A common request we receive is homeowners wanting to remove interior or exterior house walls for creating a more open floor plan. Older houses rely on boxed-in, function specific spaces, such as living rooms, kitchens, formal dining rooms, and family rooms. In contrast, modern houses include wide open floor plans and spacious great rooms more conducive to large gatherings with friends and family. Many residents in older, desirable neighborhoods who refuse to abandon their unique, old house character frequently explore wall removal as an alternate to buying a newer style home. If wall removal is part of your upcoming renovation plan, here are a few frequently asked questions for consideration:
Which walls are load bearing? This is by far the first and most important question to answer upfront. Older houses often rely on interior walls for supporting loads from the floors above. Some interior walls are non-load bearing, and these walls can normally be removed. If the wall is load bearing, a new beam and bearing stud column system can be designed to transfer loads and permit the desired wall removal.
Does any drywall need to be removed to determine what is load bearing? Having all the house framing exposed is the ideal situation, but a structural engineer can generally determine which walls are load bearing or not by reviewing the house layout and other indicators based on experience. In some cases, a small localized area of existing wall or ceiling drywall might need to be removed to confirm any uncertain conditions with the existing framing.
What about existing HVAC, plumbing, and electric in the wall? Existing ductwork, electrical wiring, and plumbing lines are frequently routed through interior and exterior house walls. Another initial planning step is to review the existing wall with the appropriate trade contractors to determine the need and feasibility in relocating any necessary utility lines concealed within the wall.
Can I just use the same new beam design that my neighbor used? Definitely not! Every wall removal project is unique and should be individually reviewed so the correct loads are used for a safe and building-code-compliant beam and column design. Depending on the new wall opening size and loads, the new beam could be conventional lumber, manufactured Glulam or LVL (laminated veneer lumber), or even steel. Also, new beams and/or columns are sometimes required in the spaces below to safely support the new concentrated point loads that result from removing a wall.
Is a building permit required? Typically, Yes. A building permit application and a design drawing packet stamped by a PE are normally required by your local building department for any planned alteration, relocation, or removal of any structural beam, column, or wall support. A structural engineer can provide a design drawing packet showing the modification scope of work with a floor plan, details, notes, and their professional engineer (PE) stamp.
Having a structural engineer visit, review your house layout, and determine which walls are load bearing or not is always a prudent first step. We can definitely help with this process, and please click here to visit our website for further information on getting your project started.