Whether you’d like to create an open-concept layout or enlarge your living space, replacing a load-bearing wall with a support beam is simple. All you need is a bit of planning, professional assistance, and a quality contractor.
In this post, we’ll walk you through the five essential steps to replace a load-bearing wall with a support beam and give you a few tips along the way. Read on to learn more!
First and Foremost — Get a Permit For Your Load-Bearing Wall Removal Project
Knocking down walls is a permitted activity in California, and it’s for good reason: safety. Your building officials want to ensure that you, your family, and any future occupants are protected from errors that could lead to injury and property damage.
Even if you have construction experience and are treating your load-bearing wall removal as a DIY project, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and get a permit. Keep in mind that failing to obtain a permit may lead to issues when you try to sell the property with the unpermitted alteration.
With the help of a professional engineer, the plan check process can be a breeze — you won’t be stuck waiting through countless review cycles.
How to Replace a Load-Bearing Wall With a Support Beam — Five Essential Steps
The steps needed to replace a load-bearing wall with a support beam will ultimately hinge on the specifics of your property. This is why consulting with a licensed engineer is always a good way to kick off such an alteration.
That said, below you’ll find the five basic steps that generally apply to most load-bearing wall replacement projects.
Plan Around Hazardous Substances in the Wall
The two primary culprits to look out for are asbestos and lead-based paint. Both are incredibly harmful, especially when crews disturb them during demolition. Also, removing either substance from your dwelling is regulated both by state and federal authorities.
If your home predates 1978, there’s a high chance that asbestos may be lurking in its walls. Unfortunately, the toxic compound had many uses in construction before getting banned, and crews often utilized it to patch drywall.
So, if you suspect that your older home has asbestos in the wall you’re about to knock down, be sure to consult a certified asbestos contractor and notify your local Air Quality Management Department about the upcoming project. If your property is in a non-delegated air district, you’ll need to notify the U.S. EPA about your project instead.
Note that in either scenario, you’ll have to provide a copy of this notice to the building authorities along with the permit application.
Similar to asbestos, lead-based paint saw widespread use before its prohibition in the late 70s. In fact, if your home was built prior to 1978, it’s safe to assume that your walls have this compound (even if numerous fresh coats of paint now conceal it). To ensure your family’s well-being and comply with federal regulations, make sure you hire a lead-safe certified contractor to tear down the wall.
Reroute Any MEP Infrastructure to a Different Location
If you’re lucky, the load-bearing wall you’ve slated for demolition only has a few electrical outlets, which are easy to remove.
However, if the wall conceals electrical conduits, plumbing, and HVAC ducts, then your engineer will have to get creative in rerouting these services to a different location.
Depending on the types of services hidden in the wall and the home’s overall MEP design, this process can be so costly that you may want to leave the load-bearing wall intact. To avoid expensive surprises, make sure you consult an engineer and get a cost estimate before committing to the project.
Provide Temporary Supports for the Structure Above
This is a critical step: you must shore up the structure that the load-bearing wall supports before the wall comes down. Without adequate temporary supports, any loads your load-bearing wall carries will cease to have a path to the ground below—leaving you with the risk of severe structural damage.
Luckily, installing temporary supports is a straightforward, inexpensive task. In most cases, your contractor will be able to set up a simple stud wall adjacent to the load-bearing wall you wish to remove. The process is typically non-invasive, as the temporary wall’s top and bottom plates can be friction-fitted to the floor and ceiling.
That said, the solution may vary depending on your home’s design, so a structural engineer is your best authority to propose a way forward with temporary supports.
Remove the Load-Bearing Wall
Once the temporary wall is adequately shoring up the structure above, it should be safe to commence the demolition. The process will depend on the type of load-bearing wall structure. In most single-family homes, this should be a stud wall that’s easy enough to deconstruct. However, some properties may have other types of load-bearing walls, such as CMU or ICF, and these may take a little more effort to knock down because they’re essentially concrete.
Install the Support Beam
You should brainstorm load-bearing beam ideas long before the wall comes down. Keep in mind that there are other support alternatives, such as posts; but if you’ve decided on a beam, you have two options for installing it:
- Beneath the ceiling — In this scenario, the beam will protrude underneath the ceiling, with the structure above resting directly on it. This is by far the simplest and least expensive way to install a replacement support beam since you won’t have to cut into the floor assembly above. However, the beam will not be flush with the ceiling this way. You’ll have to consider the clearance distance beneath the beam so that it doesn’t become a hazard for taller people walking under it.
- Flush with the ceiling — This is a costlier option since you’ll have to cut into the floor joists above the ceiling to fit the support beam. The joists will then be attached to the sides of the beam. With this option, the replacement process will likely require two temporary support walls—one on each side of where the joists have been cut.
It’s a balance between costs and aesthetics, but ultimately, either approach works.
However, your decision-making process doesn’t end there — you should also consult with your engineer and zero in on the type of support beam. These are the typical beam types:
- Dimensional lumber beam — this is the same material that comprises your home’s wood frame. Choosing a dimensional lumber beam is usually the least expensive approach; however, such a beam may not be suitable for exceptionally long spans.
- LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber) beam — these manufactured beams are a bit pricier than those made with dimensional lumber, but they’re strong enough to span greater distances.
- Architectural LVL beam — if you’d like to leave the beam exposed, this may be a good, albeit expensive, option.
Since choosing the type of beam has structural implications for your home, you should get an engineer’s advice before committing to a specific type.
After the contractor installs your new support beam, they’ll put up drywall around it and match your ceiling finish. They’ll also have to create a new transition for the flooring where the load-bearing wall used to be. Keep this step in mind, as it may lead to extra costs.
How Design Everest Can Help With Load-Bearing Wall Removal
If you’d like to replace a load-bearing wall with a support beam, Design Everest can spare you the headache and oversee your project from start to finish. Our team of licensed engineers has worked on thousands of projects in California since 2005 and is happy to assist with the following:
- Survey your home to come up with the optimal support beam solution
- Create plans for the alteration
- Assist with permitting
- Oversee and assess the work quality
To learn more and get a FREE consultation and quote, contact us today.