Finding a loadbearing wall in the way when you are remodeling to create an open floor plan can add extra cost and stress to a project. Achieving an open concept requires removing walls to allow free-flowing spaces between the kitchen and family room or dining area. Some homes have a virtually wall-less main living area, while bathrooms and bedrooms are usually self-contained rooms.
Walls that do not support the structure are called partition or curtain walls and can be easily removed. They may contain electrical wiring, air-conditioning and heating vents, or plumbing connections that must be relocated, but they do not support your home.
Loadbearing walls support part of the home above the wall and cannot be removed without affecting the stability of the home. To remove the wall, the contractor needs to add supports and/or move any of the mechanicals buried in the wall. If this process sounds expensive, it's because it usually is.
Detecting Loadbearing Walls
What adds to the cost is that when a contractor estimates the price of remodel, he may not always be able to identify loadbearing walls without breaking into them and removing drywall. He will first look at the wall from the basement to see if there are wall supports perpendicular to the floor joists, and from the attic to see if there are 3 foot knee walls supporting the roof rafters. Neither of these methods perfectly indicate the presence of a loadbearing wall, but they can be a clue.
The best nondestructive way to detect the presence of loadbearing walls is to look at the original blueprints for the house. There should be some pages marked S, for structural, that indicate how the house was framed when first constructed. Assuming that later homeowners did not make unpermitted changes, the plans can tell the story your contractor needs to hear.
Supporting the Load with Beams
When the contractor suspects that the wall is loadbearing, he will usually call in the builder if available, or a structural engineer who will determine if a beam is needed and how big it must be. Loadbearing walls to be removed require that at least temporary support be constructed to support the weight of the house while the wall is removed and the beam is installed and fastened into place. The beam can either be exposed or hidden in the ceiling.
Investigating a loadbearing wall often reveals other problems with the framing of the house. Sometimes past owners have cut into floor joists or removed other structural elements as they were trying to make a quick repair or addition to their home. In these cases, floor joists or other damaged parts of the structure need to be reinforced with additional supports.
A permit is required for beam work. When the new beam is in place and other structural repairs are made, the inspector will verify that the work is done correctly so that the remodel can proceed.
Work with a Reliable Contractor
Removing a loadbearing wall and replacing it with a beam that can hold the weight requires a reliable contractor who is concerned with your safety. This is not a time where you hire a cheap builder who will skip the beam and put the stability of your whole home at risk. Your house is unlikely to collapse as soon as you remove a loadbearing wall, but its long-term stability is questionable.
For the best results, trust your home remodeling that involves removing loadbearing walls to an experienced contractor. Topp Remodeling & Construction never cuts corners, and will always go above and beyond to ensure your family's safety by properly removing and supporting loadbearing walls.