10 Signs of Load-Bearing Walls: How to Knock Down a Wall in Your House

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? Maybe simply moving around the furniture is no longer enough for you.

Tearing down a wall is one of the easiest ways to do so. Watch any home improvement shows on tv, and you will always see this task. It may be to merge two rooms expand the dining room to accommodate more people. Maybe they open up the kitchen to make it easier to move around and so much more.

wall demolition

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 regret 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. You must first identify whether it is load-bearing or not; how it will be taken down will depend on its type.

Are you 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 it is Load Bearing

All walls are the same for an average homeowner with zero engineering knowledge. However, this is far from the truth. Some are considered load-bearing, while others are not. But what exactly does it mean?

Simply put, a load-bearing one is part of the structure of the home. Its primary role is to support the weight above it, including the roof and ceiling. It also supports the floors as well as the foundations. They have the same purpose as the support columns we are familiar with. That is why you cannot remove a load-bearing structure without any replacement support in place. It will affect the structural integrity of your home.

The only role of a non-load bearing is to divide or separate spaces of a house. It is also known as a partition. If you remove one without installing any support, nothing else in your home will be affected.

It can be difficult for the average homeowner to identify load-bearing ones and only serve as partitions. Unfortunately, knocking and using a stethoscope for hearing 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 it is load-bearing or not:

  1. Exterior sides are likely to be load bearing. It is rare that they are only used as partitions.
  2. Check the lowest section of the house for support systems. Look for any columns, posts, beams, or even ones that are directly below it. It can be in the basement or crawlspace. If those are present, the part above is load bearing.
  3. Look for the joists. If the joists on the ceiling are running perpendicular to a wall, it is likely to be load bearing. It means they’re forming a 90-degree angle. However, do note that this is not always the case. Some load bearing walls also have joists running parallel to it, but the chances of this are lower.
  4. Check the headers above doors installed on the interiors. 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, it is load. It means there are no hollow spots. But if there are hollow spaces on the header, it is a partition. Even when covered, you can check it by hammering a nail to the header and checking for any hollow spots.
  5. Identify those on an upper floor that have walls directly below it. Like the support beams and other similar structures in the basement or crawlspace, load bearing on the lower floor provide support on the floor above it.
  6. Look for portions directly connected to foundations. These are also known to be load bearing.
  7. Find those 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.
  8. See if any beams or support are present in partials. Partials can also be load bearing, and you can determine this by checking any supports present.
  9. Determine if it was formerly an exterior. Exterior walls can turn into interior if the house is expanded without removing those particular sections. If this is the case, it is likely to be load bearing.
  10. Consult the blueprints or professionals. If you have difficulty determining whether something is load bearing or not, you can use the blueprints as your reference. It’s great if it has already been covered up. The best method is to consult a structural engineer.

Although challenging, determining if the part you want to tear down is load-bearing or not is very important. Mistakenly knocking down one of those without adding any 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 they play, you may find yourself wondering if the kitchen and dining room modifications are possible. You have been planning this for the longest time, and you want to avoid it being canceled because it involves a load-bearing part. But is it possible to knock down a load-bearing wall?

The quick answer is you can take down any type, 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 structure’s weight will still be supported through other means. At the same time, the demolition is ongoing, and when it is finally removed.

Do You Need Planning Permission to Knock Down a Wall?

This task might be considered a major home renovation. You may wonder if you need planning permission before you can knock down the wall.

Whether load-bearing or not, you will likely need to secure a permit when it comes to removing them. In some cases, you may get away with breaking down a partition without the need for planning permission. The same cannot be said for load-bearing ones. This is because tearing them down or even adding new ones are considered structural changes that require permits.

The requirements to get the necessary permits will vary according to location. Still, it often requires submitting approved plans and the stamp of a certified structural engineer. If electrical and plumbing lines are 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, you need to prepare your budget for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s load-bearing or not. 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, expect to spend between $300 to $1,000 for it. If there are no utility lines and sockets 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 into your budget.

House builtPercentage of homes with lead paint
Before 194087%
Between 1940 and 195969%
Between 1960 and 197724%

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. It’s done 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 anything on such homes. Testing and extra precautions are necessary for surfaces that may have lead-based paint. It is especially dangerous for women that are pregnant.
dog with a mask on

You can confirm the presence of lead using specific tests for the purpose. These will instantly give you the results. Consider buying tests in bulk, especially if you see any damaged paint elsewhere. 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 take down the wall must be completely protected. Avoid acquiring the health hazards associated with lead.

  • It is textured or has a special finish. Areas with a plain finish are much easier to remove, which makes their removal cheaper. Not only that, you will also need to refinish afterwards. Using paint is cheaper than refinishing a textured or wallpapered surface.
  • Size of the area to be removed. The bigger the portion needing to be removed, the higher it will cost.
  • Type. Certain types are easier to remove than others, so it will cost less to do so. Ones that are hard to remove will also require the use of special equipment. An example is masonry.
  • Any repairs needed. While an area seems to be in good condition, there may be problems lurking underneath. It includes things 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 vary by location as well as other related requirements.
  • 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.

