How to Remove a Non-Load-Bearing Wall

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Walls are routinely removed in homes. This is a project that opens up space, provides greater flexibility, and often corrects poor home remodels by previous owners.

There are two types of walls in a house: load-bearing and non-load bearing. Load-bearing walls support the weight of elements above such as the roof, attic, second floor, and joists. All exterior walls are load-bearing, while only some interior walls are load-bearing. By contrast, a non-load-bearing wall supports only itself. While it may be physically attached to the ceiling, it does not support the ceiling. Non-load bearing walls exist only to separate rooms.

This means that, as a do-it-yourselfer, you can remove a non-load-bearing wall with relative ease—once you confirm that it does not bear loads.

Basics of Removing a Non-Load-Bearing Wall

Older houses were segmented into many small rooms to control heating or because milled lumber was incapable of spanning great distances. Today's inexpensive laminated veneer lumber (LVL) had not yet arrived.

Newer, post-World War II houses began to adopt the open floor plan with beams that could span those distances. These houses typically have a single large communal area that includes a kitchen, dining room, family room, and two or three bedrooms.

Why You Have Non-Load-Bearing Walls

Even if the purpose of the wall is not to bear loads, it may exist for other reasons: sound blocking, energy segmentation, privacy considerations. You will often find these types of non-load-bearing walls:

  • Closet walls
  • Walls between bedrooms
  • Interior basement walls
  • Walls that create a home theater or entertainment area
  • Any kind of set of angular walls such as for a kitchen pantry or a powder room

The Secret of Removing a Non-Load-Bearing Wall

Home shows often have hosts and homeowners bashing walls with sledgehammers. Instead of that, your approach to removing a non-load-bearing wall will be more surgical. Bashing down a wall with extreme force is needlessly messy and dangerous. In fact, this approach may not even work.

Rather than trying to topple the wall, you will dismantle the wall. Dismantling happens in layers, from outer to inner, much like peeling away an onion. After removing obstacles like light switches, sconce lights, and towel racks, you will remove the drywall from the studs. After the drywall, you will remove items within the wall. Finally, you will cut down the studs, pull them back, and dispose of them.

Safety Considerations

Removing a non-load-bearing wall can be dangerous in many respects. First, the process of removing the non-load-bearing wall touches on many hazardous elements and activities: live wires, sharp metal (even glass and razor blades), vermin, heavy items falling on you, and other types of injuries. For this, always be fully suited up with safety gear. Second, if you mistakenly remove a load-bearing wall, you risk severe damage to your home that can be extremely costly to fix.

Project Metrics

  • Working Time: 2 hours (for a 10-foot long wall)
  • Total Time: 3 hours
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Material Cost: None

What You Will Need

Equipment/Tools

Instructions

Determine That the Wall Is Non-Load-Bearing

Walls always define rooms but only sometimes do they bear weight from above. When they do bear weight, they are important to the structural integrity of the entire house. These clues can help you determine if a wall is load-bearing:

  • All exterior walls are load-bearing. There is no exception to this rule.
  • If the wall parallels the joists above, it likely does not bear loads.
  • Conversely, if a wall is bearing loads, it will be built perpendicular to the joists above it.
  • Some walls built at a perpendicular angle still might be non-load bearing. A closet is a good example of a non-load-bearing wall that often runs at a 90-degree angle to the joists.

Turn Off Power and Water

At the circuit breaker, turn off electricity running through the wall. Shut off intermediary water shut-off valves or turn off the water at the house's main shut-off valve.

Obtain Permits

Load-bearing and non-load-bearing wall removal is a permitted activity in nearly all communities. Even though you may have determined that you can remove your wall with no effect on the house's structural integrity, your city or county permit agency will need to confirm this. Apply for the permit at least two weeks before you plan to remove the wall.

Remove Surface Obstacles

Even items such as light switches and faceplates that you intend to include in the trash should be individually removed beforehand. They can make it more difficult to remove the drywall.

Remove Drywall

With the claw end of the hammer, chop into the drywall. Fold back and discard small pieces. With your hands, peel away dangling sections of drywall. When you can locate a drywall screw, unscrew it. Any drywall screws that you can remove make it simple for you to remove the drywall.

Clear Wires and Pipes From the Walls

Services and utility lines often run through interior walls: electrical cables, plumbing supply pipes, sewer waste pipes, communications cables, and more.

If your interior non-bearing wall has utilities, then you may want to hire a plumber or electrician to come in to cap off or stub out those services. For electrical, you will be left with a junction box that is covered by a blank faceplate, which can usually be painted over.

Cut Away Studs and Remove

With the reciprocating saw, cut studs at the center. By hand, pull the cut studs back.

Cut Away Protruding Nails

Nails will protrude from the ceiling and the floor. Put the metal-cutting blade in the reciprocating saw and cut away the nails.

When to Call a Professional

Determining whether an interior wall is bearing or not bearing loads can be a tricky business. You can get the opinion of a contractor or structural engineer who will charge you an hourly or flat fee to check out the wall.