Q: How can I tell if a wall is load-bearing and can be removed?

posted on Mar 21st, 2011
Ask Mike - Q & A

Most walls can be removed or modified, whether they bear weight or not. Many people today want a larger opening between the dining room and the kitchen. Every doorway in your house has a hidden beam across the top which bears the weight over the door. This beam is called a header. Think of your new opening as a very wide doorway, 8-12 feet wide. It will have a hidden header above it to carry the weight. The hidden legs at either side of the opening have to carry the weight to the ground level below. They may need to be extended to concrete piers in the subfloor area.

The wall you are modifying may be supporting a little or a lot of weight. Take a look in the attic. If the ceiling supports (joists) are running in the same direction as the wall you are modifying its likely bearing little weight. It the ceiling joists are perpendicular to your wall it is likely carrying the ceiling weight. Another rule of thumb- if your room is clearly a rectangle then the joists above likely run in the short direction. The weight is usually on the long walls of the rectangle. The more weight your opening is carrying then the bigger the header will need to be.

Structural modifications require building permits and professional expertise. Make sure you get some of each before you start!

Good luck with your project,