So you want to remove a wall in your home, maybe to open up a space, bring in more natural light, or merge two rooms. How can you make sure your house doesn’t collapse during the process?
The first thing to do is figure out if the wall is a partition wall or a load-bearing wall. A non-load bearing or partition wall doesn’t support the load of the house and its purpose is solely to divide spaces. A load-bearing wall is a major provider of support for the roof and/or floor, ultimately transferring the load of the house to the foundation.
How to tell if a wall is load-bearing
The easiest way to tell the difference between the two types of walls is to bring in a professional to do it for you. Every external wall of your home is usually load-bearing. If you have a home with two or more stories, walls that are stacked directly above one another also may be load-bearing. A load-bearing wall can have joists running perpendicular above it, or struts at an angle to support the roof and ceiling. Another way to tell if a wall is load-bearing is to check for continuous footing underneath the wall which can usually only be seen in the crawlspace.
Can a load-bearing wall be removed?
Absolutely. While some people may tell you that you can tear down a load-bearing wall yourself, this is not a DIY project. Removing a load-bearing wall on your own can result in all sorts of costly mistakes, which can damage your home’s structure considerably. Hire a licensed and professional contractor and engineer to ensure the structural integrity of your home is in good hands.
Tearing down a load-bearing wall needs a lot more planning than tearing down a partition wall. Besides the structural aspect, often there are many other essentials like pipes and electrical wires in the walls, which further complicates the process. You may also need to hire a plumber and electrician in addition to an engineer. If you are removing a load-bearing wall on an upper floor, this will also require modifications to the structure of the floor(s) below it to continue the load path to the foundation.
Of course, hiring a professional will likely cost more money than tearing the wall down yourself. However, you and your home will be much safer, and the time to complete your project will be much shorter and streamlined. You can also be assured of competent and efficient work with an experienced professional. A contractor will also assist you with required permits.
Permits to tear down a load-bearing wall
Most cities will require a building permit for renovations. If any plumbing or electrical wires are in your load-bearing wall, you will usually need separate permits for those as well. If you are not sure what your city requires, visit their website or call the planning or building department to make sure. An experienced design professional will also know what the city requirements are. As part of the permit application, many cities may require architectural plans, structural plans, and structural evaluations as well as a fee.
Tearing down the wall
Depending on when your house was built (before 1990), you may find asbestos in the walls when you take them down. If this is the case, you want to hire a professional to remove the asbestos, and indicate asbestos removal in your building permit application. For the sake of your health, a professional is always the best choice.
Before tearing down your wall, it must be braced with temporary supports. These can be support beams or support walls, and they stop your home from collapsing when the wall is removed. After the wall is removed, your house still needs support, and this can be done with a beam or a combination of posts and beams.
- Posts don’t take up as much room as a wall does and can lead to a more aesthetically pleasing space. They can be designed to bear the same weight as the load-bearing wall that you are removing when used in conjunction with a beam.
- Beams can also keep the structural integrity of your home, transferring the loads from the roof, floor, and ceiling to posts while allowing for a more open space.
For beams, the type of material you use will depend on what’s best for your particular project.
Dimensional lumber: this standard lumber made from various types of softwood is usually used in house frames. Dimensional lumber as a beam is more effective if you’re knocking down part of your load-bearing wall to make room for something like a doorway.
Laminated veneer lumber (LVL): beams made from LVL are much stronger and stiffer than dimensional lumber and resistant to warping. This lumber is also made in factories, so they come in a uniform size. This is the preferred material for beams as it can span longer distances than dimensional lumber, but isn’t as pricey as steel.
Steel I-beams: these beams are much heavier than laminated veneer lumber, but also more compact so can fit in more restricted spaces. They are often used for very wide openings where wood or LVL may not work as well. They are also more costly.
How much will it cost?
To remove a load-bearing wall, construction will likely cost between $2,000 and $3,000 if you have a single-story home, and between $5,000 and $15,000 for multi-story homes. For a partition wall, the cost is between $300 and $1,000. Other costs you should factor in when considering a project like this include costs to install new drywall, put up new wallpaper, and repaint the walls.
At PRT, our fully licensed and insured team of structural engineers and drafters are ready to help you remove whichever wall you need. We have the experience and expertise needed to finish your project on time and under budget.