Removing a non-load-bearing wall is a straightforward process. If utility lines are present, it is a lot cheaper to do so than to remove a load-bearing portion. 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.

Here is some safety gear needed when lead is found.

Things NeededWhat it’s for
TapeYou want to tape it off so that dust doesn’t go into other parts of the house.
TarpPut down a tarp to help catch dust.
Disposable clothingPaint dust will settle in the clothing, so you’ll want to get rid of them afterward.
Lead paint respiratorA special respirator ensures the dust doesn’t go into your lungs.
Lead soapWashing off lead dust can be hard. There’s special soap for it.
GogglesThey keep your eyes safe.

How Much Does It Cost to Remove a Load Bearing Wall?

Because the work involved costs more to remove a load-bearing wall, special precautions are needed before and during. Expect the price of its removal to start from $10,000 for walls in a single-story home. It’ll cost as much as $30,000 for walls in homes with two stories or more.

The factors that affect the cost of removing partitions mentioned in the previous section will also apply to load-bearing ones. The increased difficulty and complication of its removal drives up the cost.

Prep work is needed. 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 before the actual tear down.

These supports are vital in preventing damage. In extreme cases, taking down a portion 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, structural beams are required. These will now bear the structure’s weight. Different beams can be installed. Laminated veneer lumber is typically used. The size of these beams will vary, depending on the weight they must support and the opening size.

Because of all these, DIY removal of a load-bearing wall is not an option. You must hire a structural engineer to plan for its proper removal and design. He’ll determine the right kind of beam to replace the wall. There will be a team of contractors and workers who will do the actual work. It includes other pros like plumbers electricians 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. It’s particularly an interior made of drywall, and install a beam to replace it.

The preparation stage involves the following:

  1. Consult with a structural engineer first. They will let you know how it should be properly removed to minimize any potential risks.
  2. 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 and the like. You can also cover up the floors with plastic sheets, but placing pieces of plywood over them will give better protection.
  3. Cover up any air vents to prevent dust from entering them. It can spread throughout your home once your HVAC system is switched on. Knocking down a wall is a very messy project. It will involve a lot of dust and debris that can go everywhere if not confined to a single area.
  4. 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.
  5. Get all trim, baseboards, molding, and other accents removed. This can easily be done using a pry bar. Doors and the like that are installed or attached to the wall should also be removed. Nothing should remain on the surface.
  6. 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:

  1. Make an outline that will determine the extent of removal. Also identify the studs to avoid hitting them by accident when removing the drywall.
  2. With a utility knife, score along the lines created but do this carefully to avoid cutting through the framing or studs as well.
  3. Create a starter hole using a hammer or sledgehammer. While this can be done in any section, the starter hole should be found in between studs and away from any utility lines.
  4. 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.
  5. Alternate using the sledgehammer and saw until all the drywall has been removed.
  6. In case there is insulation behind the surface, this should be removed carefully.
  7. If utility lines and HVAC mechanisms are present, they should be removed or relocated before proceeding.
  8. Clean up to make the succeeding steps easier to do.
  9. Install the temporary supports on each side of the load bearing portion. 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.
  10. Remove the 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.
  11. The studs on each end of the wall should be removed last. They’re also referred to as the frame. Because they are nailed in place, use the reciprocating saw to cut through the nails. Pry the studs away afterwards.
  12. Any sill present should also be removed; it can be done simply by pulling them away by hand or with a pry bar.
  13. 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. The job is not yet done because of a horizontal beam, whether exposed or flushed. It still has to be installed to place the load-bearing wall. 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:

  1. Install supports on both sides of the new opening. They are also known as king studs. These studs should cover the entire length of the opening, from floor to ceiling. They will connect the new beam to the existing frame.
  2. Place another set of support over the king studs. They are known as jack 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.
  3. Cut the support beam according to size. Make sure it fits the gap between the ceiling joists and jack studs, as well as the space between both king studs.
  4. Once cut, place it starting from the top and hammering it into place until it is fully set.
  5. Nail the support beam in place, making sure to screw it to one of the joists above it on each end.
  6. 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.
  7. Add another piece of jack stud on each side to fully support the new beam.

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 in place, the temporary supports installed earlier can be removed. Remember to clean up before doing the final touches on the new opening. It prevents dust and debris from sticking to the new paint or finish applied.

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 involved. Removing load-bearing ones will take more time than a partition. But in general, it takes an average of 5 to 10 days.

While the actual removal can only take a day or two, note that this is only one aspect of the entire project. There are other steps involved, which means the entire process can take 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:

  1. Planning. It can take only a day for partitions but up to a week or more for load bearing ones. The structural engineer may inspect the area involved a few times before finalizing the plans. Do note that complex planning may even take weeks to finish.
  2. Prep work. It can take a few hours to an entire day.
  3. Removal. It only takes a day for non-load bearing walls, and at least one day for load bearing ones.
  4. Horizontal beam installation. It takes a few hours to a day at most.
  5. Cleanup and refinishing. It takes one to two days, depending on the kind of finishing involved.

It will take time to remove a wall, so prepare for it adequately.

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