5 Things You Must Consider Before Removing a Non-Load Bearing Wall

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In the business of do-it-yourself interior wall removal, there are two types: load bearing and non-load bearing. Load bearing walls support the weight of elements above such as the roof, attic, second floor, joists, etc. 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.

Before you remove your non-load bearing interior wall, consider these points about structural carpentry, permits, demolition, and how loads are carried.

1. That Wall May Be There for a Reason

Older houses were segmented into many small rooms to better control heating or because milled lumber was not capable of spanning great distances. Old growth forests that produced massive beams were thinning out, yet the day of inexpensive laminated veneer lumber (LVL) had not yet arrived.

Newer, post-World War II houses began to adopt the open floor plan and span those distances. These are houses that have a single large communal area that includes kitchen, dining room, family room, and perhaps even other rooms.

Today, as homeowners think more about green-building and smart energy-saving tactics, few methods are as efficient as heating and cooling individual rooms rather than the whole house at once.

In only the last 30 years, we have already seen how the vaulted (or cathedral) ceiling has fallen into disfavor as an energy vampire. Could the open floor plan be next?

In summary, even if the purpose of the wall is not to bear loads, it may exist for other reasons: sound blocking, energy segmentation, privacy considerations. One of the worst actions you can take with respect to remodeling is to begin removing walls as soon as you have purchased the home. Live in the house for a few months and get a feel for it before you start making major changes, such as moving or removing walls.

2. Determine That It Is Really Not Bearing Loads

Walls always define rooms. But they only sometimes bear weight from above and are important to the structural integrity of the entire house.

You can play detective and 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 is likely not bearing loads.
  • 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.

3. Confirm With a Contractor or Engineer That It Is Not Load Bearing

Determining whether an interior wall is bearing or not bearing loads can be a tricky business. You can get the opinion of a contractor, who will charge you an hourly or flat fee to check out the wall. If you are particularly concerned about getting an expert opinion, hire a structural engineer.

The structural engineer will charge a fee, and this fee is often quite high. Also, the engineer may have a minimum charge, so it may not be possible to have him or her come in for just half an hour.

4. Permits Likely Needed

Permits and more permits! As time goes by, municipalities add even more remodeling activities to their permitting list. Wall removal is a permitted activity in nearly all communities.

Even though you have determined that you can remove your wall with zero effect on the house's structural integrity, your city or county permit agency still does not quite believe you. This is because there is a long history of homeowners before you removing walls and causing serious damage to the house and even injuring others.

So, don't take it personally. Pay the fee for the permit and consider it the cost of doing business.

5. You May Find Wires, Pipes, and Other Sensitive Items Within the Walls

Removing an interior non-bearing wall is as simple as demolishing it and sending all the waste materials down to a roll container. While this is not a job that can be accomplished within two hours on a Friday evening, you may find that it is easier than expected. In fact, the main thing that you need to be concerned about is utilities running through the interior wall: electrical, plumbing, cable, and telephone.

If your interior non-bearing wall has utilities, then you have the added cost of hiring a plumber or electrician to come in and “cap off” those utilities.

For electrical, you will be left with a junction box that is covered by a blank faceplate, which can usually be painted over.