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Before tearing down walls, know which are load-bearing

Many families today prefer living in houses that have a large "great room" or "family room," where the kitchen is open to a living room and sometimes a dining room.

New houses are often built this way, but existing houses are likely to have separate rooms for cooking, dining and living.

To combine these rooms into one larger space, the first, and possibly most important, question is, which walls can be removed?

The short answer: All walls can be removed — it's just that some are easier to remove than others. Non-load-bearing walls are the easiest and least expensive to remove because they are not bearing any weight. Nothing will sag or fall down if you remove these walls.

You can remove load-bearing walls as well, but they must be replaced with a beam to carry the weight the walls had been supporting. The trick is knowing which walls are load bearing and which are not. One easy way to figure that out is to take a peek into your attic.

In the past 50 years, home construction has changed significantly. Most builders today use wooden roof trusses that generally eliminate the need for any interior walls to be load bearing. These trusses replaced the rafters and beams that once were put together piece by piece to create roof framing (a method referred to as conventional framing).

Trusses are built to span from exterior wall to exterior wall and carry the entire roof load. They are less expensive than the manpower-intensive construction of conventional framing. The only downside is a lack of attic space because of the cross braces.

To determine which system is in your house, compare your attic to the pictures and drawings on this page. Knowing what type of roof system you have will help you determine which walls can go easily.

Before you break out the sledgehammer, however, keep in mind that this information is only meant to provide an understanding of which walls may be easier or less expensive to remove. Talk to an architect for advice and professional drawings of the changes you want to make so you can get the proper permits for your work.

Timothy Rhode is an architect in St. Petersburg. He can be reached at (727) 823-1566 or through his Web site,

Conventional framing

With this type of framing, the attic will be spacious but more of the interior walls will be load bearing. You can still remove these walls but you will need to take action — put in a long support beam, add columns to the room or leave a partial wall — to avoid anything sagging or falling down.

1 Ridge beam or ridge board

2 Collar tie

3 Rafter

4 Roof load

5 Roof-bearing wall

6 Ceiling joist

7 Ceiling load

8 Ceiling joists overlap and rest on the bearing wall

9 Bearing wall carries the load of the ceiling joists

Roof truss framing

You'll have little space in your attic if your house was built using trusses. These roof systems consist of a network of supporting boards and typically span from exterior wall to exterior wall. The load of the roof structure is dissipated through the truss work, meaning few, if any, interior walls are load bearing.

1 Truss

2 Roof load

3 Roof-bearing wall

4 Interior walls do not bear any loads

5 No attic

Before tearing down walls, know which are load-bearing 03/19/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 19, 2010 4:30am]
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