually connects the spaces and effectively increase the feel of both rooms. Another is to remove the wall between the family room and an under-used living room. This has the benefit of making more space without adding on.
But can that wall be removed without causing major damage to the structure of the home? Does the wall hold anything up, which is to say is the wall load-bearing? What is inside that wall and can it be moved to allow wall removal? How can I find out?
Load-bearing walls must be positively identified before starting any home improvement that includes removing or altering a wall, door or window opening. Identifying load points and structural walls in a house requires an accurate assessment of the structure, building materials, and an awareness of the local building practices. This structural assessment is best done by a licensed Architecture firm, or Professional Engineer. Do not attempt this yourself. This information is intended to help you stay safe while dreaming about changing your house and moving walls. Please contact Mosby Building Arts, Ltd. for consulting assistance with load-bearing walls.
A load-bearing wall is one that bears the weight and force of a structure, and transfers that weight to the ground. Grounding points – like foundations, footings, columns and piers – are what bear the weight of the home. Some structures that span between these grounding points are known as load-bearing walls, beams, headers, trusses or lintels.
Probable Load-Bearing Walls
The roof structure and second floor structure defines largely where load-bearing points are located. Most exterior walls bear some load of a house, while interior load-bearing walls can typically be parallel to the roof ridge of the home, and tend to run perpendicular to the floor joists.
Structural walls on two story homes with gable roofs are commonly the center wall running parallel with the length of the house and the front and rear walls on the exterior. However a house with a hip roof structure suggests that all the exterior walls are bearing walls. Any wall, on all floors, directly above or parallel to a basement beam, typically wood, steel I-beam or a basement wall must be considered by a layman as directly load bearing. Stair well openings are also typically load-bearing points.
These are very general rules of thumb, and one must understand how the house was originally constructed to prioritize structure points in a home. Local building practices are also considered to identify load bearing points such as the use of floor or roof trusses, conventional framing lumber, manufactured members, or a combination of these. There may be other load-bearing walls that are not so obvious to the layman, which is why an on-site assessment by a building professional is crucial before beginning this type of remodeling project.
When In Doubt, Don’t Cut It Out
It is best to be safe and stay on the side of caution and consider every wall as load-bearing until it has been confirmed by a professional.
A load bearing wall can be removed, but a new system for transferring the weight has to be built. The most common way to solve this is by building a new header and post structure to go in place of the wall. Here is an example of this procedure from a Mosby Building Arts kitchen project:
In this before picture, the wall between the dining room and kitchen was load-bearing, but to achieve a more spacious kitchen, plans called for the removal of this barrier.
Mosby carpenters were able to remove the wall by installing a new load-bearing point, artfully disguised as a column, and transfer the load of the weight-bearing header, artfully disguised as a soffit with crown-molding, to a new grounding point. This column location was chosen by home owners so that a column in the basement was not required to be added. Moving or removing this column also affected the budget, so remain apprised of potential costs in these decisions.
So, a load-bearing wall can be reconfigured to accommodate a new interior design, as long as the identification and construction is done by building professionals with a deep understanding and the experience to change important structural elements.
Mosby Building Arts provides a consultation service to accurately identify load-bearing walls in a home and help map out the best way to proceed on a remodeling project that may require their alteration or removal. Be cautious and be safe by calling the office at 314.909.1800 or contact us here.