wood, beams, wall

How to Remove and Replace Your Load Bearing Wall

Interior walls are used for many different purposes, from creating private areas all the way to supporting the roof or floor above. In today’s modern age, most people desire open floor plans instead. So what do you do if you want one of those open floor plans, but your house is highly segmented by interior walls?

Load Bearing or Not

The first thing that you have to determine is whether or not the wall that you want to remove is load-bearing. If the wall is not load bearing it can be taken down without much consideration to your home’s structural integrity. If it is a load bearing wall header, on the other hand, you have to be very careful. When removing load bearing wall you will have to find a way for the weight of the upper level to be supported somehow, such as by constructing a load-bearing beam or purchasing a special one to take its place.

wood, beams, wall
Wooden beams, Rafael Saldaña

DIY or Not

The next thing you need to determine is whether or not you want to take on this project yourself. Because your home’s structural integrity is at stake, it may be a very good idea to consider hiring a contractor, particularly if you have little to no construction experience. The cost of hiring a contractor depends on a number of variables, including the region you live in as well as the contractors themselves.

That being said, hiring a contractor does have its positive side. First of all, by hiring a contractor you are getting multiple workers for your project, which cuts down on time significantly. Now, this process isn’t very complicated, but it is labor intensive and requires a bit of heavy lifting, especially when lifting the support beam and putting it in place. Keep that in mind when deciding if you want to do this yourself or not. Continue reading to learn how to remove a load bearing wall and install a beam.

The Tools You Will Need

So you decided to replace load bearing wall with beam. As I already said, this is not a complicated job. If you have decided to take this project on for yourself, then the next thing you need to consider is what tools you will need. It’s actually quite surprising once you realize how little goes into this.

First and foremost, the only specialty lumber that you will need is the laminated support beam. Everything else can come directly from the hardware store. Now, if you choose to, you can make your own support beam. For example, one way to construct your own load bearing wall beam is to sandwich a 1/2″ piece of plywood between two 2″ by 8″ boards. You would apply a nice coating of wood glue to all touching surfaces and then nail the boards tightly together. If you decide to purchase one instead, then you can order one from your nearest lumber yard.

You will also need to get enough lumber to make four jack posts and two king posts. If you want to carry a beam that is 3 1/2″ wide, then you would have to purchase six 2″x4″x8″ studs. This is called dimensional lumber.

Outside of lumber, you will need a few tools. One of the primary tools you will be using is a miter saw or circular saw. If you want quicker and more accurate cuts, then go for the miter saw.

In order to help drive those massive nails into the posts, you will need to use a heavy-duty framing hammer. Those nails also need to be at least 3 1/2″ long and they need to be made from galvanized steel. A power nailer would be a necessity if you are fastening the studs to concrete. You should also have a tape measure as well as a laser level and measurer.

Removing a Load Bearing Wall

Load bearing wall removal can be tricky business. It’s important to keep in mind that whatever you are removing here has to be temporarily replaced. Any time you remove a load-bearing wall you have to ensure that you have set up some adjacent support system before you remove anything. This system has to be able to continue to bear the weight of the roof throughout the process. This can be done in two different ways.

One option is the use of adjustable steel columns known as jack posts. These are the easiest, most effective, and quickest way for you to add supports to the project. You start by laying out strips of two-by-fours. You then run a doubled up strip across the ceiling, which is held in place with screws or nails. Then you adjust the steel columns into place between the two strips.

Now, if you don’t want to use those steel columns in this project, you can always just cut 2″x4″s to length. Basically, you would build up a second wall. This is much cheaper than renting or purchasing those steel posts. It is, however, much more difficult and time-consuming because you cannot easily readjust the height later.

Whichever you choose, you have to provide support from the ceiling to the floor for these support posts to rest on. If you don’t then the supports that you build may pierce the ceiling.

The First King Stud

For the next step, you will be putting one king stud on each end of the support beam. You will also have two jack studs at each end. You will also need peripherals such as metal angles to tie the beams into place. Don’t forget the nails or screws.

These king studs are what we call the backing board for the ends of the beam. Just like the other lumber you are using here, they have to be very sturdy and solid, as they will be holding the jack studs.

Now it is possible that you can already have a king stud in place after you demolish this wall. Because the king stud is vitally important, you may want to add some additional support by adding an extra king stud to the existing one. This will effectively give you a much stronger assembly at the cost of reducing the size of the opening by a few inches.

