Open Those Rooms: Replace a Load-Bearing Wall With a Structural Beam

  • 01 of 16

    Open Up Your Home...

    Mid Century Modern Open Plan Living Room With Beam - 56800967
    Mid Century Modern Open Plan Living Room With Beam. H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

    Walls serve a great purpose.  They create privacy, define spaces, and sometimes bear the weight of the level above.  But what if you want to eliminate some of those walls altogether?


    Creating a Retrofit Open Floor Plan Means Removing Walls


    Starting in the 1950s, when the open floor plan style became popular, all of those walls and doors segmenting the house suddenly fell into disfavor.


    Today, few homeowners want a highly segmented house.  


    As long as the wall is not load-bearing, you can take it...MORE down with little thought toward  structural support of adjoining spaces.  But for load-bearing walls, it is an entirely different story. 


    Non-Load Bearing vs. Load Bearing Walls


    • Non Load-Bearing: If the wall is not load-bearing, it is safe to remove without replacement materials to support weight. Structurally, the wall exists on its own.  
    • Load-Bearing:  If the wall is load-bearing, you will need to carry the weight of the level above by other means, such as constructing a beam or buying a special laminated beam.  See the Materials and Tools section at the end for details about beams.

    How Much Does This Cost?


    By doing this job yourself, you can expect to save considerable money.  


    • Contractor-Driven:  This is the very definition of a "labor intensive, materials sparse" project.  Costs vary according to your area and local contractors, but nationally the consensus is that you can expect to pay about $5,000 for 8 feet of load bearing wall replaced with a laminated beam.    
    • Do It Yourself: The only special lumber you need is the laminated beam.  All other lumber is purchased off the shelf at your local home improvement store.  Most tools are commonplace--miter saw, framing hammer, tape measure--though it may be necessary to purchase or borrow some specialty tools, such as a Ramset nailer or lally columns.  You can do this project for $500 to $1,000.

    Continue to 2 of 16 below.
  • 02 of 16

    Create Support System and Demolish

    Removing Interior Wall - Cut and Remove Studs
    Removing interior wall - cut and remove studs.

    Whatever you remove must be replaced--at least temporarily.


    Support System


    When you remove a load-bearing wall, you need to create an adjacent support system--prior to removal--that will continue to bear the weight until the beam is fully in place.  There are two ways to do this:


    1. Lally Columns:  Adjustable steel columns (lally columns or jack posts) are the quickest and most effective way to add supports.  Lay a strip of two-by-fours on the floor, run another doubled-up strip across the ceiling...MORE (held in place with nails or screws), then jack the steel columns into place between the two strips.
    2. Two-By-Fours:  Instead of steel columns, you can use 2x4s cut to length.  Essentially, you are building a second wall.  Cheaper than renting or buying steel posts, it is more difficult because you cannot incrementally raise or lower heights as you would with the jack posts.  

    In either case, provide supports at the ceiling and the floor for the posts to rest against or else they may punch through. Use a stud finder to place the top of the support squarely under the joists.


    Demolition


    Add dust shields. You can staple sheet plastic right to the wood. Or you can purchase an item called a ZipWall.


    Demolish the wall by gently hitting the drywall between studs with a sledgehammer.  Light swings of the hammer will punch clean holes in the drywall. A line of these holes will allow you to pry back the drywall. This is my favored method because, unlike a reciprocating saw, it produces less dust.


    Stud removal is made easier by cutting the studs in half, as shown, then prying away the cut ends.  


    Continue to 3 of 16 below.
  • 03 of 16

    Set King Stud and Nail Into Place

    Setting King Stud
    Setting king stud. Lee Wallender

    Your assembly is composed of four main elements:


    1. 2 king studs (one at each end)
    2. 4 jack studs (two at each end)
    3. Beam
    4. Peripherals, such as metal angles to tie beam in place, nails, screws, etc.

    The king stud represents the backing board for the ends of your beam. As with all other materials here, it has to be rock solid because it will hold the jack studs.


    Note


    You might already have a king stud in place after you demolished your wall. In the case of the assembly shown here, I am setting an additional...MORE king stud atop a stud that marginally could have acted as a king stud.  However, because the king stud is such an important element, I added greater strength to the assembly by tacking on a second king stud.  Also, pressure-treated wood (as shown here) is not required.


