Open concept layouts have enjoyed popularity for a generation. Natural light, family cohesion, and child safety are all a part of their appeal. In contrast, older designs leave families with dim halls, under-used space, and lower resale values. For those wanting to open their living space, unwanted walls pose an obvious, yet underestimated obstacle. Many can’t foresee the issues that come up during wall removal and attempt these projects on their own. 

The first challenge is finding out whether the wall in question carries a load or provides earthquake resistance. This is an important and complex task. Most homeowners realize that some walls in their home are load-bearing, but few can spot one with confidence. Without structural drawings or an engineer’s assessment, it’s difficult to be certain. 

What Are Load-bearing Walls?

Load-bearing walls carry the weight of the structure above them. In earthquake-prone areas like California, they resist seismic loads and protect the home from earthquake damage as well. While most load-bearing walls are exterior, some are inside the footprint. The characteristics below can suggest that an interior wall is load-bearing: 

• It runs perpendicular to floor, ceiling, or roof joists above
• It is situated directly beneath another wall or slightly offset
• It is set on top of a support beam or concrete foundation
• It is centrally placed and runs in the longer direction of the building. 

That said, not all walls conform to these attributes, especially when they are being used to brace against earthquake loads. The best way to determine this is to study the original structural drawings or to call an engineering professional to inspect the house. Please call our team of expert engineers at (877) 892-0292 for a consultation. 

Load-Bearing Wall Removal

A load-bearing wall typically should be replaced with a temporary structure during removal and a permanent one after. A single beam with columns at either end is often an adequate replacement, although sometimes the layout of the area below may require more than one beam to be effective. Placing a new beam or beams below the existing floor joists in line with the demolished wall is often the cheapest option, but may not achieve the desired aesthetic. Another option is to cut the existing joists above the wall in question in order to fit the beam in the ceiling, thus hiding it from sight below. The size of the beam and its cost will depend on the weight of the load it’s supporting and the length of its span between columns; occasionally, larger beams will still protrude beneath the ceiling. In this case, it may be preferable to use a stronger steel beam to achieve the desired effect, or reduce the size of the resulting opening and save costs. 

Non-Load-Bearing Walls

Non-bearing walls are not as relevant in a structural sense, but do fulfill plenty of other functions. They offer privacy, reduce noise, save energy costs, and conceal pipes and wiring. Homeowners must consider these factors before proceeding with removal. 

Energy Costs

Energy costs can run higher in an open concept space. Walls create smaller zones where climate control systems work efficiently and without them, one open area is costlier to heat and cool. That said, there are many solutions to offset higher energy costs, and a remodeling professional can find one that works best. Our engineers have plenty of expertise in this area, and are only a phone call away. Please call us at (877) 892-0292 to discuss your options. 

Mechanical Services

Electrical wiring, plumbing, or HVAC ducts may all be contained inside a partition. Walls in a two-story home are more likely to conceal these, as are walls adjacent to a bathroom. Rerouting services found in the walls can add costs and time to the project, and it’s best to call in expert removal contractors to help keep the project on time and on budget. 

Hazardous Materials

Drywall demolition is dusty, messy and unavoidable during the wall removal process. Sometimes, it may pose a major health hazard. Asbestos was in regular use before 1980 and may be present in the walls of an older home. Demolition releases dangerous asbestos fibers with clouds of drywall dust, and these may cause irreversible harm to the health of workers and occupants of a home. The health risks don’t end with asbestos. Toxic in small amounts and widely used prior to 1978, lead paint is another likely hazard in older dwellings. Before removing drywall, a contractor must test walls for asbestos and lead paint, and take steps to control exposure to these substances. Other hazardous substances may also exist in walls, and removal experts should always be consulted before proceeding with a wall removal.

Permits 

Wall removals require a permit across all jurisdictions in California, and even non-bearing walls typically require confirmation by a structural engineer that they are not fulfilling any structural purpose. In the case of load-bearing walls, local building departments will ask for demolition drawings and plans for showing the new permanent support system. The contractor would then be responsible for implementing this solution.

How We Can Help

Many reasons may tempt you to swing a hammer at your walls. Your living room lights burn around the clock. Your home’s resale value can’t keep up with that of newer homes on the market. You dream of a large, bright living space where your family can cook, dine and lounge together. Regardless of the aim of your upgrade, knocking down unneeded walls is both complex and dangerous. Despite having identifiable characteristics, load-bearing walls are easy to miss because they may be concealed. Removing these without replacing structural supports can cause serious damage and blow the project’s budget through the roof. Non-bearing walls make for a cheaper removal, but present challenges of their own. Mechanicals and hazardous materials can hide within, and both factors need careful planning and execution. 

The Design Everest team is well equipped for handling the planning phase of a wall removal. Our expert engineers will identify load-bearing walls, propose new structural supports, plan to move mechanical services and simplify the permitting process. Our industry partners can ensure that the design is energy efficient. For complete peace of mind, we can refer you to trusted, experienced contractors to execute the project. If you are ready to do away with your outdated floor plan and open your living space, we are here to help. Please call us at (877) 892-0292 for a FREE consultation and estimate.

*Note: The content published above was made in collaboration with members of Design Everest.

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