Saturday, 31 March 2012

Walls Come Down


I have a finished basement but would like to remove a couple of walls.  How do I know if a wall is load bearing.  I don’t want to do any damage to my house so I want to make sure that I don’t take out anything important.  Thank you for your advice, I enjoy reading your column each week.



Dear Joe,

Thank you for your support and I appreciated loyal readers like yourself.

If you are unsure a wall is carrying any structural load then you have already done the right thing: don’t touch it until you`re sure.  How to find out requires a bit of knowledge,  a bit of exploration and a bit of common sense.  Once you know what to look for and understand the way buildings are constructed you can easily identify most load bearing structures, be they walls, posts or other structural members.  In your circumstance, this is probably the easiest one to do.   Basements, generally, are wide open spaces when the house is constructed.  One main beam runs down the centre, dividing the house in two lengthways, carrying the load of the main floor and all loads carried by the main floor.  Since this main beam runs from foundation wall to foundation wall, its span is usually supported at two or three points, depending on the length of the house, by jackposts or piers which stand on concrete footings poured at the same depth as the foundation footings.  These are what hold the house up.   So a safe generalization can be made of most houses:  any wall which runs the length of the house roughly down the center, though not load bearing itself, will typically conceal two or more jackposts.  Typically basement walls are built around jackposts so you may find the wall you want to remove was built around a solid object which cannot be moved.  One way to know for sure is to do some exploratory drywall removal.  By cutting a band of gyproc  eight inches wide by the length of the wall, you will reveal all the mechanical and structural features which are concealed inside the wall.  Once you know, then you can go about planning which walls to remove and which must stay and where concessions can be made to leave part of a wall and remove some. 

Another way to go about exploring without doing any visible damage to the wall is with a flexible inspection camera.  Essentially arthroscopic diagnostics for houses, these cool little gadgets can sneak in through a hole the size of your finger and see everything inside the wall cavity.  Simply pop off a baseboard the length of the wall in question, with your stud sensor identify the location of every stud in that section of wall, drill a ¾” hole between every stud where the baseboard will conceal them once reinstalled, and inspect each space side to side and up.  You can rent one of these babies at your local rental location.

I hope this has been enlightening for you.  If you find yourself still unsure or have further questions, contact your favourite contractor.  They should be more than happy to give you a moment of their time and help you figure out the important information you are looking for and maybe make suggestions that will help you chart a course toward a successful renovation.

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