How to Remove a Load Bearing Wall

As house plans modernize people want more open spaces. The days of a separate formal dining room and a closed off kitchen are gone. Frequently, the kitchen is where all the action is. This has resulted in home owners wanting walls removed to create an open flow in their house.  Sometimes the wall is not load bearing, other times it is and has to have a header to move the load to the side walls.

Standard header framed in with 2 supporting studs

The first question people ask is ” how do I know if it is load bearing?” This is a matter of going up into the attic and looking to see which way the ceiling joist run over that wall. If they are perpendicular to the wall then it is load bearing. Make sure and check the entire area over the wall. Sometimes there will be a change up and part of the ceiling is load bearing and part is not. Of course, if this is a two story house you will need a stud finder to look for ceiling joist since there is no attic to confirm. If in doubt call an engineer to figure out what is going on.

Once it has been determined the wall is load bearing you will need to remove all the old sheetrock or wood covering the studs to expose the framing. At this point you will likely have to move and relocate any electrical, air vents or plumbing in the wall. Once this has been done the prep work can begin.

The load bearing wall can not be removed without supporting walls on either side of it to handle the load while it is gone. To achieve this you will need to build a temporary wall running the full length of the ceiling on each side. We recommend laying a small protective layer of 1/8″ plywood on the floor first to prevent scratching the floor, unless you are going to replace the floors afterwards as part of the remodel.  The walls can be framed with 2×4’s and shimming above the top plate below the sheetrock  may be necessary if the ceiling is older and not quite level. The point is you want solid support for the ceiling on both sides at each ceiling joist. Otherwise you risk having the ceiling shift and crack.

Tip: We recommend using long screws to build the wall. It will be easier and neater to demo out than using nails.

Flush header with joist on both sides

Once the walls are framed in you can then proceed to remove the old load bearing wall. Using a sledge hammer, sawsall, hammer, and crowbar will make quick work of it. Now it is time to replace the wall with a load bearing header. There are 2 options to consider based on the load and attic space. The first is a couple of 2×12’s that run the length of the wall and will sit below the ceiling supporting the joist in the attic. The second option is a large header in the attic that runs the length of the wall and all the joist will tie into it with metal joist hangers. This will allow you to create a clean smooth ceiling between the spaces, but involves a lot more work.

Standard Header

Assuming you are making a standard opening and have confirmed the new header can hold the load you need you can proceed. The standard header will consist of 2 2x12s sandwiched together with a 1/2 piece of plywood between them to create a standard wall

2x12 header with plywood spacling, face view

thickness of 3 1/2″. The beam will need to be cut the full length of the opening and 2 jack studs will need to be cut the length from the floor to the new header. They will be on placed on either side of the header and attached to the old wall. Sometimes you will need to add studs in the old wall structure to make sure the jacks have a solid, secured surface to nail into. Once the first jack is installed the header can go up. Someone will need to hold it in place will the second Jack is placed and nailed. Once it is in place and secured nails will need to be driven into the header from the ceiling joist to secure them as well as into the original framed wall.  Once this is done the new wall opening is done.

 Flush Header

The flush header will sit on top of the old walls at each end, so the framing under the header must be beefed up with several 2×4’s running from the bottom plate to the top plate. Once this is done the ceiling joist will need to be cut back to allow space for the new header between each side. We suggest marking the space carefully at each end and using a chalk line to snap a straight line across all the joist. Then make the cuts with a sawsall slow and straight on all the joist, being careful to make sure there are no electrical or other wires in the way. Once the gap has been created the header will need to be hoisted up into the attic and set on the top plates at each end and secured by toe nailing it in place. Then each joist will need to be tied on to it with metal hangers. Once done the header is complete. You will have to install sheetrock and blend it from the old ceiling to the new ceiling.

Once all this has been completed the temporary walls can come down.


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