You’re about to knock down a load-bearing wall. Doing so impacts the structure of the house, and you’ll need a permit from your authority having jurisdiction before proceeding with the project.
As you get your permit application ready, some things to consider include temporary shoring and permanent structural supports, mechanical/electrical/plumbing (MEP) services inside the wall, and hazardous materials. High costs and schedule delays may tempt you to remove your load-bearing wall without a permit, but before you make this mistake, consider the long-term risks of doing so.
The load-bearing wall you are about to demolish is supporting the structure above, such as another wall, floor or roof. If you were to remove the load-bearing wall without adequately designed temporary shoring, these structural elements above would be unsupported, and place the structure at risk of sustaining permanent damage or collapse. You will need to provide proper temporary support, or shoring, to ensure this area is supported during removal of the existing load-bearing wall and installation of new permanent structural supports.
The simplest temporary supports are built-in-place brace walls erected parallel to the wall you’re removing. A licensed contractor can build this temporary shoring system using typical stud wall construction, and attach the top and bottom plates to the joists above and below by nailing or friction-fitting. If the wall you’re taking out rests on top of another load-bearing wall, your contractor may also build secondary supports adjacent to this wall to continue the load path.
Setting up and removing temporary supports is an inexpensive and easy way to avert accidents and hassles during construction. Ensure your contractor plans to install temporary shoring and includes it in the construction bid.
After you remove your load-bearing wall, new permanent structural supports have to be installed in its place. Your options for the new structural supports depend on the aesthetic you want to achieve, but all should be designed by a licensed professional engineer to ensure they are able to support the load above.
If you’re OK with a beam protruding beneath the ceiling, you may save yourself some time and money. The new beam can easily be installed beneath the existing joists without major cost, but may protrude below the ceiling level.
You also have the option to install your new beam flush with the ceiling. To make it work, the existing joists are cut and fastened to the new beam with hangers, rather than placed on top and bearing on the beam. This gives your living space a smoother and more open appearance, but typically costs more than installing the beam under the existing joists. The beam will need to be sized and it is recommended to hire a licensed professional engineer to perform this service. Occasionally, the beam may still protrude below the ceiling, in which case manufactured lumber, structural steel, or additional structural supports may be selected to reduce the beam’s size and ensure a flat finished ceiling; these options typically come at a greater cost.
Your engineer can provide options on size and material specifications. Often this new beam will be either a large standard lumber member, or a smaller, stronger, and more expensive manufactured wood member, such as laminated veneer lumber (LVL). In some situations, multiple beams, or a steel beam may be required. If you are finishing your new beam with drywall, its appearance shouldn’t affect your decision. LVLs are pricier than dimensional lumber, but not by much. They are also stronger, so by going with an LVL you avoid having to sandwich multiple pieces of conventional lumber together to achieve the code required strength and stiffness. If you prefer an exposed-wood look, be ready to spend more. Architectural LVL beams, as well as architecturally-exposed joist/beam hangers, are more expensive.
Another way to replace a load-bearing wall is with a beam and columns. Columns strengthen the structure by reducing the beam’s span. Thanks to this added strength the beam can be smaller in size and less intrusive, but the columns you incorporate into the floor plan may curtail the openness of the space.
The list below summarizes the factors you should take into account as you decide on permanent structural supports to replace your load-bearing wall:
Once you and your engineer have settled on new supports, it’s time to determine whether mechanical, electrical and plumbing services are hidden within. Their presence can complicate your project and add money to your project’s budget. You can likely find this information in the original construction drawings of your house. If you do not have access to these drawings but suspect that services may run through a wall, it’s best to hire the appropriate licensed professional to perform an assessment.
If the wall you’re removing conceals plumbing pipes, mechanical ducts or electrical wires, your contractor has to reroute them into adjacent walls. You need separate permits for all associated electrical, plumbing, and mechanical work.
Walls in older homes can harbor hazardous materials. Asbestos was as a common drywall patching compound prior to 1978, and if your house was built before this time, consider hiring Certified Asbestos Contractor (CAC) to survey your wall. If asbestos is found, you will need to notify the Air Quality Management Department about your project. Be ready to submit a copy of this notification along with your permit application.
Lead Based Paint (LBP) is another common culprit in older homes. If your home dates back to 1978 or earlier, assume your walls have LBP. To comply with EPA regulations, only hire a lead-safe certified contractor to perform any work that disturbs lead-based materials, including wall demolition.
The hazardous substances your house may contain are not limited asbestos and LBP. For a complete peace of mind, it is recommended that you seek the help of a professional qualified in identifying, removing and disposing of hazardous materials.
Doing the work without alerting your authority having jurisdiction may seem like a painless alternative to long waiting times and expensive permit fees. Plenty of home renovation television series show wall removals as easy, DIY-type projects and you may have some construction experience that makes you feel up to the task. Or, your contractor may tell that you don’t need one.
Should the latter be true - be wary. No professional contractor will put your well-being and their reputation on the line by suggesting that such work go unpermitted. Contractors eager to work without permits may be unlicensed, and are typically not licensed to calculate beam sizes. If you care about your family’s safety, leave structural analysis, including beam calculations, to your structural engineer.
Planning to sell your house? You are required by the state to disclose any construction that was unpermitted or that does not comply with building codes. Your buyer’s real estate agent, appraisers, lenders and escrow officers WILL ask for documents that support alterations you performed. If you don’t have them, your buyers may axe the deal or ask for a stinging discount. If you ever want to sell your house for an agreeable price, let licensed professionals do the work and be sure to get every single permit your city or county mandates.
Taking down a load-bearing wall can leave you with plenty to worry about - temporary shoring, permanent structural supports, electrical wires, mechanical ducts, plumbing, asbestos, and lead paint just to name a few. Permits and inspections during construction can overwhelm. We understand.
Remodeling is our bread and butter. We’ve helped with countless load-bearing wall removals in our 14 years of operations. Our engineers can assess your situation and propose a cost-effective design that gets you the aesthetic you’re after. We can also connect you with top professionals who can help you with the rerouting of services or the disposal of hazardous materials.
If you want to start your project ASAP, let us help you bullet-proof your permit application. Call us at (877) 892-0292 for a FREE consultation and quote.