Of all the interior design trends that have come and gone, one style preference has stood the test of time — many homeowners would rather live in a house with a spacious, open floor plan than one that’s divided into a multitude of smaller rooms.
Year after year, homeowners continue to embrace open concepts and look for ways to create a more expansive, cohesive, and functional living space that’s better suited to their needs.
Transforming the compact layout of a conventional living area into an open, modern floor plan requires meticulous planning, especially when it comes to tearing down a load-bearing wall.
As a design-build firm with over two decades of experience, we’re often asked whether or not it’s even possible to remove a load-bearing wall. Most of the time, the answer is a resounding yes — as long as it’s done properly by an expert.
Here’s what you should know about this common undertaking in advanced home renovation.
What’s a Load-Bearing Wall?
Every wall in your home is either load-bearing or non-load bearing. A load-bearing wall is a basic structural element of architectural design that contributes to the very framework of your home — without them, your house would collapse.
Non-load bearing walls do not carry or distribute any weight from the structures above them to the foundation below. Non-load bearing walls simply exist to define interior space; they’re used to divide larger areas of square footage into smaller rooms.
How Does a Load-Bearing Wall Work?
As its name implies, a load-bearing wall provides critical support that helps achieve a balanced weight distribution across the structure of your home. Called the “load path,” this line of load dispersal helps transfer weight from the roof to the foundation in an even, sustainable manner.
In short, load-bearing walls provide optimal load path balance to reinforce the structure of your house and ensure it remains sturdy and sound. Basically, they keep your house standing.
To prevent the buckling of interior and exterior walls — and to keep the roof from collapsing — architects work with structural engineers to calculate the precise load pathways that will keep a structure perfectly stable.
Because these structural, weight-sustaining elements of your home’s framework are vital to the integrity of your house, they can’t be removed without installing a replacement support system (beam, post, column, etc.) first.
How Can I Tell if a Wall is Structural?
Every external wall of your home is structural, or load-bearing; if you live in a two-story house, interior walls that are stacked on top of one another may also be structurally vital. You can find stacked load-bearing walls by measuring or studying your current floor plan.
One way to tell if a first-floor wall is load-bearing is to head into your unfinished basement or crawl space and check for continuous footing beneath that wall; a load-bearing wall can also have joists running perpendicular above it, or struts at an angle to support the roof and ceiling.
If all of this sounds like Greek to you, you’re not alone. Luckily, the easiest and most foolproof way to determine if a wall is structural is by having a professional do it for you.
Can I Get Rid of a Load-Bearing Wall?
The short answer is yes, absolutely — most load-bearing walls can be removed once there’s an alternate support system in place that can continue to provide a balanced transfer of weight.
But even if detailed online video tutorials have left you feeling confident that this is a job that you can handle yourself, taking down a load-bearing wall isn’t a DIY project.
Tearing down a load-bearing wall is a complicated process that requires meticulous planning to ensure the structural integrity of your home is never compromised — just one minor mistake along the way can lead to all sorts of costly problems, including irreversible structural damage.
Removing a load-bearing wall can also open a Pandora's box of secondary renovation projects, ranging from rerouting water pipes, electrical wires, gas lines, and ductwork to structural floor modification or even complete floor refinishing.
A Job Best Left to the Pros
Hiring a licensed and experienced contractor to remove a load-bearing wall is always the best choice, even if you plan to handle other aspects of your renovation project yourself.
Even though hiring a pro may be a bit more expensive than tearing it down yourself, you can rest easy knowing that the structural integrity of your home is in good hands. With a pro, you can also expect a more streamlined project that’s completed with efficiency and competence.
Here at Hogan Design & Construction, we handle every aspect of residential and commercial renovation projects with the utmost quality, care, and consistency — even if that project simply involves removing a load-bearing wall and replacing it with a more open framework of support.