Question: How Can I Tell if a Wall is Weight Bearing?
How can I tell if a wall is weight FULL STORY bearing or not? I want to knock down the wall to open my kitchen in my very small bungalow.
A lot of people ask me this question, and the usual response is ‘if you don’t know how to tell the difference, you probably don’t want to knock down the wall!’. The safe answer is, without seeing a set of architectural drawings for your home, or seeing the house myself, it’s impossible for me to say for sure. Building codes have changed a lot over the years, so depending on the age of your home, walls that may appear to be non load bearing can in fact be playing a very important supporting role.
If you plan on removing a wall, you’ll need a permit. To get a permit, you’ll need drawings, and you’ll have inspections. I highly recommend bringing in a structural engineer to take a look and come up with a solution (and drawings) that will keep a roof over your head, and limit your liability while you’re living in your home, and more importantly when you sell.
That being said, there are some common points to consider:
Look in the attic. If ceiling joists are overlapped (i.e. the end of the joists are resting on the wall), it’s holding up the ceiling.
Look in the basement. Bearing walls will usually have a wall or beam directly below them that rests on a footing. The footing isn’t usually visible, as it’s under the basement slab.
Open up the wall. Bearing walls should have two top plates, and occasionally contain point loads (two, three or more studs together) that carry weight from beams or headers above.
Where is the wall? Most bungalows have a bearing wall in the middle running the entire width of the house.
Walls running parallel to the ceiling / floor joists are usually not load bearing (unless they contain point loads). Even if your wall doesn’t fit into the four points above, there’s still a chance it’s required – older homes quite often have ceiling joists that are over-spanned by today’s code, or weren’t built to current standards to begin with. You may also have electrical, plumbing or HVAC ducts in the wall which will affect the ease and cost of removing it either way.
If you plan on removing a load bearing wall, posts and a beam need to be installed to carry the load down to the foundation, which means temporarily supporting the load properly when it comes time to remove the wall and install the beam – it can be a tricky and very dangerous job if not done properly. Your first step is to find a local architect or structural engineer, and book a consultation. If it’s a bearing wall, weight the benefits against the cost of having it removed professionally. On the other hand, if it’s a non load bearing partition wall with no plumbing, electrical or HVAC…get out the sledgehammer.
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