Does your house already feel small, so you want to get some much-needed space? Or do you want to drastically change the look and feel of your home, such as converting it to a modern open floor layout, because simply moving around the furniture is no longer enough for you?
Tearing down a wall is one of the easiest ways to do so; in fact, watch any home improvement shows on tv and you will always see this task. It may be to merge two rooms together, expand the dining room to accommodate more people, open up the kitchen to make it easier to move around, and so much more.
But if you plan to do so, you should first determine why you are doing it. It is a drastic move and must involve careful planning – you don’t want to end up regretting it later.
And if you are already decided on it, you need to know that it is not as easy as the shows make it look like. You must first identify whether the wall is load bearing or not; how it will be taken down will depend on its type.
Surprised? Don’t worry because you will learn all about knocking down a wall in your house in detail in this article.
How to Determine If a Wall is Load Bearing
For an average homeowner who has zero engineering knowledge, all walls are the same. However, this is far from the truth; some walls are considered load bearing, while others are not. But what exactly does it mean?
Simply put, a load bearing wall is part of the structure of the home, and its primary role is to support the weight above it, including the roof, ceiling, and floors, as well as the foundations. They have the same purpose as the support columns we are familiar with. That is why if you remove a load bearing wall without any replacement support in place, it will affect the structural integrity of your home.
The only role of a non-load bearing wall, also known as a partition wall, is to divide or separate spaces of a house. So, if you remove one without installing any kind of support, nothing else in your home will be affected.
It can be difficult for the average homeowner to identify load bearing walls, and which ones only serve as partitions. Unfortunately, knocking and using a stethoscope to hear if it is hollow or not is never the right way to do it. Keep this in mind if you want to find out if a wall is load bearing or not:
- Exterior walls are likely to be load bearing – it is rare that they are only used as partitions.
- Check the lowest section of the house for support systems – look for any columns, posts, beams, or even walls that are directly below it, whether on the basement or crawlspace. If those are present, the wall above is load bearing.
- Look for the joists – if the joists on the ceiling are running perpendicular to a wall, with them forming a 90-degree angle, it is likely to be load bearing. However, do note that this is not always the case, as some load bearing walls also have joists running parallel to it, but the chances of this are lower.
- Check the headers above doors installed on interior walls – yes, even walls that have doors can be load bearing, and the headers located above the doors will indicate it. If the header is completely solid, which means there are no hollow spots, the wall is load bearing. But if there are hollow spaces on the header, it is a partition wall. Even when covered, you can check it by hammering a nail to the header and checking for any hollow spots.
- Identify walls on an upper floor that have walls directly below it – just like the support beams and other similar structures in the basement or crawlspace, load bearing walls on the lower floor act as support for load bearing walls on the floor above it.
- Look for walls directly connected to foundations – these are also known to be load bearing.
- Find the walls at the center of the house – in most cases, a lot of the weight of the house is concentrated at the center. As a result, load bearing walls need to be installed in this area to support them.
- See if any beams or support are present in partial walls – partial walls can also be load bearing, and you can determine this by checking any supports present.
- Determine if the wall was formerly an exterior wall –exterior walls can turn into interior walls if the house is expanded without removing those particular walls. If this is the case, the formerly exterior wall is likely to be load bearing.
- Consult the blueprints or professionals – if you have difficulty determining whether a wall is load bearing or not, especially if it has already been covered up, you can use the blueprints as your reference. But, the best method is to consult a structural engineer.
Although challenging, determining if the wall you want to tear down is load bearing or not is very important. Mistakenly knocking down a load bearing wall without adding any kind of support can have dire consequences – don’t be surprised to see a lot of cracks all over your home, or even a sagging ceiling or floor.
Or worse, you may need to use a hard hat inside your home to protect yourself from any falling debris.
Can I Knock Down a Load Bearing Wall?
Given the important role that these walls play, you may find yourself wondering if the kitchen and dining room modifications you have been planning for the longest time should be cancelled because it involves a load bearing wall. But, is it possible to knock down a load bearing wall?
The quick answer is, you can take down any type of wall, including load bearing ones.
However, you need to know that its removal is not as straightforward as repeatedly hitting it with a sledgehammer. Certain provisions must first be made so that the weight of the structure will still be supported through other means while demolishing the wall and when it is finally removed.
Do You Need Planning Permission to Knock Down a Wall?
Considering that this task might be considered as a major home renovation, you may wonder if you need planning permission before you can knock down the wall.
When it comes to removing a wall, whether load bearing or not, you will likely need to secure a permit. In some cases, you may get away with breaking down a partition wall without the need for a planning permission, but the same cannot be said for load bearing walls. This is because tearing down load bearing walls, or even adding new ones, are considered as structural changes that require permits.
