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Opening a Load-Bearing Wall

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Opening a Load-Bearing Wall
Opening Up Load Bearing Wall
(c) Lee Wallender; Licensed to About.com
Walls serve a great purpose, creating privacy, defining spaces, and sometimes holding the weight of the level above.

But since the 1950s, when the open floor plan style took hold of America's imagination, all those walls and doors segmenting the house have fallen into disfavor.

Sometimes, the homeowner has highly ambitious plans, like pulling down a 22' load-bearing exterior wall so that a new addition can be tacked on--a job for an experienced contractor. But opening up a load-bearing wall that already has an opening in place and extending by a few feet is more within the range of the DIYer's abilities.

What if the wall bears weight, but you only want to remove a small portion? What if it's more a matter of opening up this load-bearing wall to something greater and wider, than it is a matter of knocking down entire wall sections? Following is a summary of the tasks at hand when enlarging the opening of a load-bearing wall.

  1. Determine if the wall is load-bearing or not.
  2. If the wall is not load-bearing, it is safe to remove without replacement materials to support weight. All aspects of this article still pertain to your situation, except for Part 3, which deals with placement of the beam.
  3. If the wall is load-bearing, you will need to carry the weight by other means, such as constructing a beam or buying a microlam beam. We will describe in more detail later.
  4. Find out if you need a building permit by calling your local permit office.
  5. Consult span tables or, better yet, a structural engineer to determine dimensions of the beam you will be adding.

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