Load Bearing Wall: How to Identify and Move
LESLIE: Thomas in Virginia finds The Money Pit on WJFK. And you’ve got a remodeling project at hand. What’s going on?
THOMAS: I’m looking to make a big hole in the wall is what I’m trying to do.
LESLIE: (laughing) OK.
TOM: (laughing) OK.
THOMAS: I guess most remodeling projects start that way. I have a wall that has two doorways right next to each other. And there’s about a foot of wall between the two doors. And what I would like to do is to combine those two doorways into one or perhaps even open the doorway wide enough to create pocket doors there. And what I’m concerned about, though, is I can’t tell if that’s a load-bearing wall. So I’m hoping to get a rule of thumb on how to figure out if a wall is load-bearing or not.
TOM: Alright, well, first of all, Tom, how old is your house?
THOMAS: It’s about 10 years old.
TOM: OK. And the wall that has these two doors in it, is it parallel to the front and rear wall of the house?
THOMAS: No. It’s perpendicular to that. But it is …
TOM: That’s good.
THOMAS: … an external wall.
TOM: Because …
THOMAS: Or it used to be, anyway.
TOM: Oh, it is an external wall?
THOMAS: Well, it’s … I believe I’m standing in a new wing to the house. Obviously, I didn’t build the house; I bought it the way it is now.
THOMAS: So, it is not the front or the back wall. It’s a side wall but I believe it used to be external and then they added a wing on and that became the room that I’m …
TOM: What happened to the roof on top of that area?
THOMAS: A new roof was built.
TOM: Because generally speaking, certainly all exterior walls are load-bearing. However, the front and the rear walls are more load-bearing than the end walls.
TOM: Because the end walls are only holding the triangular section of the gable roof above it.
TOM: But the front and the rear walls are taking the weight of every roofing rafter. So …
THOMAS: OK. Does it matter if it’s a two-story house?
TOM: Well, yeah.
TOM: Yeah. Because … I mean, certainly you’re going to have more weight if it’s a first floor wall. Even if it is load-bearing, though, you can rebuild that and make it bigger.
TOM: And by the way, the biggest job you just described was the pocket doors because to do the pocket doors, you have to open it up like twice the size …
TOM: … of the actual door itself …
TOM: … because you need the space to run in there. But conceptually, here’s what happens. You build reinforcing walls next to the wall you’re going to take apart and that stands to hold that wall while you take the … take the doorways apart.
TOM: And then, after you rebuild those doors with new headers that are going all the way across, you can pull out the temporary walls and you’ve basically temporarily supported it while you’ve created the new header.
THOMAS: OK. Is there a rule of thumb for the header, in terms of thickness and … thickness based on distance covered?
TOM: Yes. And it has to do with the span tables.
TOM: And I would recommend that before you do this, you trot on down to your local building official and ask him to pull out the span table and tell you what’s acceptable in your part of the country.
TOM: OK? But it definitely can be done. If you’re not sure, treat it as a load-bearing wall and just rebuild it that way.