Many homeowners dream of an open floor plan.
And why not?
The open floor plan has been a dominant architectural trend since the 1990s. Homeowners, especially with older homes, often chose open walls and widened doors over closed walls and narrow doors. They want to combine the kitchen and dining room, or dining room and living room, or all three to create one big king-size room.
Sounds exciting, right?
But most homeowners don’t know that open floor plans begin with identifying and removing a load bearing wall, then replacing it with a support beam. That’s no easy feat. You will need to understand how this process works, even though this isn’t exactly a DIY task.
At the end of this guide, you will know how to replace a load bearing wall with a support beam.
Let’s start with the basics.
What Is a Load Bearing Wall?
A load bearing wall, also called a support wall, is typically a wall that supports the weight of your house or building. Essentially, this is the load distribution point in your home’s architecture. It supports the overall weight of the construction. It distributes the weight from the roof and through the floors, all the way down to the foundation.
Unlike non-load bearing walls, removing a load bearing wall requires careful planning. If you remove it hastily, you risk compromising the overall structure. That is why most homeowners tend to hire load bearing wall removal experts. They know how to identify and remove the supporting wall without damaging the structural integrity.
How to Identify the Load Bearing Wall?
A load bearing wall comes with a few distinct tell-tale signs. Most load bearing wall removal experts recommend checking the floor joists. You should check your unfinished basement or the attic to see which way the joists run.
- If the wall runs parallel to the joists, it is less likely to be a load bearing wall.
- On the other hand, if the wall runs perpendicular to the joists, it is most likely a load bearing wall.
But things can get a little tricky in a finished house. Here, the joists often stay hidden behind drywall and ceiling panels. You may need to remove these to identify if it is a supporting wall or not.
But there are a few other ways to identify a load bearing wall in a finished house.
- Check if the wall runs through multiple floors.
- Take a look at the roof ridge.
- And refer to the building plans (blueprints).
Given how complicated this process is, you are better off hiring a professional. A seasoned load bearing wall removal contractor will identify the wall correctly, not to mention remove it efficiently.
How to Replace a Load Bearing Wall?
The load bearing wall removal process begins once you have identified the wall. The contractor you have hired will assess the wall and come up with a plan accordingly. Remember, the time, cost, and effort involved in removing a load bearing wall will vary from house to house. However, a few steps in this process often remain unchanged.
1. Creating a Temporary Support System
This is probably the most critical step in removing a load bearing wall. You can’t remove the load bearing wall without adequate support. Doing so will increase the risk of structural damage.
There are two ways to do this.
Adjustable Steel Columns: This is one of the most common temporary support systems. You have to lay two strips of 2x4s, one on the floor and another across the ceiling. After nailing the strips in place, insert the steel columns between them.
2×4 Studs: You can use 2×4 studs instead of adjustable steel columns. The studs will act like a second wall that stays in place until the supporting beam goes up. Using 2×4 studs is relatively cheaper than renting adjustable steel columns. However, there is one major drawback – you can’t adjust the height of 2×4 studs as you wish.
Whatever method you use, make sure the temporary support can handle the weight.
2. Remove the Load-bearing Wall
The next step in load bearing wall removal process is demolishing the wall. Before demolishing it, make sure the temporary support is in place. For most homes, this process is pretty straightforward. You only need to remove the stud wall. However, it may take more effort if your load bearing wall is of a different type like CMU or ICF.
To remove a stud wall, take the following steps.
- Break Down the Wall
Start by gently hitting the drywall between studs. You can use a sledgehammer or a saw to cut into the drywall. Next, you will need to remove the horizontal ceiling and floor plates using a reciprocating saw. Once sawed through, you will need to pry them off.
- Reroute the MEP Infrastructures
When removing the drywall, you may come across conduits, plumbing, and HVAC ducts. Very few homeowners are lucky enough to have a load bearing wall without any Mechanical, Electrical, and Plumbing (MEP) infrastructure.
If your wall conceals conduits, plumbing, and HVAC ducts, the first order of business is to reroute these lines. This is a highly creative and sensitive job, so it is better left to a qualified engineer or contractor.
3. Install the Supporting Beam
After breaking down the drywall and rerouting all the MEPs, the next step would be to install the supporting beam. This is the most critical and time-consuming step involved in load bearing wall removal.
