Load Bearing Wall Removal

Creating an open plan space usually means removing walls

Opening up the space in your kitchen, dining room or across separate rooms, often relies on removing internal walls. Several factors affect a safe and successful completion of the task. To avoid a potential risk to the structural integrity of your property, you will need to know which internal wall is:

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  • a ‘Load-Bearing’ wall
  • -or-

  • a ‘Non Load-Bearing’ wall

If a wall is identified as non load-bearing, then its removal should not put the property at risk of sagging ceilings or an upper floor collapsing. Building work can proceed but accompanied by all the necessary precautions.

Online searches for open-plan increase

Transforming the home into an open-plan space continues to be a popular trend. In recent years online searches for the ‘open plan’ concept have increased many times over.

Key search terms included:

  • “Open plan house” – up 168 percent.
  • “Open plan kitchen living room floor plan” – up 400 percent.
  • “Open space home office” – up 167 percent.
  • “Decor ideas for open plan living” – up 50 percent.

(Source: St. Modwen Homes, 2019 – 2021).

However, creating an open plan space is not as straightforward as simply “knocking through” one or two walls. In most cases, the services of a structural engineer will be called upon to work with the architect, surveyor and builder. Particularly, with the removal of load-bearing walls.

Why do I need a structural engineer for removing load bearing walls?

When a load-bearing internal wall is removed it will need to be replaced with a structural, new steel beam for continued support of the upper floors.

A structural beam can also be made from timber or concrete. The specification will depend on the type of construction, the spans involved and load to be supported.

Produce precise calculations

Designing and constructing structural reinforcements requires a structural engineer to produce precise calculations for determining the required load. When more than one wall is to be removed, whether each wall is load bearing or not, the information provided by structural engineers will be all-important to the builders. Apart from key data needed before you remove a load bearing wall, structural information may also be necessary before builders remove door frames, plaster board or fire board.

Homeowners may not be always be aware that a fire risk assessment is also required to be carried out for residential property.

The law requires a FULL fire risk assessment:

  • If the property is a flat within a block or converted building – and –
  • Of all common parts when buying or selling a flat within a block or converted building.

Failure to comply may result in fines and / or delay in completing the property transaction.

When do I need a structural engineer?

Any design change which does affect the structure of a property – and, therefore, its structural strength – will always need a structural engineer to:

  • Produce calculations on essential load bearing elements.

A structural engineer plays an essential part in the design and build of any property renovation, extension or restoration project. Particularly, as strict compliance with building regulations and planning permission is almost always required.

Listed building – external and internal load bearing wall removal

Structural engineers will always be necessary to produce calculations for removing both an external as well as internal load-bearing wall from a listed building, However, there are circumstances where removal of a load-bearing wall can normally be completed by completing a Building Notice.

Need to Remove a Load Bearing Wall?

Building Notice

  • A written notification of your intention to carry out building work.

A Building Notice does not require detailed drawings to be submitted.

The building inspector or control surveyor may, however, request more information to ensure that the planned work complies with building regulations.

  • Instruction may also be given for the appointment of a structural engineer to specify the correct and appropriate supporting beam or lintel before regulation approval is granted.

The building inspector or building control surveyor will also inspect the property when work has finished before issuing a building approval certificate, or Completion Certificate.

Completion Certificate

  • Written proof that building work was carried out to building regulation approval.

The Certificate shows that “as far as can be reasonably determined” by the building inspection, “certain standards were followed” to ensure:

  • Structural stability
  • New support beams or lintels
  • Foundations
  • Floors
  • Roof structure

Other important areas of inspection include thermal insulation, ventilation, fire regulations, damp proofing and drainage.

What is a non load bearing wall?

Walls only responsible for supporting themselves are also known as partition walls.

Partition walls

A type of non-load bearing wall installed to create additional living space by separating rooms inside a house or apartment.

Elements attached to non load-bearing, partition wall, usually consist of interior doors, shelves or accessories, such as mirrors, photographs or pictures.

However, a partition wall is often used to conceal electrical wiring (a wall with light switches attached), gas pipes and plumbing.

What is a load bearing wall?

A wall constructed to support other building elements in a structure such as, the weight of a floor or roof, is called a load-bearing wall.

Types of structures that load-bearing walls support, include:

  • The roof – plus the joists supported by an internal wall.
  • Upstairs walls – such as another wall that may rest upon the load-bearing wall.
  • Chimney stack – a stack removed on the ground floor usually has a load-bearing beam placed underneath to provide support, and transfer weight down to the foundations.

Common types of load bearing walls

Party walls

A load-bearing wall which is common to two structures, and shared between two or more residents within their individual properties.

The floor and roof joist of a party wall often share a heavy masonry wall to support the load.

A party wall is also designed to prevent sound, temperature and fire to cross over between the two separated spaces.

Any plan to remove a party wall will require a Party Wall Agreement.

This is will always be necessary when:

  • Any work is undertaken on shared walls, i.e. party walls between semi-detached and terraced houses.
  • Work involves shared ‘party structures’, such as floors between flats.
  • Loft conversions which cut into a party wall.
  • Inserting a damp proof course into a party wall.
  • Making party walls thicker or higher.
  • Building a second-storey extension above a shared wall.
  • Building a new wall up to or off the party wall.
  • Work carried out to garden boundary walls.
  • Excavation works – or underpinning – within 3-6m of the party wall.

