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Removing Load Bearing Walls

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Removing load bearing walls or partitions is quite different from removing interior non load bearing walls. While the difference should be obvious, let’s outline it right here: load bearing walls are structural elements, non load bearing walls are not.

If you take out the load bearing wall, you seriously compromise the structural integrity of your house. If you remove a non load bearing wall, the project may be a pain in the neck, but your house will not fall down.

Structural Redundancy of Houses

It is interesting to note that well-built structures are built with redundancy in mind. Anybody who has ever demolished or seen the demolishment of a real structure, and we’re not talking a garden shed or children’s playhouse, will know what we mean by redundancy. Even when an extremely major structural element is removed, such as an external load bearing wall, the rest of the house may even stay intact. It usually takes many more whacks to pull the thing down.

The above should not be construed in any way as an encouragement to remove load bearing walls without replacing them with some equal or greater structural element. It is only a side note to illustrate the redundancy of well-built homes.

Replacement of Load Bearing Wall – Beam or Girder

When a contractor removes a load bearing wall, or series of low bearing walls, the contractor typically replaces it with a beam (such as a microlam beam) or even a steel girder, depending on the loads that need to be supported.

One thing to keep in mind is that in many cases the beam will protrude lower then the height of the original ceiling. This is because you need to have a much larger beam to replace the walls that are being removed. It is difficult to completely hide the replacement beam because of the space issues. Many homeowners view the exposed beam, though, as a necessary evil in order to achieve the greater good of opening up space into an open floor plan.

It is also important to note that if you are at all able to add an intervening post beneath the beam or girder, you will have much more structural integrity. The structural engineer or contractor will undoubtedly suggest such an arrangement.
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