- Install King Studs
The installation assembly is composed of king studs, jack studs, supporting angles, and nails, among a few other things. Install the king studs firmly as they are the backbone of your supporting beam. You will need to measure and plug a full-length stud carefully into place.
- Install Temporary Support Ledgers
Before installing jack studs, you will need to attach temporary support ledgers to hold the beam a few inches below its actual position. Usually, adding an extra half-inch to the depth of your support beam will do. It will give you enough room to move your supporting beam into the place. After measuring, nail the support ledgers to the king studs.
- Get the Beam Ready
If it’s a wooden support beam, you will have to cut it to the appropriate length. Remember, the cut needs to be perpendicular to the surface of the beam. However, if you are using a steel beam, you will have to order a custom-length beam in the first place.
- Position the Beam
Once everything is ready, you can position the support beam onto the beam ledge or support column. This is going to be some heavy-lifting. So, you will need at least two people for this task.
You will need to lift one end of the beam to the shoulder level first. Place it onto the beam ledge and hold it there firmly. Now, lift the other end and place it onto the beam ledge. Make sure to secure the beam in its position.
Check the joist movement using a laser measure to see if the ceiling is slowly sagging. It will help you position the beam accurately. Once the beam is resting perfectly, you can add side cleats to the king studs on both ends of the support beam. This helps you lift the beam without the risk of slipping it off from the studs.
- Lift the Beam
Right now, the beam is resting slightly below the ceiling. Once the side cleats are in place, you can lift and position them firmly against the ceiling.
Remember, this is a two-person job. You will need two people holding both ends of the beam while lifting it into place. Add a block under both ends to keep it attached to the ceiling.
The next step is to install the jack studs. Choose jack studs that will support the weight of the beam. Hammer them into place. They should fit tightly against the king stud.
- Connect the Beam
The final step is to connect the support beam to the ceiling joists, king studs, and jack studs. Use metal hurricane straps to attach them.
Once you nail the metal hurricane straps tightly, remove the temporary support. By now, there will be a pile of debris around you. Clear it all up before adding the finishing touches to your support beam.
4. Add Finishing Touches
Finishing touches usually involve adding patches wherever needed and attaching piece of drywall. Depending on the condition of your ceiling, you may also have to do some repair work. Check the entire area around the support beam to understand what needs to be done.
Can you Remove a Load bearing wall Safely?
Yes, removing a load bearing wall is safe.
However, this is not a DIY project. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.
If you decide to go the DIY way, it can lead to many costly mistakes. They include structural problems such as:
- Sagging ceilings.
- Unlevelled floors.
- Cracks in walls and ceiling.
- Stuck doors and windows.
Usually, the more the damage, the more you will have to pay for repairs. On the other hand, if you decide to hire a load bearing wall removal contractor, you can ensure the structural integrity of your home plus save money on costly repairs.
They certainly know how to replace a load bearing wall from start to finish. Here are a few benefits of hiring a professional contractor for this job.
- Correctly identify load bearing walls.
- Check if removing a load bearing wall is practical.
- Tell you how removing a load bearing wall costs.
- Assess its impact on your house’s structure.
- Provide long term support should you need it.
- Finish the job as efficiently as possible.
- Dispose of the debris.
- Maintain safety during the removal process.
How to Find the Right Load Bearing Wall Removal Contractor?
There is no shortage of load bearing wall removal experts out there. However, not all of them are made equal. You will need a contractor that puts you at ease, offers a detailed estimate, and keeps your requirements in mind instead of pushing their ideas. That’s not going to be an easy find.
When hiring a load bearing wall removal contractor, keep the following in mind.
- Find a local contractor as they know your area and building codes very well.
- Get multiple bids to find the one that best fits your needs.
- Consider a contractor’s skills and experience before hiring them.
- Don’t forget to run a background check on the contractor.
- Make sure they can communicate openly with you.
- Get a detailed estimate first.
- Go through your contract carefully before signing.
And most importantly, don’t rush into your decision. Removing a load bearing wall will change the layout of your house permanently. Make sure to think this through before you decide to go ahead.
The Bottom Line
Load bearing wall removal is a huge task. It requires careful planning. Although this is not a DIY project, it’s good to know a thing or two about how to replace a load bearing wall. It will help you make an informed decision.
That said, a seasoned load bearing wall removal contractor like Load Bearing Pros can help you every step of the way. Feel free to get back to us with any questions or doubts. We would be happy to help.