    Continue to 4 of 16 below.
  • 04 of 16

    Measure For Temporary Beam Ledge

    Measure For Beam Pocket
    Measure for beam pocket. Lee Wallender

    The beam will need temporary support ledges.  This support will hold the beam less than an inch below the ultimate contact points, which in this case are the joists of the floor above.


    Measure the depth of your beam and then add an extra half-inch.  


    In this case, the beam is 7" deep.  Another 1/2" is added to give room for the beam to move into place easier.


    These ledges are created with short two-by-fours cut to the width of your king post. They are then nailed into place on the king studs. 


    Continue to 5 of 16 below.
  • 05 of 16

    Cut Glulam Beam With Miter Saw

    Cut Glulam Beam With Miter Saw
    Cut glulam beam with miter saw. Lee Wallender

    Measure the inner distance between the two king studs. This is the ultimate case of measure twice, cut once.  Even if you are comfortable with absorbing the cost of a replacement glulam beam, you will need to order it and wait for it to be delivered.


    You can cut your beam on an ordinary electric miter saw. If the beam is too deep to be cut with the saw blade, cut as far as you can and then flip the beam over and cut the remaining section.


    Continue to 6 of 16 below.
  • 06 of 16

    Use Ladder To Position Beam

    Use Ladder To Position Beam
    Use ladder to position beam. Lee Wallender

    As with any home remodeling project, it is always better to have two people work on a project that requires heavy lifting.  But it is possible to do this job by yourself.


    As long as you have the physical strength, it is possible to lift glulam beams that are up to 10 feet long.  The issue is less about the weight of the beam than the fact that beams are positioned above your head.  


    When heavy items are higher than your head, you have exponentially less stability than if they were located below...MORE shoulder level.  In addition, lifting heavy items high is a major cause of back injuries.


    One trick is to rest one end of the beam on the top of your ladder while you hold the other end. Then tilt the beam down on your end until the free end reaches the height of your beam ledge.


    Finally, swivel the beam into place on the beam ledge.


    Continue to 7 of 16 below.
  • 07 of 16

    Use Laser Measurer To Check Joist Movement

    Use Laser Measurer To Check Joist Movement
    Use laser measurer to check joist movement. Lee Wallender

    Keep track of what is going on with the floor above that you are trying to support with the beam.


    Use a laser measurer to measure the distance between the joist above and the floor that you are standing on.


    Write this distance on one of the joists and occasionally check it to make sure that you are not losing any distance. This way, you will know if the floor above is slowly subsiding.


    Continue to 8 of 16 below.
  • 08 of 16

    Create Side Channels For Beam

    Side Channels For Beam
    Side channels for beam. Lee Wallender

    With the beam placed on the beam ledges, create side channels on all four sides of the beam.


    As with the beam ledges, these channels are simply 2x4s that are cut to the width of your king stud.  Nail or screw into place.


    This effectively creates channels on both sides of the beam, preventing it from slipping out. This way, you can slide the beam upward and not fear that you will accidentally slip the beam off of one side.


    Continue to 9 of 16 below.
  • 09 of 16

    Using Jack To Hold Beam in Place

    Using Jack To Hold Beam in Place
    Using jack to hold beam in place. Lee Wallender

    Raise the beam until it touches the bottoms of the joists of the floor above.


    While you can lift one end at a time, you will have a better, tighter fit if you move the entire beam straight up and level.


    You can do this by having a helper at each end press the beam up until it contacts the joists.  Then, you block under each beam end.


    Another method is to position a temporary post in the center of your beam, using a car jack to raise the beam and lightly press it up.


    Continue to 10 of 16 below.
  • 10 of 16

    Tightly Fit First Jack Stud

    Tight Fit For First Jack Stud
    Tight fit for first jack stud. Lee Wallender

    Now it is time to install the jack studs. The first jack stud will do most of the raising of the beam.  This is where you begin to see why it is a jack stud:  it is doing jacking duties.


    Extreme caution:  do not jack too tightly.  You risk cracking elements in the level above, such as the flooring, plaster or drywall, trim.


