When it comes to taking out a load-bearing wall or an internal non-load bearing wall and putting a beam in its place, it’s important to understand that things are very different. A load-bearing wall is a structural element that assists in supporting the overall load of the home. Also referred to as a partition wall, a non-load bearing wall does not support the weight of the home and is simply in the home to help divide space. If you are thinking about doing away with a load-bearing wall—on your own or via a professional contractor—here are a few things that you should be aware of.
Most homeowners will opt to employ a professional for this type of project, but most communities will allow the homeowner to perform this project on their own. However, just like a contractor, the homeowner would be required to adhere to local building codes as well as pass necessary inspections. Because rules and requirements vary from one municipality to the next, get in touch with the local building department or permitting authority for more information.
Regardless of the type of home renovations that you are performing—be it walkways, fences, plumbing and wiring upgrades, ponds, decks, or structural changes (like eliminating a load-bearing wall)—your local permitting authority will need to be involved. These types of projects will typically necessitate permits and routine inspections.
The permit agency will want to know how taking down the wall will impact the home’s structural integrity. In fact, you may be required to present a comprehensive plan that outlines a substitute support system. If the wall is relatively large, you may need an architect to draw up the plan and/or get a stamp of approval from an engineer.
When you take one thing out of the home, it has to be replaced in one way or another. For instance, think about the windows in your home. Walls hold up the home, and they are compromised when a significant hole is cut in the wall. Window headers, however, which are small beams, replace the section of the framing that was removed.
This same type of principle works when it comes to load-bearing walls—just on a much bigger scale. When the load-bearing wall is removed, it has to be restored with one of the following:
Your primary carrying beam cannot just be a standard 4x4 that you pick up at your local lumber center. While you might be able to get by with using solid lumber like a 4x6, a 4x8 or even a 4x10 or possibly even sandwiching two 2x10s or two 2x12s together to develop a “built-up” beam, the better option is to purchase a LVL beam, which is a laminated veneer lumber beam. These are designed with greater strength for smaller spaces than standard dimensional lumber. In other words, a 4x6 LVL beam will be sturdier than a 4x6 piece of dimensional lumber.
Because of that, you might assume that LVL beams are expensive. However, they aren’t as much as you think. Now, architectural LVL beams do tend to be more expensive due to the fact that the wood is designed to be seen and viewed instead of covered up and placed behind walls. Non-architectural LVL beams, on the other hand, are significantly more economical than architectural LVLs.
Generally, the substitute beam is going to be placed lower than the ceiling because of the floor structure resting on top of it. On the other hand, for the beam to be even with the home’s ceiling, the floor joists would need to be cut back on, the beam would then need to be set into the structure of the floor, and then the ends of the floor joists would hang from the beam’s sides with metal hangers. This is a lot more work than just using a beam just beneath the floor joists when substituting the load-bearing wall.
Intervening vertical columns below a carrying beam can detract from the flawless appearance of an open floor plan. Regardless, any type of upright structural support that is added beneath a horizontal beam can offer considerable strength to the beam assembly. In addition, if you’re having problems with the beam extending too far below the ceiling, columns can let you get by with smaller, and less protruding, beams.
While there are span tables that you can use, it can be difficult for the average layperson to interpret. If you only needed to take a couple of factors into consideration like the type of hours, distance spanned, etc., then everyone would be a structural engineer. However, there are so many different factors that need to be considered like shear, deflection, live vs. dead weight, roof loads, and more. This is what makes it so difficult for an amateur to size a beam. A contractor or structural engineer can work you to determine the most appropriate size of beam that is needed.
Prior to removing any section of the framing of a load-bearing wall, a short-term support wall must be built on either side of the wall. The reason for this is due to the fact that there is a chance that the ends of the above floor joists may be setting on the load-bearing wall that you’re taking out. If the temporary support is only added on one side, the floor joists on the opposite side might not be properly supported.
Structures that have been well built are built with redundancy in mind. When an interior load-bearing wall or any other major structural element is eliminated, the remainder of the home may, essentially, remain intact. This is seen often after an earthquake or tornado where exterior walls are ripped off of two-story homes though the structure is still standing.
This is all because of redundancy. Though the wall is removed, there are many other interwoven elements—structural and non-structural—that are pulled together to ensure that structure remains intact overall. As soon as the wall is taken out, the flooring, subflooring, neighboring walls, rafters, joists, and various other elements, will work to keep the structure whole.
However, over time, gravity takes over and the building begins to sag. Please note that this is not being mentioned to encourage you to remove a load-bearing wall without using a replacement beam; instead, it is the opposite. This is simply a reminder that gravity will eventually win; it’s only a matter of how quickly it occurs.
If you have any questions or have a load-bearing wall that you need removed and prefer not to handle the task yourself, contact us today at Structure Remodeling.