There’s nothing like walking into an older home and reimagining the possibilities. For most modern home buyers and homeowners looking to renovate an older home, this vision usually entails removing interior walls to create an open concept floor plan with cross-functional spaces. Creating an open layout goes a long way to maximize your space, particularly in smaller homes. That being said, it’s important to consider how to appropriately engineer your home when you’re dealing with load-bearing walls.
The Most Common Load-Bearing Wall Removals
A load-bearing wall is one that supports the weight of your roof and/or upper stories. It cannot be removed without offsetting the weight by installing a beam or other support. Unfortunately, it’s often the case that the wall or walls you want to remove are load-bearing walls. In Toronto homes, the most common walls homeowners want to remove are those separating the kitchen and the dining room, the front hallway and the living room, and the living room and the dining room. Removing these walls creates a fully open floor plan for the heart of your home.
How to Remove Load-Bearing Walls in Smaller Homes
Understanding Smaller Home Construction
Homes are constructed differently depending on their size, so the size of your house will likely dictate how you approach your renovation. Smaller homes measuring less than eighteen feet in width are usually built without a basement beam running from the front of the house to the back of the house because the main floor joists need less support. These joists are referred to as “full span” because they span the full width of the house, and they usually measure 2 inches by 10 inches.
Because smaller homes don’t have this basement beam, many DIYers and inexperienced contractors assume that the walls on the main floor aren’t load-bearing and can therefore be removed without structural consequences. But this is usually not the case, especially for two-story homes.
The reason for this is simple. Whereas the first floor has strong 2-inch by 10-inch floor joists, the second floor usually has slightly weaker 2-inch by 8-inch floor joists, so some of the weight of the second floor is transferred to the stronger main floor joists through the interior walls. These walls are known as partially load-bearing walls. If a contractor tries to remove a partially load-bearing wall without making structural modifications to the second floor, the undersized 2-inch by 8-inch joists will be overstressed, and the integrity of the second floor of the home will be compromised.
The Best Solution for a Smaller Scope Remodel
If you only need to remove first-floor walls and aren’t planning to renovate the second story of your home, the best solution is to remove all of the plaster from the main floor ceiling, along with any wiring or services that run through the joists, and to add new, full-span, 2-inch by 10-inch joists to the existing 2-inch by 8-inch joists.
Doubling the joists in this manner will increase the strength of the second story and therefore the home’s overall structural integrity. Because of this, you’ll be able to remove some of the walls in the heart of your home without having to add beams or columns, and the main floor ceiling will be level and true.
The Best Solution for a Full Home Remodel
If you plan to remodel the second story of your home as well as the main floor, the best solution is to remove both the plaster from the main floor ceiling and the subfloor on the second-story flooring. Again, you’ll need to install 2-inch by 10-inch joists onto the existing 2-inch by 8-inch joists, being careful that the installation achieves a level floor above and ceiling below.
How to Remove Load-Bearing Walls in Larger Homes
Old houses that are wider than 18 feet have a beam in the basement supporting the main floor joists, which usually do not span the full width of the house; instead, joists join above the beam. Main floor walls running perpendicular to the joist are always load-bearing. Second and third-floor joists are also not full-span and meet above load-bearing walls.
When you remove one of these load-bearing walls, you will need to install a beam in the same location to support the floor joists above. These beams may be wood or steel and can be supported by columns or additional beams running perpendicular to exterior walls or columns. Beams can be installed flush (integral to the floor joists) or surface, where they result in a bulkhead below the ceiling.
There are several factors to consider when removing interior walls. While the general construction guidelines outlined above can be a helpful starting point, removing load-bearing walls is never straightforward. A qualified contractor should undertake the work, and a structural engineer must always be engaged to calculate the loads and subsequent size of steel and wood beams, columns, and built-up joists. By working with professionals for your home renovation, you’ll mitigate risk and ensure you’re meeting building code standards.