The requirements to get the necessary permits will vary according to location, but it often requires submitting plans that were approved and has the stamp of a certified structural engineer. And if electrical and plumbing lines will be affected, you may also be required to get permits for working on them.
How Much Does It Cost to Knock Down A Wall in A House?
Before you start knocking down a wall in your house, whether load bearing or not, you need to prepare your budget for it; it generally does not come cheap, even with DIY.
But first, we will talk about how much it costs to take down a non-load bearing wall.
To remove a partition wall, expect to spend between $300 to $1,000 for it. If there are no utility lines and sockets present on the wall to be removed, the process will be straightforward and cost less. Otherwise, you will need to include the cost of moving these utility lines elsewhere to your budget.
The total cost will also depend on the following factors:
- Whether the home has multiple floors or not – careful removal is needed on multiple level homes, even for non-load bearing walls, to avoid affecting other sections or structures
- If the home dates back to 1978 or earlier – the risk of lead exposure is high when it comes to removing walls on such homes, and testing and extra precautions are necessary for walls that may have lead-based paint.
You can confirm the presence of lead using lead paint test kits; these will instantly give you the results. Consider buying bulk test kits for lead paint, especially if you see any damaged paint elsewhere, since a basic kit can only cover a room or two and you need to test damaged paint asap.
Should lead be present in the paint, anyone who will work on taking down the wall must be completely protected to avoid acquiring the health hazards associated with lead.
- The wall is textured or has a special finish – walls with a plain finish are much easier to remove, which makes their removal cheaper. Not only that, you will also need to refinish afterwards, and using paint is cheaper than refinishing a textured or wallpapered wall.
- Size of the wall to be removed – the bigger the wall to be removed, the higher it will cost.
- Type of wall – certain types of wall are easier to remove than others, so it will cost less to do so. Walls that are hard to remove, such as masonry, will also require the use of special equipment.
- Any repairs needed – while the wall seems to be in good condition, there may be problems lurking underneath, such as termites and water damage. Even if you are removing the affected wall, you may need to address these issues to avoid damaging other parts of your home.
- Permits and other requirements – the cost of acquiring the necessary permits, as well as other related requirements, vary by location.
- Cleanup – knocking down a wall will be messy, so cleaning up is required. The volume of debris from this task will affect the cost of its disposal.
Since removing a non-load bearing wall is a straightforward process, even if there are utility lines present, it is a lot cheaper to do so than removing a load bearing wall. And if you are well-versed in doing some construction work, you can even do it yourself to save money.
Just make sure to consult with a professional first if DIY work is doable or a risky undertaking, and how you should do it.
How Much Does It Cost to Remove a Load Bearing Wall?
Because of the kind of work involved, it costs more to remove a load bearing wall; special precautions are needed before, during, and after breaking it down. Expect the price of its removal to start from $10,000 for walls in a single story home, and as much as $30,000 for walls in homes with multiple floors.
Although the factors that affect the cost of removing partition walls mentioned in the previous section will also apply to load bearing walls, the increased difficulty and complication of its removal drives up the cost.
Prep work is needed, but this will not only involve moving your stuff away or covering them up when it comes to load bearing walls. Temporary supports must be installed on both sides of the wall to act as the brace, prior to the actual tear down.
These supports are vital in preventing damage; in extreme cases, taking down a wall without them in place can cause the building elements above to collapse sooner or later. Although some choose to skip the installation of such supports, know that this is a very risky move.
After removal, installing structural beams are required; these will now bear the weight of the structure. There are different types of beams that can be installed, but laminated veneer lumber, or LVL, is typically used. The size of these beams will vary, depending on the weight it must support and the size of the opening.
Because of all these, DIY removal of a load bearing wall is not an option. You must hire a structural engineer who will plan for its proper removal and design, as well as determine the right kind of beam to replace the wall, a team of contractors and workers who will do the actual work, and even other pros like plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians if needed.
How to Remove a Load Bearing Wall and Install a Beam
Even if you will not do the actual work, it is still a good idea for you to know the steps involved in removing a load bearing wall, particularly an interior wall made of drywall, and install a beam to replace it.
The preparation stage involves the following:
- Consult with a structural engineer first. They will let you know how the wall should be properly removed to minimize any potential risks.
- After finalizing plans, transfer all your stuff found within the vicinity of the workspace elsewhere. If this is not possible, cover them up with tarp, plastic sheeting, and the like. You can also cover up the floors with plastic sheets, but placing pieces of plywood over them will give better protection.
- Cover up any air vents to prevent dust from entering them, as it can spread throughout your home once your HVAC system is switched on. Knocking down a wall is a very messy project and will involve a lot of dust and debris that can go everywhere if not confined to a single area.
- Switch off electricity, even if there are no electrical lines found behind the wall. But if other utility lines are present, make sure to also cut the supply for them to prevent accidents.
