Can You Remove a Load-Bearing Wall?

If you knock out one of those beams, the whole wall will come crashing down. Or will it? Check out more home construction pictures!
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On a day-to-day basis, if we think about walls at all, most of us probably think more about the privacy aspect (as in, "Wow, I'm sure glad my neighbors didn't see my Aerosmith lip-synching session") than the fact that they're keeping the ceiling upright. But did you know that not all walls actually provide structural support? In fact, in many cases, you could completely knock down all of your home's partition walls -- walls that divide space without supporting any of the load of the structure -- without having to run for cover [source: Leelanau Log Home Company].

However, there's one kind of wall that can bring shingles raining down into your living room if you're not careful: a load-bearing wall (also known as a bearing wall), which supports the building by transferring its weight into the ground [source: Mosby Building Arts]. If you want to remove a load-bearing wall, though, you're not out of luck -- you just have to take some extra precautions.

Before you go knocking down walls willy-nilly, determining whether they're simple partition walls or they bear the load of your home is key. In most cases, you can usually assume that at least two external walls are load-bearing -- either in the front and back, or left and right sides -- depending on the design of the building. Interior walls that run parallel to the peak of a roof are also often crucial in supporting the weight of the structure [source: Carter].

In a multi-story building, load-bearing walls must be stacked directly above one another in order to effectively provide support, so it's relatively safe to assume that you shouldn't knock down stacked walls without some serious advance planning [source: Wagner]. Platform framing, the most common method of structural framing since the 1930s, allows a structure to be built one level at a time -- which makes it much easier to stack load-bearing walls for the most effective transfer of weight [source: Mattson Macdonald Young].

You've determined that the wall you want to remove is load-bearing -- so now what? We'll explore the nitty-gritty of bearing wall removal on the next page.

How to Remove a Load-Bearing Wall

Just say the words "load-bearing wall," and you'll have a good idea of why one is difficult to remove: Your house won't go "Three Little Pigs" and come tumbling down immediately, but incorrectly removing a load-bearing wall can do major damage to the structural integrity of your home. However, there are safe ways to move or remove a load-bearing wall.

The first step in is to remove the drywall and strip the wall down to its skeleton. Since load-bearing walls carry a house's worth of weight, they're usually built from sturdier materials than other types of walls. While non-bearing walls may be framed with wood, bearing walls are usually reinforced with materials like concrete and steel bars [source: Royal Building Solutions].

Now it's time to tear out the insides. Once all of the concrete, bricks and beams are removed, make sure you're ready with some sturdy two-by-fours or steel braces to provide support while you construct a new permanent support point.

Even if you started out with a wall to bear the load of the structure you're working on, you don't have to keep it that way: Plenty of structures other than walls can support the weight of a building. Pillars are a common option; though they're less physically substantial, they can still support the same load as a wall if constructed correctly [source: Mosby Building Arts]. A sturdy beam tucked into a beam cradle -- a pocket in the ceiling of the room along the wall's length -- can also do the job of a full wall [source: The Family Handyman].

So can you remove a load-bearing wall on your own? Technically, sure. However, removing one of the walls that keeps your house up involves quite a bit more planning and expertise than remodeling a bathroom or tearing out the carpet. An expert will ensure that key steps like determining whether the wall is load-bearing and designing an effective beam or pillar in its place are done correctly. Naturally, if you hire a pro, you'll be paying for the service of designing your plans and doing the work in addition to the cost of materials, so it'll run you a little more than if you went the DIY route.

Interested in learning more about how load-bearing walls work? Read up on lots more information on the next page.

Author's Note

I try to be a DIY kind of gal -- my dad brought me up to kill my own bugs and fix my own wiggly furniture -- but I don't think I'd ever trust myself to mess with a load-bearing wall. From identifying it to putting a replacement in place that'll actually hold up the building, that's one project I'll leave to the experts. One of the coolest things I learned researching this article, though, was that a simple pillar or even a beam could bear the same load as a wall. For anyone who doubts the coolness of physics, I think that's a pretty strong counter-argument.

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Sources

  • Better Homes & Gardens. "Load-Bearing Wall." (May 20, 2012) http://www.bhg.com/home-improvement/advice/expert-advice/load-bearing-wall/
  • Carter, Tim. "Load-Bearing Wall Identification." Ask the Builder. (May 20, 2012) http://www.askthebuilder.com/load-bearing-wall-identification/
  • Family Handyman, The. "How to Install a Load-Bearing Beam." (May 26, 2012) http://www.familyhandyman.com/DIY-Projects/Wall---Ceiling/Wall-Repair/how-to-install-a-loadbearing-beam/View-All
  • Leelanau Log Home Company. "Log Home Glossary of Terms." (May 27, 2012) http://www.leelanauloghomes.com/shopcontent.asp?type=loghomeresources_glossary_llh
  • Mattson Macdonald Young. "Residential Bearing Wall Removal." (May 24, 2012) http://www.mattsonmacdonald.com/documents/BearingWallRemoval.pdf
  • Mosby Building Arts. "Identify & Remove a Load-Bearing Wall." Jan. 21, 2010. (May 20, 2012) http://www.mosbybuildingarts.com/blog/2010/01/21/identify-remove-a-load-bearing-wall/
  • Rocamat. "Load-Bearing Wall Type I." (May 20, 2012) http://www.rocamat.com/html-gb/pdf/Murs%20&%20Fa%E7ades/FT01_Mur_porteur_I.pdf
  • Royal Building Solutions. "Construction Guide for Bearing Walls." (May 20, 2012) http://www.rbsiowa.com/pdf/ConstGuide_Bearing_Walls.pdf
  • Wagner, John D. "House Framing." Creative Homeowner. 2005.