Many homeowners are favouring open plan houses these days, which isn’t a problem if you’re building a new property. However, this can be more complicated with older buildings where walls will need to be removed to create a more open concept. Some walls will be able to be removed without issue, but other walls, such as load-bearing walls, will not.
What is a load-bearing wall?
A structural or load-bearing wall is a wall that carries a significant portion of the weight of the building’s structure, from the roof and the upper floors down to the foundations. These walls keep your house standing, and careless removal of them would lead to severe structural damage, even collapse. It is possible to identify which walls are load-bearing, but it isn’t always easy to tell just by looking at them. Many people assume that if a wall is constructed with timber studs then it is non-load bearing, this is not always the case.
How to tell if a wall is load-bearing
Look for walls above
Load-bearing walls usually have posts, supports, or other walls directly above it. The small knee walls that support the roof rafters are also usually located directly above load-bearing walls. Floor and ceiling joists that meet over the wall are also an indication of a load-bearing wall.
Look down – foundations and floor joists
The direction of floor joists can give an indication of whether a wall is load-bearing or not – a load-bearing wall is usually perpendicular to the floor joists. You should be able to see these floor joists either from the basement looking up to the floor above, or from the attic looking at the floor below. Load-bearing walls are also usually located directly above a foundation or slab.
Exterior walls need to be load-bearing to support the roof, but if the house has had any extensions or additions, some of the ‘interior’ walls may have previously been exterior walls, and as such will still be load-bearing. Walls with doors or windows will have headers above them to help support the structure.
Using a floor plan of the property is a good way to identify some of these details, especially to see whether the walls on different floors are stacked on top of one another.
Buttressing or Racking walls
Some internal walls may not carry vertical loads from roof, floors, or walls over and therefore appear to be non-load bearing, however the wall could be providing horizontal stability. Removal of these walls will require careful consideration, in terms of wind load resistance, and could require inserting wind posts or portal frames.
Can load-bearing walls be removed?
You may find yourself in a situation where your ideal home layout would require removing a load-bearing wall, but is that possible?
The short answer is yes – these walls can be removed, but first you will need to create temporary supports on both sides of the wall before removal, and then beams or supports will have to be installed in place of the wall to retain the structural integrity of the property.
Creating an open plan design is possible in any house, but it is essential to know which walls are load-bearing and to make the necessary preparations before starting any construction. If you are at all unsure about which walls in your home are load-bearing, be sure to get a consultation. You should also hire a professional for the removal itself, as the process isn’t one you can afford to get wrong.