- Get all trim, baseboards, molding, and other wall accents removed. This can easily be done using a pry bar. Doors, windows, fixtures, and the like that are installed or attached to the wall should also be removed; nothing should remain on the surface of the wall.
- Check for the presence of any utility lines, as these must be rewired or relocated.
Once the necessary prep work is completed, the next stage is the actual tear down. The proper way of doing so involves these steps:
- Make an outline that will determine the extent of removal. Also identify the studs on the wall to avoid hitting them by accident when removing the drywall.
- With a utility knife, score along the lines created but do this carefully to avoid cutting through the framing or studs as well.
- Create a starter hole on the wall using a hammer or sledgehammer; while this can be done in any section of the wall, the starter hole should be found in between studs and away from any utility lines.
- Use a reciprocating saw or drywall saw to cut along the marked lines, starting from the starter hole. This will allow a more precise and neater removal of the drywall along those lines.
- Alternate using the sledgehammer and saw until all the drywall has been removed.
- In case there is insulation behind the walls, this should be removed carefully.
- If utility lines and HVAC mechanisms are present, they should be removed or relocated before proceeding.
- Clean up to make the succeeding steps easier to do.
- Install the temporary supports on each side of the load bearing wall; the supports will depend on the recommendations of the structural engineer. These can be as simple as a piece of 2x4s on each side, ideally placed between 2 to 4 feet from the opening, or actual columns. A horizontal support is also needed.
- Remove the wall studs by making horizontal cuts using the reciprocating saw at their halfway points. After cutting through a stud, grab one of the halves and pull it off either by hand or using a pry bar. Repeat until all studs have been removed.
- The studs on each end of the wall, also referred to as the wall frame, should be removed last. Because they are nailed in place, use the reciprocating saw to cut through the nails and pry the studs away afterwards.
- Any sill present should also be removed; it can be done simply by pulling them away by hand or with a pry bar.
- After all the studs and sills have been removed, look for and remove any stuck nails and nail pieces.
You should now have a new opening. However, the job is not yet done because a horizontal beam, whether exposed or flushed, still has to be installed to take the place of the load bearing wall. Only a structural engineer can calculate the structural load and determine what kind of beam is needed based on those calculations.
These horizontal beams can be installed flushed to the ceiling or left exposed; it is just a matter of preference. However, a flush beam installation is more complicated.
Exposed horizontal beams are typically installed this way:
- Install wall supports, known as king studs, on both sides of the new opening. These studs should cover the entire length of the opening, from floor to ceiling, since they will connect the new beam to the existing frame.
- Place another set of support, known as jack studs, over the king studs. These studs are shorter than the king studs, measuring the height of the king stud minus the height of the beam. The space between the jack stud and the ceiling joists is where the beam will be placed.
- Cut the support beam according to size, making sure it fits the gap between the ceiling joists and jack studs, as well as the space between both king studs.
- Once cut, place it starting from the top and hammering it into place until it is fully set.
- Nail the support beam in place, making sure to screw it to one of the joists above it on each end.
- Install the next beam over the first one and nail them together. Repeat this step until the right number of beams are in place, then screw the last piece of support beam to each of the joists above it.
- Add another piece of jack stud on each side to fully support the new beam.
Do note that some pros choose to install all jack studs at the last step; either way is correct.
While installing a flushed horizontal beam generally follows the same steps above, they differ in these aspects:
- Instead of simply installing the beams below the joists, sections of these joists will be cut to accommodate the new beams.
- The new horizontal beam is located directly below the ceiling, at the same level as the joists.
- Joist hangers are installed on each end of the joist that is connected to the beam; these will support and keep the joists in place.
Once the new beam is finally in place, the temporary supports installed earlier can now be removed. Remember to clean up first before doing the final touches on the new opening; this will prevent dust and debris from sticking to the new paint or finish applied to it.
How Long Does It Take to Knock Down a Wall?
From all the information above, it is obvious that the time it takes to knock down a wall will depend on the type of wall involved – removing load bearing walls will take more time than partition walls. But in general, it takes an average of 5 to 10 days.
While the actual wall removal can only take a day or two, do note that this is only one aspect of the entire project. There are other steps involved, which means the entire process can take from a few days to as much as a few weeks.
Here is a guide that highlights the steps involved, and how long each step can take on average:
- Planning – can take only a day for partition walls but up to a week or more for load bearing ones, since the structural engineer may inspect the wall involved a few times before finalizing the plans. Do note that complex planning may even take weeks to finish.
- Prep work – from a few hours to an entire day
- Wall removal – only a day for non-load bearing walls, and at least one day for load bearing ones
- Horizontal beam installation – a few hours to a day at most
- Cleanup and refinishing – one to two days, depending on the kind of finishing involved
It will take time to remove a wall, so make sure to adequately prepare for it.