Between two months and a year in advance of the work starting, you must officially inform the occupants on the other side of the party wall of your intentions by serving a Party Wall Notice. You must also draw up the Party Wall Agreement in writing.

Partial Walls

Partial walls can also be load-bearing.

Typically, where a type of ‘engineered’ beam such as a microlam beam* is installed to span across an opening to help support the load from above.

*Microlam beams are also known as Laminated Veneer Lumber (LVL) Beams, made from multiple layers of engineered thin wood, most often used for headers, beams, rimboard, and edge-forming material.


External Walls

Walls forming the perimeter of a property are mostly load-bearing walls to support the structure.

It would be extremely rare for a property to have an entire length of exterior wall that is not a load-bearing wall.

A structure may sometimes appear to have no supporting, exterior walls. However, structural support is likely to be provided by steel columns, or wooden columns, located between the windows, which can be overlooked.

Quick ways to identify a load-bearing wall

Tap the wall surface

One of the most well known ways to quickly check if an internal wall is a load-bearing, structural wall or a non load-bearing wall is to tap briskly on the wall surface.

  • Lighter, ‘hollow’ sound – would indicate non load-bearing walls.
  • Heavier, ‘dull’ thud – strongly suggests a load-bearing wall.

Check position of wall in relation to floor joists

An easy visual inspection can also help to identify whether one or more internal walls are load-bearing walls.

  • Wall runs parallel to the floor joists above – would indicate a non load-bearing wall.
  • Wall runs perpendicular (at a 90 degree angle) to the joists above – a strong likelihood of a load-bearing wall.

However, it’s important to note there are properties where a load-bearing wall does run parallel to the joists.

This is because the wall may be aligned directly underneath a single joist. Or it may run on a block between two neighbouring joists.

Additional visual checks for a load bearing wall

Load bearing wall supports

If you have access to the basement or a crawl space you may be able to visually inspect at a lower level for load-bearing wall supports.

Different types of structural support include:

  • Another wall
  • Beams – usually made from wood, steel, or concrete.
  • Columns – structural columns often with additional properties to industry standards.
  • Brick piers – pillar of brickwork not connected to a wall.
  • Jack posts – made of steel.

Supports positioned directly below the wall and follow in the same direction normally indicate the wall is load-bearing. No supports strongly suggest a non load-bearing wall. However, a wall without a support structure may still be load-bearing, and at risk of collapse.

Masonry walls

Not every masonry wall is load-bearing, although many exterior masonry walls are most likely to be load-bearing. However, a wall can be made from manufactured stone veneer. This is a light weight, decorative building material prone to crumbling under excessive weight, and therefore, non load-bearing.

Foundation walls

Mostly built with structural masonry materials with a primary load-bearing role to support the weight of the property.

What replaces a load-bearing wall removed?

In a built structure, any support element must be replaced with an identical but different type of structural support.

A load-bearing wall must, therefore, be replaced with either:

  • a structural beam only.
  • -or-

  • a structural beam and column (or columns).

Structural Beam only

A horizontal, structural beam of a precisely calculated load-bearing capability must replace the wall. A structural beam is normally made from steel, known as a rolled steel joist (RSJ), also referred to as an Universal BeamI-Beam or H-Beam.

RSJ / Universal Beam or I-Beam
  • One-piece constructed or extruded beam.
  • Three-piece manufactured beam.

A rolled steel joist (RSJ) or I-Beam is a common type of beam used for structural applications in building construction, extensions and renovation, including when removing internal walls. RSJs are usually made from hot or cold-rolled mild steel but can also be formed from aluminium or other materials. When builders remove a load-bearing wall RSJ steel beams will be needed to replace the support. The ‘I’ or ‘H’-shaped cross-section is a very efficient structural shape for supporting bending and shear loads in the vertical plane.

Replacement Beam – what you should know

In nearly all cases the replacement beam will be positioned at a lower level than the height of the ceiling, although still well above head height . This is because the floor structure above rests on top of the beam.

Structural Beam and Columns

A very robust alternative to a single span structural beam is to install steel columns between the two end bearing points. Although this may be contrary to the desired open plan concept by spanning a long distance with one structural beam only.

Beam Flush / Header Beam

A beam flush or header beam is a structural member aligned at the same level as the joists. Joist hangers are used for attachment, as with a ledger board**Ledger board – a horizontal lumber beam attached to an existing wall that’s used to tie in construction elements.

Drop Beam

Positioned at bottom of joists, flush beams, and other framing components aligned with the top of a beam.

Temporary Supports Are Required

Before any part of a load-bearing wall is removed, it must be temporarily supported by building a wall on both sides of the load-bearing wall. This is because the floor joists above may have their ends resting on the load-bearing wall. This would mean that a temporary support provided on one side of the wall only may not be able to support the joists on the other side of the wall.

Role of structural engineer essential to removing a load-bearing wall

  • Every structure is always carefully designed to carry a specific load. Removing a load bearing wall is a precisely engineered task.

    The services of a structural engineer are, therefore, essential for:

    • Correctly identifying a load-bearing wall.
    • Calculating wall loads.
    • Specifying the correct replacement or alternative load-bearing elements to span and support the newly opened-up space.

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  • zaeem@acdesignsolutions.co.uk

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