Temporary Ledge Beam

Next, you’ll have to make temporary support ledges for the support beam that you will eventually be putting in. This will hold the beam below the contact points. You want to measure the beam depth and add a half inch. This will help you get the beam into place when that time comes.

You can create the ledges using either shorter 2″x4″s or 2″x6″s that have been cut to the width of the king posts. You will then nail these into place onto the king studs. Nail holes are acceptable here, as they will eventually be covered back up.

Time to Start Sawing

I recommend using a miter saw here. First, you want to measure the interior distance between your two king studs. Now, the measurements here are vital, so be as accurate as you can be when reading your tape measure. Whatever saw you are using, be careful and make sure that you are cutting to the exact measurements specified. This will save you time and cost later on, so take the extra little time to make sure it is perfect. The main concern is ensuring that you get a great perpendicular cut.

Getting the Support Beam Into Position

It is beneficial to have an extra pair of hands for this project, especially for this step, so now is the time to get help if you haven’t already done so. Support beams can be quite heavy and difficult to handle alone. However, if you are alone there is a process you can use, assuming you are strong enough.

If you are strong enough you can do this by yourself with a beam that is up to 10 feet long. Now, the problem here isn’t so much the weight of the beam, but rather the fact that it has to be positioned above your head. This means that it is going to be extremely unstable. Also, if you are at risk of back injury, I highly recommended calling on a friend for some assistance.

The trick to doing this alone is to rest one end of the beam on the top rung of a shop ladder while holding up the other end. You then tilt the beam so that it reaches the same height as the beam ledge. Then you simply swivel it into place.

Check Joist Movement

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again. Always be aware of what is happening above you. You want to measure the distance between the joist and the floor. Write this distance on the closest joist. You want to check this occasionally throughout the process. This way you will be aware if the roof above you is slowly dropping lower.

Support Beam Side Channels

Now that the beam has been put on the ledges you need to create side channels on each of the beam’s sides. These are nothing more than 2″x4″s that you cut to the same width as the king stud. Simply screw or nail said supports into place.

Now that you have done this, you should have channels on either side of the beam, which will prevent it from slipping out. Now you will be able to slide the beam upward without having to fear it will fall off of one side or the other.

Holding the Support Beam in Place

I recommend using a jack for this step, as it makes it exponentially easier. Now, it is possible to slowly raise it into place one side at a time by stepping it up. However, if you raise it straight up from the middle, or with a couple of extra friends, you will end up with a much better and tighter fit. Raising it straight up and level all at once is the best course of action if you are capable.

The best bet is to have a helper at each end pressing the beam straight up until it makes contact with the joists. After this, you block in each end of the beam. One option that works well is to have a temporary beam in the center of the support beam that can be lifted with a jack. You can use this to lightly move the support beam up as needed.

The First Jack Stud

So now the time to install jack studs has come. The first one will do the majority of the raising of the support beam, hence the name “jack stud.” You want to take your time here and not jack it to quickly or tightly. If you do, you risk cracking your roof or floor above.

You are going to start by resting the jack stud in place. Then you will swing the top of it towards your king stud until it starts to rub against the support beam. There will initially be a few inches where you will see this initial jack stud rub against that support beam. So basically this means you will have to pound this into place.

Set the Jack Stud

Now you need to hammer that first jack stud into its final place. Then you are going to use a block with a 2″x4″ in order to ensure you get it squarely into place. This is all getting covered up with either trim or drywall, so you don’t have to be too careful. Leaving blemishes here is acceptable.

Time for the Second Jack Stud

If you haven’t already done it, go ahead and cut the second jack stud to the required size. Don’t just use the same measurements as the first jack stud. You need to remeasure and recut this second jack stud. There are often variations in the floor that need to be accounted for.

Cut it just a little long so that it has to be hammered into place for a tight fit. You do, however, want to make sure that you only have to do minimal pounding on this second stud. The vast majority of the lifting has already been done by the first jack stud.

If you accidentally cut the second one too short, then you will need to place a lever beneath it to raise it up. A wrecking bar makes for a good lever in this instance.

Support Beam Tie In

Now that you have come this far all you have to do is tie the support beam into the jack and king posts. You can do this using metal hurricane straps or by toe-nailing the support beam to the joists.

Once the support beam has been tied in, your project is complete. You’ve successfully replaced a load-bearing wall, and you are ready to add drywall and other finishing materials as desired.

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