    But what is too much or not enough?  It is a balancing act, trying to get the beam tight, yet not so tight that it lifts the floor higher than it should be. 


    One way to...MORE accomplish this is to rest the lower end of the first jack stud below in place. Then, swing the top of that first jack stud towards the king stud until it begins to rub against the beam.


    You want to have about 3 or 4 inches where the first jack stud is rubbing against the glulam beam. Basically, this is the three inches where you will be pounding the first jack stud and place, rather than having free movement.


    Continue to 11 of 16 below.
  • 11 of 16

    Setting First Jack Stud

    Setting First Jack Stud
    Setting first jack stud. Lee Wallender

    Hammer the first jack stud in place.


    Use a 2x4 as a block.  You are not trying to preserve the surface of your jack stud since this will get covered up with trim or drywall. Rather, it helps distribute the impact of your hammer across the entire width of the jack stud.


    Continue to 12 of 16 below.
  • 12 of 16

    Set Second Jack Stud

    Set Second Jack Stud
    Set second jack stud. Lee Wallender

    Measure the second jack stud to size, rather than transferring measurements from the first jack stud.  Minute variations in the floor and beam may throw off transferred measurements.


    As with the first jack stud, cut the second jack a little bit longer so that it has to be hammered into place.


    However, this second stud should only need minimal hammering.  The first jack stud already did the lifting.


    Continue to 13 of 16 below.
  • 13 of 16

    Raise Jack Stud With Lever

    Raise Jack Stud With Lever
    Raise jack stud with lever. Lee Wallender

    For the second jack stud, if you happen to cut it too short, you can put a lever underneath and raise it.  In this case, a wrecking bar serves as the lever.


    Continue to 14 of 16 below.
  • 14 of 16

    Tie In the Beam

    Tie In the Beam
    Tie in the beam. Lee Wallender

    Tie in the beam to the jack and king posts and to the joists.


    Shown here are metal angles from Simpson Strong-Tie.


    Toe-nail beam to the joists or attach with metal hurricane straps.


    Continue to 15 of 16 below.
  • 15 of 16

    Materials and Tools

    Weyerhauser LVL Beam
    Weyerhauser LVL beam. Weyerhauser

    Replacing a load-bearing wall with a beam requires surprisingly few materials; it is more about labor than materials.  You will need:


    Beam 


    You can create your own beam or you can buy a laminated beam.


    One example of how to construct a beam is to sandwich two 2x8s on both sides of 1/2" plywood. Wood glue is applied to all surfaces and the boards are tightly nailed together. 


    Laminated beams are available on special order at your local lumber yard.


    Lumber 


    Lumber sufficient to create two king posts and...MORE four jack posts.  


    To carry a beam 3.5" wide, this would mean purchasing a total of six 2x4x8 studs.


    Miter or Circular Saw


    For accurate cuts, an electric miter saw is recommended.


    Framing Hammer


    Heavy-duty framing hammers are essential for driving the big nails needed for hold these posts in place.


    Nails


    16d @ 3.5"


    Tape Measure


    Powder-Actuated Nailer


    Laser Measurer


    Continue to 16 of 16 below.
  • 16 of 16

    Additional Matters

    new work metal electrical box
    Lee Wallender

    Permits


    Find out if you need a building permit by calling your local permit office or checking online.


    Spans and Engineering


    Consult span tables or, better yet, a structural engineer to determine dimensions of the beam you will be adding.


    Plumbing and Electrical


    Plumbing or electrical services likely run through the wall.


    Shut off circuit breakers, then check with a voltage detector. If you have plumbing, shut off water at the source.


    Electrical wires need to be addressed.  Most likely you will have at...MORE least a couple of outlets and a light switch or two that you need to relocate. In many cases, it is a matter of moving existing wiring to a different portion of the wall or to a new wall. If you feel even the slightest bit uncomfortable with electrical work, hire an electrician.


    Debris Disposal


    Post-demolition, you will have ​a large pile of drywall, 2x4s, nails, and other construction debris.  This can be disposed of in a roll off dumpster.


    Fix-It Work


    You will need to do drywall work.


    Trim must be replaced and/or fixed may include: baseboards, door casing, crown molding.


    New drywall must be primed and painted.