Household disasters should be avoided at any cost. The best way to do that is by turning into a detective for a short while and investigating everything as best as you can. When it comes to load bearing walls and tearing them down, this little private investigator trick might just save you from dire consequences. This and our short guide, of course, which we have put together here. So, have you just taken down a load bearing wall?
What is a load bearing wall?
Simply put, a house’s walls can be divided into two categories: curtain and load bearing walls. While the former are what actually constructs the structure and shell of a house, the latter are of much more importance. They are those particular walls that hold all the weight of the part of the house which stands above said wall. This translates into the fact that, if you accidentaly knock one down, parts of the house will go down with it, roof and upper floors included.
Load bearing walls transfer some of the weight they’re holding to the foundation, but that doesn’t mean permanent damage won’t be done to the house if you tear them down. They are usually made of concrete, brick or block, hard materials which have to stand the test of time and heavy weights.
How to determine if a wall is load bearing
Determining if a wall is load bearing or not has become a frequently asked question these days. Interior design styles have shifted, meaning most people now want their home to follow an open plan. Therefore, they want more space and, to get that space, certain walls must be torn down.
You can’t tell if a wall is load bearing or not by just looking at it, especially if the house is new. Young houses or the ones which have been recently renovated are considered somewhat difficult to decipher from an engineering or architectural point of view. This is why it’s crucial you consult with a specialist before you make any changes whatsoever to your house. Especially if those changes mean breaking down walls. Apart from the safety point of view, your house might also be under some city or county regulations. This means you may not have permission to tear down or undergo substantial changes to your house.
Here are a few tips on how to get a general picture on which wall in your home is load bearing and which is a curtain wall.
#1. Get an idea of your house’s structure
We’ve already given you some clues on how a house structure works when we defined what a load bearing wall actually is. Still, there’s more to a structure than that. You should educate yourself and get to know things such as the fact that exterior walls, for example, are always load bearing.
Find out your house’s history, because exterior walls are deceiving. For instance, some additions might have been made to the house by previous owners. They might have added a closed terrace, a balcony or a sun room. This means that the original exterior load bearing walls are now actually inside the house. But they are still load bearing. Therefore, tearing them down will bring that whole part of the house down.
#2. Always start with the foundation
If your house happens to have an unfinished basement or a wall that is easily accessible, try to find the support beam. There should be I-beams or a multi-board beam made of wood. Where the beams are, that’s where the house’s weight is. Any wall that stands directly above those beams is most likely load bearing. Please notice the use of ‘most likely.’ It does not mean that is always the case. Many houses have unusual architectures. Therefore, you should still call in a specialist.
#3. Find the floor joists
You can find them by looking up from the basement to the ground floor or by looking down from the attic to the below floor. Keep in mind the direction in which they point, as bearing walls are usually perpendicular to them.
Also, if you notice one wall which is holding up joints intersecting at one point, that wall may also be load bearing. However, do look at the whole structure of the house because this is not a regular thing.
#4. Notice the continuation
Load bearing walls tend to be stacked one above the other. This means they are located in the same place on every floor. If a wall does not have a correspondent above it, it’s not a good candidate for the load bearing job.
Removing a load bearing wall
Believe it or not, you can actually bring down a load bearing wall. Please note that this is not considered something you can do on your own as it might result in serious injury and the whole collapse of the house. However, it can be done and here is how.
- Remove the drywall and clean all of the wall until you get to its skeleton. This might take a while since they are normally built of very sturdy materials.
- Remove all the wall’s insides as well, meaning the concrete, beams, and bricks.
- Have a whole array of steel braces at hand, because you will need them to provide support for the structure
- Keep in mind you also need to construct a permanent support point while you tear down the old wall, but it doesn’t have to be another wall. You can also use support beams or even some pillars. They don’t provide the same long-term support as a full wall, but they will do the job for a limited amount of time.
The bottom line is that, although taking down a load bearing wall is possible and you can even succeed by yourself, it’s still a very good idea to call in a specialist. This is one type of situation where the proverbial ‘better safe than sorry’ fully applies. However, the primary thing you need to do is to learn how to tell if a wall is load bearing or not.